Construction safety interventions ranked

Leading construction managers ranked 52 health and safety risk management interventions on reducing injuries and qualifying for statutory FEM insurance rebates.

An academic construction health and safety opinion study titled ‘Feedback report on a study of FEM Special Award recipients’ by Prof John Smallwood, of the Nelson Mandela Metro University Construction Management department, was released in October 2011. An extract, and a question and answer exchange on the theme of construction health and safety metrics with Prof Smallwood, is reported below.

The average construction statutory insurance rebate received over three years, at 33.4%, confirms significant financial benefits from H&S interventions and performance.

Although project H&S and public H&S were ranked first in terms of the degree of importance of project parameters, nine other project parameters achieved high mean scores.

Leading construction employers cite ‘H&S rules, induction, and awareness’ as their favoured health and safety interventions, followed by ‘management commitment to and accountability for H&S’. Comments from management and CAH&S Agents or H&S consultants, predominate as a basis for perceived or confirmed intervention impact.

H&S performance not measured

Construction employers generally do not measure H&S performance. “Reduced accidents, compensation insurance rebates, enhanced productivity, and enhanced quality”, were identified by up to half of respondents as manifestation, or measure, of contribution of aspects,  interventions or stakeholders to H&S performance.

Improvement processes like TQM, constructability reviews relative to H&S, and H&S plans, predominate as potential aspects or interventions that could improve H&S performance further.

Construction study objectives

Objectives of the FEM study by Prof Smallwood were to determine the;
• extent to which various aspects, interventions, stakeholders contributed to receiving statutory insurance rebates
• benefits of positive impact of the aspects, interventions, stakeholders on H&S performance
• extent to which various aspects or interventions could contribute to an improvement in H&S performance.

Construction health and safety interventions ranked

Leading construction companies ranked their health and safety interventions in terms of what they believe the relative contributions to receiving their insurance rebates are. Leading construction interventions ranking of the value of interventions, in order of average importance, are;

H&S rules
H&S induction [site training]
H&S awareness [site communication]
Management commitment to H&S [leadership]
Management accountability for H&S [leadership]
Hazard identification and risk assessment, Hira
H&S inspections
Integration of H&S into activities and tasks
H&S coordinator or manager [leadership]
Toolbox talks [site communication]
Safe work procedures (SWPs)
H&S training
H&S management system
Site management
H&S policy
Focus on H&S [leadership]
Worker participation [excluding unions, see last element]
Incident investigation
Management involvement in H&S [leadership]
H&S officer
H&S education [training]
H&S consultant
H&S culture [leadership]
H&S disciplinary procedure
H&S plans [requirements]
H&S legislation, OHS Act, COID Act [compliance]
H&S meetings [site communication]
Client [requirements]
Construction Regulations [compliance]
H&S goal setting
Allocation of financial resources to H&S
Medical surveillance
First line supervision
H&S specification [requirements]
Recognition of H&S performance [incentives, communication]
H&S measurement
Quality management system (QMS) [like ISO 9001 certification]
H&S message or theme for a month or week [goals]
Feedback on H&S performance [communication, BBS]
Improvement process, like total quality management (TQM)
H&S representatives [leadership]
Partnering [colleagues, or buddy system]
Project manager [leadership]
Participation in H&S competitions [rewards, incentives]
H&S notice board [site communication]
Participation in H&S star gradings [Nosa or Master Builders grading]
H&S incentives [rewards]
Client appointed H&S Agent [requirements]
H&S newsletter [site communication]
Designer [requirements]
H&S suggestion box [site communication]
Unions [organised labour involvement]

[ comment; Some interventions are clarified by wording in square brackets in this report by the editor, for the convenience of readers. These clarifications were not stated to respondents. The large number of intervention types, and inconsistent ranking among near identical intervention types, indicate large divergence among respondents, and possibly diverse interpretations of the meaning of intervention labels. If perceived synergy among interventions is assumed, then ranking loses some meaning, however, top ten and bottom ten interventions reveal that leading construction managers share strong views about the relative worth, and relative worthlessness, of about 20 intervention types.]

Measurement not general practice

Where respondents used health and safety performance measurement, they were requested to identify the measures. Disabling injury incidence rate (DIIR) predominates, although by only a third of those that identified measurement, which was 31.8% of respondents.

The second most used metric is direct cost of accidents and injury claims ratio. Clearly respondent organisations do not measure H&S performance, however, a possible reason is the 0% response relative to fatality rate per 100 000, since their organisations did not suffer fatalities.

DIIR measured; 36.4%
Direct cost of accidents measured; 13.6%
Claims ratio measured; 13.6%
Other metrics; 9.1%
Indirect cost of accidents measured; 4.5%
Fatality rate per 100 000 measured; 0.0%

[ comments; MEF measures fatalities as a percentage, not as a rate, and applicable to any period, usually per claims year. See a recent report on the FEM annual report on]

Construction intervention conclusions

Based on mean percentage rebate received over three years, at 33.4%, it can be concluded that tangible financial benefits accrue from enhanced H&S performance.

