3.1.1. Who does it affect?
The above listed problems have serious effects on many parties involved in the construction industry and do not pertain only to the main contractor, sub-contractor or workforce individually.
In construction, all the work is done by the labourers. Whether it be an un-skilled, semi-skilled or specialist trades the work is always done by the labour. The management is responsible for the planning and controlling over the site which then makes it clear that they should be the ones who are implementing the health and safety standards on site. If management does not create the awareness that is needed for health and safety then the workers will be at risk at all times on site. Management has to enforce the rules so that the workforce can be informed and actively take part safety awareness for all. If management fails to create this awareness the risk of harm will be greater and workers will not know how to conduct their daily work in a safe and low risk environment and management will be held responsible for the costs involved if any IODs, or worst case death, has to occur.
On the other hand, sometimes safety rules are enforced and it is the workforce who does not comply with what is being implemented. This again will affect the workforce directly. If plans are put into place to create awareness and to increase the standard of health and safety on site and the workforce does not comply, they will be the ones who are affected the most and who will be liable for their own IODS. This means that if workers are educated on certain safety hazards and they understand what is being asked of them, and they still behave in a way that endangers themselves or others, then they will be liable for the costs and damages created.
Problems of health and safety could lead to accidents involving the public. This is a very serious issue and can be very costly to all those involved. If anyone of the public is harmed in any way by any tasks that were being performed on site, the main contractor will be held liable for the costs involved. If upon investigation it is found that it was the negligence of the sub-contractor or his worker, the liable will still fall upon the main contractor, as he appointed the sub-contractor, but the main contractor will then claim from the sub-contractor for the costs involved.
3.1.2. Where the problem derived from
The problems faced are based on the fact that in the history of construction, it has been found that health and safety was not something that was implemented on site. Historically speaking, there was no acknowledgement of health and safety awareness on a construction site. In the past workers were not aware of the risks involved in most tasks; there was no major concern with workers who would work at heights, they did not have as many rights as they do now at a construction site, they did not realize that certain tasks could be detrimental to their health (eg. prolonged contact work with asbestos could lead to cancer).
However, upon various recent discoveries health and safety awareness was introduced onto site to prevent the amount of injuries, deaths and disabilities. At first it was not regulated by law and some companies did not allow the promotion of health and safety on site. They continued to work in the same manner without formal regard for health and safety. Eventually a Law was passed which regulated the conditions of health and safety on site which overall governed all companies and workplaces in terms of health and safety. Slowly the attitude of people changed as they accepted, maybe because they had no other choice, the conditions of the Law.
Because safety is a learn-as-you-go type of system it took many years to develop a standard of health and safety across construction sites, to which all can conform to. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was passed in 1993 which means the Act has been put into power for eighteen years.
Unfortunately, even though so much time has passed, people have still not settled to the routine of conducting health and safety on a correct and regular basis. Some still feel that there are ways to avoid doing so and that safety is not too important because they do not understand the full severity of it. They could blame it on the fact that safety was not a requirement by law in the past and therefore are having trouble incorporating it into their site development program.
3.2. How the problem is being investigated
I have liaised with our company Safety Officer on site for the full duration of a few projects, therefore it makes it very easy for me to pick up and identify the issues faced on site regarding all the parties involved. While on weekly or monthly site visits, safety file audits and safety meetings that are held one becomes familiar with the problems that arise. Unfortunately, most of the time the problem is highlighted after an incident has occurred. But this does create a standard for the future as people will then be aware of the issue and try to prevent it as much as possible.
Most of the data is collected from various sites and have been compiled into this report. However, some companies were very reluctant to allow me to use their information which made it difficult to provide evidence on the cases.
The bulk of the report data is from incidents that occurred on site where my company was working on. Some of the incidents do not only involve the workers from my company. Where possible annexures will be included to provide proof of the course taken to rectify and prevent future accidents.
3.3. Possible solutions to the problem
3.3.1. Solutions from the main contractor
There are many ways in which the main contractor can provide solutions for their problems but all the solutions have to include all the people who are involved on site.
