THE construction industry is known to be the catalyst for economic growth and development. To ensure that it can be developed progressively and successfully, we not only need a professional and skilful workforce but also workers with adequate exposure and competency in all aspects of safety and health at the workplace.
Those working in the construction industry should realise the dire consequences of flouting safety guidelines and cutting corners, poor design, shoddy workmanship and inadequate supervision.
Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) is an approach that can be applied successfully in the construction industry as it has the advantage of ensuring the involvement of individual employees in addition to employer commitment.
Accidents caused by poor safety management of construction sites are serious and must be addressed urgently. Those responsible must learn from past accidents and be prepared to avoid similar mishaps in future. Accidents such as collapse of building scaffoldings at construction sites or falling objects, resulting in death or injuries to the workers and the public, are matters which must be taken seriously.
BBS addresses these factors and reinforces learning and behaviours. It is closely linked to company culture and values and, most importantly, when it works, it is an excellent tool to improve safety performance at the workplace.
Reports of falling cranes at construction sites resulting in the damage of residential homes and public property are also matters of serious public concern.
Construction activities carried out without regard to the environment have also resulted in environmental mishaps such as flooding and landslides.
Such accidents could affect the image of the company, delay the construction progress, as well as generate substantial direct and indirect cost burdens. In some cases, workers could be injured and this would demotivate and demoralise them.
The key findings of most accident investigations highlight the need to review and enhance awareness and competency of the parties involved, particularly their roles and responsibilities in developing best practices in workplace safety.
It is therefore essential for all those involved in the construction industry to be always sensitive to such problems and take the necessary measures to prevent accidents. Those in positions of authority must pay heed to the more stringent standards in occupational safety and health.
Laws and regulations alone do not automatically ensure successful health and safety practices at construction sites. What is needed is the adoption and implementation of safety measures by responsible and safety-conscious contractors supported by experienced and trained employees.
To avoid mishaps at the work site, attention and priority must be given to safety right from the conception of the project.
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) management must be practised at all levels in the construction industry, from the top management to the labourer at the work site. It is of paramount importance for everyone to be committed and involved in the practice of OSH.
Although the authorities enact laws and enforce them, the responsibility for implementing a safety system at the construction site lies mainly with the main and sub-contractors. Those who create the risk and hazards are in a better position to manage them. Contractors should therefore be responsible to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy.
Industries and employers must understand the four fundamental factors that justify OSH management. These are corporate responsibility, social and moral obligation, good business sense and legal obligation.
BBS is a process that provides organisations the opportunity to achieve safety excellence through actionable leading indicators that are statistically valid, reliable and can lead to improved indicators of safety leadership, trust, empowerment and unity across the team.
Equally important to the organisational culture is that BBS provides line management the opportunity to prove and demonstrate a strong commitment to the core values of their organisation. When used together with the Company Integrated Safety Management System, BBS could significantly impact injury rates and total reportable cases.
Employers must be committed to and understand the issues of occupational safety and health as it is part of their company’s corporate responsibility. This success cannot be achieved without cooperation and understanding between the employers and workers.
It should be noted that occupational safety and health neither discriminates genders nor appearance or citizenship. Local and foreign workers are entitled to the same rights.
Accidents neither distinguish between victims nor the value of the project. It is the people who can recognise the hazards and are able to take preventive action.
Most employers and employees will agree that the ultimate aim of a safety initiative is a “total safety culture”, but this concept is rarely defined.
A total safety culture is a culture in which:
1. Individuals hold safety as a “value” and not a priority, as our priorities change on an hourly basis;
2. Individuals take responsibility for the safety of their co-workers in addition to themselves; and
3. All levels of employees are willing and able to act on their sense of responsibility and know they should go beyond the call of duty in this aspect.
The following are some requirements for any approach to safety at work to bring about noticeable, lasting results and total safety culture through the BBS approach:
i. A strong management commitment towards maintaining and improving behavioural safety, witnessed in the regular acts of individuals at management level;
ii. Respectful, trusting, open communication between management and employee groups about all aspects of safety at the workplace;
iii. An open feedback culture among employees that enables them to consistently learn and grow;
iv. Commitment to improving the profile of and attitude to health and safety and increased employee engagement in safety;
v. Emphasis on safe and unsafe behaviour, and not solely depending on lagging indicators such as safety statistics;
vi. Strong, consistent, timely reaction upon the discovery of unsafe acts whether they result in injury or not. Safety incidents are viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve; and
vii. Generally transparent and fair leadership from all, including managers, supervisors and owners.
BBS thus promotes awareness among all workers of the different approaches to consider in working towards an accident-free environment.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Malaysia