Why should we take construction safety seriously?

Why should we take construction safety seriously?How safe is your construction project?

Have you had a worker die on your project? Have you visited a seriously injured worker in hospital? Maybe you’ve been injured yourself working in construction? What does it feel like?

The impacts

Some of us have had the misfortune of having serious accidents on our construction projects. It’s not pretty – and I’m not talking about the blood and mess. It’s the after effects, the disruption, the scars and loss left behind.

I was a Contract Director for a construction project in central Africa and while visiting the project, a scaffold that concreters were working on collapsed, resulting in a worker falling onto the broken timbers. A piece of wood penetrated the upper part of his inner thigh, which bled profusely. Fortunately the client had a full-time paramedic on the project, who treated the injured worker, before transferring him to the hospital an hour’s drive away.

Since there was so much blood, I was concerned the worker would die, and since we were working in a foreign country, I was also worried about what could happen to us. I had visions of the local police arriving, arresting us, and locking us in the local prison. I had no illusions as to what conditions would be like there. It was certainly a scary thought for all of us.

There was, however, a happy ending. The injury wasn’t as severe as it had appeared and the worker returned to work the next day. We were fortunate, since I’m sure if the piece of wood had pierced a major artery, which was probably only centimetres away, the outcome would have been very different.

This accident could have happened in any country, and if the worker had died there was the possibility of the Project Manager and I both being jailed if found responsible for the death. In first world countries prisons may be slightly better than elsewhere, and the justice system may allow for a fair trial, however, the consequences of the Project Manager being found responsible for the death of a worker, or member of public, on their project, is still possibly prison time, certainly a heavy monetary fine. Unfortunately very few Project Managers understand this, and it’s probably the reason many don’t take safety as seriously as they should.

But let’s put aside the direct consequences to you for a minute, and consider some of the other consequences of an accident on a project. What about the workers themselves? What about their families? Workers have an expectation, and a right, they’ll return home from your project in the same health as they started. Families expect to see their loved ones, and bread-winners, return from work at the end of the day, and you, the Project Manager, have the duty of care to ensure this happens.

What’s the problem?

Over the years I have seen huge improvements in safety on projects. When I look back to my early years in construction, I shudder to think how we used to do things, and the risks we took with our own lives, and the lives of workers. Safety has changed for the better which means we can all sleep easier at night.

However, construction work is a hazardous business and accidents happen easily. In fact, I have often found accidents happen when we least expect them and even when the simplest tasks are being done.

Safety isn’t something that happens naturally. Just consider the recent maintenance tasks you did at home or in your garden, I’m sure if you analyse these, you’ll find you didn’t use the correct personal protective equipment, or follow proper safety procedures. I know I’m guilty of numerous safety breaches every time I work around the home and garden! (Most hospitals treat more injuries incurred from DIY projects in the home than other causes.) In fact, if you think about the last time you were driving, did you obey all the rules? When walking, do you stop at the traffic light and wait for it to turn in your favour, or are you impatient and cross as soon as you see a gap in the traffic? (No wonder there are so many injuries from motor vehicle accidents!) We’ve all done these things, so why should we expect to do things any differently at work? If you engage in unsafe behaviour outside the work place, the chances are that most of your workforce does the same thing.

What can we do?

Many hate safety because all they see are rules, expenses and a drag on production. But safety is not just about rules! Safety is about changing behaviour and changing mindsets, including your own.

And if you want to know about expense and disruption to a project, then have a serious accident and you’ll soon know about it!

Safety cannot be left entirely to the safety advisors, nor can it be driven only by the Project Manager. Safety is a team effort that needs support from the whole management team and all the workers. To achieve this, the Project Manager has to lead the team – and lead by example.

Safety must be set-up properly from the start of the project, which should be scheduled and planned in such a way that the work can be done safely – the client’s deadlines and schedule should not dictate otherwise.

Don’t let anyone be hurt on your construction project today.

Thank you for reading this article. If you found it useful please like or share it.

Please add your comments so we can all learn from your experiences.

Why should we take construction safety seriously?Paul Netscher is the author of the popular books 'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide'and 'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide'. Paul's new book 'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' has just been published. These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores. Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website. Visit www.pn-projectmanagement.com to read other similar helpful articles.

Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.

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Paul Netscher 27/11/2016 · #2

#1 Thanks Pamela - well done on correcting safety failures. We should never walk past an unsafe act - the consequences could be with us forever.

Pamela 🐝 Williams 12/11/2016 · #1

And yet when I insisted construction personnel put a harness on while repairing the roof on a three story building I received eye rolls and disgruntled whispers. I also made the supervisor place someone at the base of the extension ladder the guys were using to get to the roof. "I don't have enough guys here for someone to stand around holding a ladder".
My response: "Hire another guy or do it yourself". He did it himself. Broken bones, brain damage, lifelong back pain due to fractured vertebrae are not a joke!