Firstly, there needs to be a more serious outlook upon health and safety. It’s pointless trying to warn people about the risks when they cannot see it for themselves. Usually on site they have notice boards placed in various locations, more awareness can be made by placing adverts on these notice boards with visual examples of accidents and injuries that have occurred in the past. The point is that workers need to see what can really happen irrespective of what they are doing because damage can be cause by someone else so visuals can be placed saying that irrespective of the task or individual, injuries can happen.
Another thing that the main contractor can do is be more stringent when it comes to health and safety file and adherence that the sub-contractor has to have for the main contractors’ enforcement of health and safety. What this means is that the main contractor has to be stricter when it comes to the sub-contractor. The sub-contractor must fully comply with the requirements of the main contractor in terms of health and safety. The safety file audits should yield a 100% rating because what is required in the file is essential. Any part that is missing whether it is an appointment or a register should suspend the progress of the sub-contractor on site until the required information is required. As harsh as this sound, one cannot determine the equivalence of one requirement to another.
The main contractor can then also request for the sub-contractors’ safety officer to be present once a week to check the safety file and update it as well as monitor the manner in which the tasks are being performed. If this cannot happen once a week, then the main contractor and the sub-contractors’ safety office can come to an agreement where they will settle on other arrangements.
3.3.2. Solutions from the sub-contractor
For the issue of the language barrier, the Safety Officer of the sub-contractor should request the help of a worker who is fluent in the language that is most common to help translate and relate the message to the workers. The Safety Officer should also enlighten workers on ways that will facilitate their job. This means that if or when the Safety Officer is unable to update the file, or do tool box talks etc, a worker should be able to fill in the required details upon the request.
The Sub-contractor also needs to understand the value of Health and Safety awareness. If there are other companies that have been issued with penalties for violating the health and safety regulations, the information should be passed along to others so that other companies can learn from their mistakes. Where possible to protect the company that has been involved, personal information can be excluded. Once the information is spread, companies will then realize that the amount of money that is invested into health and safety awareness is far less than that of a penalty that will be issued for a violation, injury or accident.
A good way to increase morale and boost involvement of health and safety awareness amongst workers will be to hold regular workshops or team building exercise. This helps not only by treating workers to a break where they will enjoy the company of fellow workers, but will also help to train and educate workers at the same time.
3.3.3. Solutions from the labourers
If labourers become more involved with the health and safety process, it will benefit them tremendously. Once workers become more involved it will help them to understand what is being asked of them in terms of health and safety. They will be more aware of their working conditions. This will improve their attitude towards health and safety so that they will be safe guarded and aware of what is expected of them.
If workers help out the Safety Officer they will have a greater sense of responsibility. This will give them a sense of belonging and will want to have more responsibilities. Once they have this sense of responsibility is it easy to initiate them to educate themselves. If workers educate themselves in terms of health and safety they will have a full understanding of their rights and what is allocated to them.
If there is a language barrier where the workers don’t understand what is being asked of them, they need to speak up about it and inform their supervisors. Sometimes they agree when asked if they have understood even if they have not. Arrangements can be made to use another worker who understands English and is fluent in the most common native language. He can then be uses as a translator and relate the message to the workers and who they are trying to communicate with and vice versa.
4.1. Resource constraints
4.1.1. Time constrains
Having liaised with the Safety Officer at my company for only a year, there has not been sufficient time and experience for me in the field of health and safety. But, in this short space of time I have been able to identify many problems with regards to health and safety on site.
Apart from my lack of experience and the fact that we have many projects running concurrently and the time frame of each project makes it hard to identify and highlight the problems, put into place a system to overcome these issues and monitor progress. Safety it a timeous process and for the entire process to be documented would take up much time which is not always available.
4.1.2. Human restraints
When it comes to those who are involved in the construction that can be singled out as the ones to be blamed for certain issues, these people tend to withhold information that could possibly implicate them in matters which could lead to penalties or legal law suits.