All eleven project parameters are more than important to very important, or very important to respondents’ organisations. Therefore it can be concluded that they represent mature organisations, as they appreciate that all parameters are important, and also synergy between parameters.

A range of aspects or interventions or stakeholders contributed to respondents’ organisations receiving a rebate from FEM. Optimum H&S requires a multi stakeholder effort and multiple interventions.

Based on aspects, interventions, stakeholders that can be deemed to have contributed between a near major extent to a major extent, or major extent, these construction health and safety categories are critical:

• Communication of rules, induction, awareness, toolbox talks, policy, culture
• Management H&S commitment, accountability, inspections, integration, coordinator, manager, system, policy, focus, officer, consultant, culture, discipline
• Risk management rules, induction, inspection, Hira, SWPs, incident investigation, officer, culture
• Education, training, induction, toolbox talks
• Worker participation.

[ comment; Respondents seem to have divergent views on the efficacy of about half of these intervention categories. Only top ten and bottom ten interventions could be taken as agreed. Grouping of interventions into types is helpful to readers, noting that subsidiary elements are stated in order of relative importance, according to leading managers. However, divergence of opinion, and divergent definitions of intervention types, should be noted. Listing of some elements in several categories indicate the integral nature of health and safety interventions, therefore low ranking of some elements that appear under several type groups of intervention, amount to a higher ranking, for example, toolbox talks contribute to communication as well as training, or culture contribute to communication, management as well as risk management.]

Comments from management and CAH&S Agents or H&S consultants, predominate in terms of the basis for perceived / confirmed contribution (impact), therefore management is committed to, and involved in H&S.

Comments from CAH&S Agents underscore the rationale of client responsibility for H&S in terms of the Construction Regulations, and that third party review enhances H&S.

Comments from H&S consultants indicate that management is committed in that they appoint consultants, and that second party review enhances H&S.

Further improvements by design, procurement

Prof Smallwood notes that respondent organisations generally do not measure H&S performance, which is an indication that measurement is not an integral part of their H&S programmes or systems.

The range of aspects or interventions that have potential to contribute to improvement in organisational H&S performance, are;
• improved design
• improved procurement
• improved construction.

Construction H&S recommendations

Department of Labour, employer associations, FEM, H&S consultants and organised labour unions should motivate addressing H&S on the basis of financial and other benefits.

Contractors should view H&S and other project parameters as a value, and afford all project parameters equal status.

In addition to addressing all H&S aspects and interventions, among all project stakeholders, contractors should:
• optimise management H&S commitment and involvement
• focus on H&S education, training, risk management, communication
• optimise worker participation
• integrate H&S in procurement of materials, goods and services.

Construction study motivation

Prof Smallwood was requested to present a paper at the FEM Health and Safety Summit 75th Anniversary in July 2011. Previous alike research was conducted in 2001 and presented at the Association of Researchers in Construction Management (ARCOM) conference in Newcastle, UK, in 2002.

The report offers feedback to respondents and non-respondents, and detailed feedback to delegates at the FEM Health and Safety Summit 75th Anniversary, where a paper, based on the findings was presented, excluding findings of a survey of related literature.

Construction report queries and answers queried Prof Smallwood on some aspects of his study conclusions.

Q; “Respondents do not measure H&S performance.” Is this surprising in terms of the standard management cycle?
Prof Smallwood; Lack of measurement may be surprising to some health and safety practitioners, but not to leaders in the construction industry, since they are aware of their own injury and incident frequency levels.”

Q; Did the study ask for lagging or leading indicators?
Prof Smallwood; The question was generic. Where a basis for improvement was measurement, respondents were required to identify which ‘lagging’ measures were used. Leading indicators will not quantify improvement. In retrospect I should have asked regarding ‘leading’ indicators.

Q; Do you rely only on FEM rebate data as a reflection of performance, and do respondents do the same?
Prof Smallwood; The sample stratum was selected by FEM on the basis of a number of criteria, primarily financial performance. Obviously injuries impact substantially thereon.

Q; Leading and award winning construction companies say that they perform a long list of sheq management functions, each containing several metrics. Do they record these interventions? Could they access their records?
Prof Smallwood; Most operators know their insurance rebate percentage. FEM are very helpful.

Q; Should we conclude that construction employers generally do not measure results of their interventions, due to a gap in the management wheel, or due to reliance on injury data?
Prof Smallwood; In construction it is a challenge to determine impacts of a single intervention, and I would argue that they rely on injury data to a degree. I believe that the respondent group takes health and safety as values, and ‘get the job done’, which counts. Only the minority measure performance aspects.

[A query on the potential impact of financial incentives on incident ‘hiding’ and false measurement, was not answered, presumably for being outside the scope of the study that was focused on insurance rebates awarded to leading employers, and their opinions regarding interventions.]

• This report is an extract from a statistically referenced research paper.

PHOTO;  Prof John Smallwood heads Nelson Mandela Metro University Construction Management department.

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