Construction health and safety accidents have ‘dropped by half in five years, from an accident frequency rate of 8.5% to 4.3% last year’, among workers compensated by FEM.
Construction Health and Safety accidents down
SA’s statutory construction industry insurer, Federated Employers’ Mutual Assurance (FEM), celebrated a “100% improvement in the general SA construction accident frequency percentage” at its 75th anniversary and Construction Health and Safety summit in July 2011 in Sandton.
FEM’s MD, Thelma Pugh, said at the FEM 75th anniversary dinner that the level of SA construction deaths and injuries remain unacceptable and required establishment of a construction health and safety culture, based on management responsibilities, worker involvement, and enforcement of legal compliance.
FEM construction health and safety statistics of ‘accident frequency percentage’ is calculated by the number of employees injured, per hundred employees insured, over any period, usually per claim year. The figure is not comparable to LTIFR.
Construction Health and Safety and Zero injuries ‘attainable’
“Only 30% of FEM policy holders received insurance premium merits for good claims records five years ago, and 70% did not, now the figures are inverted, as 70% receive insurance merits, and only 30% do not”, Pugh said.
“Compliance and rules alone do not create safe construction health and safety work”, Pugh said at the anniversary dinner, attended by construction owners, CEOs and top executives.
“A goal of zero construction health and safety injuries is attainable, despite seeming to be unattainable.” She believes that South African construction officials should recognise the moral and economic value of health and safety performance.
In total, a mere 350 000 SA construction workers suffer 70 fatalities per year, while the UK’s 2.5-million construction workers suffer only 63 deaths per year, said Pugh. Motor vehicle accidents cause the highest number of incidents.
Construction Health and Safety driven by board members
Construction health and safety is recognised as being among the top 10 construction business and operational risks. Pugh said she visited FEM policy holders in a tour to major centres in South Africa, and discovered that construction employers with the best health and safety performance records, are all driving safety policies and systems at board level and top management level. Compensation commissioner letters of good standing is not the end of health and safety management.
“Workers should not be ‘dying for a job’ in construction, Pugh said. Top international and local presenters shared their knowledge in interactive presentations and panel discussions at the two day conference, inviting debate on economical implications for the South African construction industry and trends in health and safety policy, legislation and practice.
Construction Health and Safety loss ratios improved by 40%
FEM’s MD, Thelma Pugh, said in her address to construction managers that “in the SA building industry in the last year, FEM stats show that 70 people lost their lives due to workplace accidents. In Britain 63 people lost their lives for the same period in the workplace, but in South Africa the 70 are from 350 000 workers, while Britain’s 63 are out of a compliment of 2.3-million workers.”
“Motor vehicle accidents remain top of the list. South Africa recorded 33 road deaths per 100 000 inhabitants, double the fatality rate in USA, and six times the rate in Britain.
“Our records show that overall the majority of our policyholders are improving safety performance. In the last five years our data shows that our accident frequencies have improved by 100%, from 8.5% to 4.3%, and loss ratios are generally improving by about 40%.
“Clients are beginning to realise that taking an active role in achieving construction health and safety makes sound commercial and financial sense. Clients have information on risk, while contractors roles in managing risk are pivotal in practices on site.
Construction Health and Safety role players
“Each role player in the construction chain has crucial roles in reducing unacceptable losses. Health and safety is not just an intellectual activity to prove we care about our workforce. It is the sum of contribution from stakeholders, from board members to workers.
“FEM in collaboration with all our partners will never stop developing new ways to establish and maintain an effective health and safety culture in this changing economy, so that employers take their responsibilities seriously, workers are fully involved and risks are managed.
“Legislators and construction safety practitioners have held that responsibility for health and safety should be placed on those directly involved in construction, including contractors. Designers, architects and particularly clients influence the construction process.
“Many accidents would be avoided if that influence were used with accident prevention in mind, from project inception through execution and throughout the life of the facility”, said Pugh.
‘Zero injuries’ must be an ‘unbreakable belief’
“Construction health and safety should always be viewed in a positive view – not in a fatalistic manner. A company’s main objective should be to have no worker injuries. With this objective must be an unbreakable belief that the goal of zero injuries is attainable. In many cases, we have numerous policyholders who have proved that the seemingly impossible goal of zero injuries is not a myth.
“OHS regulations and safety organisations are constantly talking about the importance of having a ‘safety culture, leadership, management commitment, legal compliance’. Many organisations, encouraged by assessment rebate incentives, use injuries to measure their safety performance.
“But what is ‘safety culture’ and ‘senior management commitment’ in practice? Do OHS policies, statements and, rules, lower injury rates and does legal compliance create safe workplaces? While these things are important, they do not, of themselves, create safe work.
“We should, collectively, be aiming higher than we are now, to achieve a record of health and safety that leads the world… We have a very long road to travel. We need to find ways to demonstrate the moral, business and economic scenarios for health and safety.
“Employees are often best able to see issues and to bring about real improvements. We need to expand the base of employee involvement in health and safety management to ensure that it covers the entire workforce. Regardless of the level of risk or company size, health and safety will always be about people.
“Three motivators, legal, moral and financial, must be the foundation of corporate safety culture. The relative value that your organisation places on these three considerations will underlie its choices in relation to safety.
“Are we proud of what we are doing? In the more intelligent organisations it is becoming clear that health and safety is becoming one the key drivers of business, as top management realises the costs of accidents. Construction health and safety has become one of the top ten risks,” said Pugh.
Construction Health and Safety presenters
Construction health and safety conference presenters included Dr Isabel Perry, USA ‘safety doctor’, who had addressed employers and employees in manufacturing, hospitals, health care, government agencies and service industries, opening their minds and hearts to possibilities of increased excellence.
Prof John Smallwood heads the Department of Construction Management, and is Programme Director, MSc (Built Environment) Programme, and director of a research, technology and innovation entity at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, namely the Unit for the Study of Construction Processes (USCP), in Port Elizabeth.
He is a National Research Foundation rated researcher specialising in construction issues like contracts management, research, publishing, training development, and continued professional development.
PHOTO; Federated Employers’ Mutual Assurance (FEM) MD, Thelma Pugh.