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How can construction firms improve site safety?

By Graham Evans
Practice Leader - Risk Solutions

Major construction projects are increasing in size and number globally across all industry sectors. Sport, for example, is an area in which development investment is soaring. As the number of viewers grows, so does the need for larger and more impressive stadia.

As the construction industry grows, so does the serious risk of worker incidents caused by poor site behaviours. This can potentially lead to costly litigation and unnecessarily inflated premiums.

In the UK, construction accounts for 10% of major workplace injuries and the sector suffers the highest rate of fatalities at 31%.

Many accidents arise as a result of poor health and safety behaviours. Best practice is difficult but essential to manage especially on large-scale projects. The risk of serious incidents can be reduced by introducing some best practice and rigorous procedures. 

Sporting good behaviours

Sporting events are attracting a year-on-year growth in audience numbers, so it’s no surprise that major investment is being made into global arenas.

In rugby, the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour, of which QBE is a Principal Partner, will be visiting six stadia, three of which have been built or undergone significant refurbishment in the last 10 years amounting to a total investment exceeding GBP265m. 

If a culture of safe behaviour is not implemented and nurtured on sites such as these, the risk of significant increases in the total build cost through potential litigation and delays escalates.

The complexity of behaviour 

Minimising risk is an enormous task on large projects that present unique and complex situations with workers from a variety of backgrounds undertaking a wide range of tasks involving potentially dangerous equipment. 

The challenge is that for these workers the potential risks of daily tasks are not as starkly obvious which can result in poor health and safety behaviour. 

The Health & Safety Laboratory states that 90% of accidents may be attributed, in some part, to actions or omissions of individuals.

A behavioural safety programme is an essential tool for business to manage this people risk.

Laying the foundations of good safe behaviour

Any behaviour programme should be led by a strong management team which encourages open dialogue. Leaders should demonstrate good behaviour and ensure that all decisions have a clear health and safety consideration at every stage. 

Leaders should present themselves as role models to encourage the right behaviours and be seen to be fair, but firm when it comes to taking action against undesired practices. For workers, this will provide greater empathy about the risks and acceptable behaviour on site. 

Engaging workers is integral to creating an open and trusting relationship enabling them to be confident to speak up about concerns. Equally important is discouraging risky behaviours, such as competition between different contractors, to help create a safer and more collaborative environment. 

Encouraging a sense of a team enables a supportive, respectful and coordinated project, which improves the potential for a safe construction site. 

Continuing to build on construction safety 

Minimising risks should not be a one-off. Incident numbers can only be reduced if sites ensure an ongoing, proactive approach to site behaviour.

A reduction in incidents and associated costs is a significant goal for construction sites, but this is not the only benefit of managing behaviours. Increased worker engagement and motivation, as well as adoption of the leadership approach, can deliver significant gains. 

Lastly, and from an insurance perspective; mostly importantly, better risk management and reduced claims are two of the ways in which construction firms can have a positive impact on their own premium at renewal. 

You can find out more about QBE's casualty capabilities on our dedicated webpage.