People are also not very forthcoming when it comes to health and safety as some are just too lazy to put in the effort but try to cover up their behaviour to avoid being penalized. People also try to transfer the blame as quickly as possible to avoid being involved. For example, on a site where we were working, an electrical worker was injured when a ceiling tile had fallen onto his face cutting his nose while he was trying to remove the tile to fix cables in the ceiling. On the inner perimeter of a room the ceiling grid work is not fixed to the walls, the grid work is hung from the roof structures or concrete slab. This sometimes causes the ceiling to shift. Being a finishing trade ceilings should be done after all electrical connections, air conditioning pipes and other services are completed. However on this particular site the electrical company was falling behind and we were given the go ahead to proceed with our work. When the electrical worker was trying to remove the ceiling tile it slipped out of the grid against the wall and fell onto his cutting his nose. He then immediately informed his Safety Officer who then began proceeding that would make us liable for the injury. Luckily, for us, the sub contractors’ site foreman witnessed the incident and was able to verify that we were not to be blamed. Firstly, we could not be held liable as our task was finished and if the worker had to remove the tiles he should have informed one of our workers to assist him in removing the tile to complete his work which he was behind in doing in the first place. Then, the worker should have been able to assess the risk involved when removing the ceiling tile. The manner in which he removed the tile was the hazard which he could not avoid and thus resulted in an injury. Pinning the blame onto the ceiling sub-contractor to be liable was a first instinct but unfortunately it did not work and the matter was referred to as an IOD that only concerned the electrical sub-contractor.
4.2. Constraints regarding standards and codes of practice
4.2.1. What standards and codes of practice were imposed on site
When safety is being implemented on site, safety files must be compiled before commencing with work on site. The files are then audited to see if the requirements that have been set out by the main contractor have been fulfilled. If the safety file does not meet the required standard the Safety Office is informed and outstanding information or improvements must be made to the file immediately or it will result in the contractor from being stopped from continuing work on site.
On different sites, the bulk of the requirements are the same however there are times in which they can vary drastically. Some projects , ‘green’ projects’ need the materials to be least taxing on the environment. Quality Assurance is an entire new concept that most are unaware of, but seeing that health and safety deals with the preservation of the environment it needed to be included. The problem that we faced with this is that we had never had to compile a quality assurance file before and it was very difficult. This file gets audited so failure to meet the standard would have resulted in our monthly valuation payments being withheld until the file met the required standard. The file had to have checklists for each task done on site to ensure quality for each process. It also had to include material safety data sheets (MSDs). Failure to provide any of these documents would result in withholding of payment.
4.2.2. Who has to abide by these standards and codes of practices
The people who are most concerned with the standards and codes of practices are the ones that impose them and those who are affected directly by them. This means that the main contractor’ safety management, who imposes the standards and codes, as well as the sub-contractors’ safety management. Safety management comprises of the Safety Officer, the SHE reps, the safety committee and safety council. Each person must follow that standards and codes of practices whether they are the ones imposing it or affected by it, all must abide.
5. Cost of research
There is no actual cost for the report. Having liaised with Safety consultant for my company it has allowed me to gather the required information that was needed for the basis of the report at no extra cost. This was such because I was site based and had weekly site visits to some of the sites discussed in this report and I was actively involved in the safety processes.
Having being so involved I was able to compile lists of problems and create solutions in a way that did not hinder the time or development of the construction projects. I did not have to take time off to investigate as it was within my working hours that I collected the relevant information.
6. Benefits of the research
6.1. Who will benefit from the report and how
People who are concerned with health and safety will benefit from this report. The report was constructed in such a way that the parties concerned with health and safety on a construction site; being the main contractor and their Safety Officer, the sub-contractor and their Safety Officer and all the labourers on site, will be able to identify the faults and problems that could be caused by them or by those who are directly linked to them.
When those who are concerned with health and safety are able to identify possible errors in their actions and the actions of the ones linked to them, they will be able to investigate these problems and look for possible solutions. Sometimes it is also possible for them to conduct their own investigations and come up with their own possible solutions based on the guidelines given.
The solutions that have been given may not always be the best possible solution and people may find that they see the problem from a different aspect and may find better ways to counteract the problem.
The main focus is on the fact that they will be able to bring the problem out into the open and then find as many ways to resolve the issues which will then lead to less incidents, accidents or near misses on site.