Resolutions for a safer 2008

Mike Walker, QHSE manager, Al Masaood Bergum, explains the important issues that would make 2008 a safer year all round.

COMMENT, Business

Dead bodies make headlines no matter what lies beneath. Dubai's construction industry made 2007 headlines on several occasions. The excuses to counteract these stories roll off the tongue far too easily; shortage of skilled labour, cultural and communication differences and impossible client fast-track delivery programs.

As 2008 rolls in, this is an excellent time for everyone in the industry to do some navel-gazing and look at new and practical ways to improve their individual - and company - safety record.

Below are some discussion points that we compiled as part of our HSE Plan for making 2008 a better and safer year:


Senior managers: Leading and not just managing safety

It is recognised that we must fully develop our senior managers to be confident and comfortable to self-manage all HSE issues in their departments. Leadership development training and active, visible involvement, via management observation tours has provided strong HSE results on previous projects. Influential senior managers are important to ensure this change is sustainable.

Enlightenment among clients and top management will also help companies to move away from lag-time frequency rate type indicator methods towards more lead-time initiatives (scored site audits, competency development, management observation tours etc).

Educating and training

It is important to explain and advise why safety is important, rather than instructing workers to ‘just do it'. The real question is why should we need safety officers on sites if everyone promotes safety? Good HSE advisors should be able to make themselves redundant as they develop supervisor and worker HSE skills and understanding. In the UAE, it is encouraging to note that some developers are now starting to introduce HSE training programmes, which require contractor participation. This is a great initiative and should be adopted across the board.

The use of multilingual HSE induction packages being developed by BuildSafe Dubai will also help to address significant cultural issues at a crucial period for new workers.

Talking the language of business

Safety professionals also need to change their vocabulary so they don't use ‘health and safety' as the lever for action. The credibility link with senior management needs to be bridged by better communication in terms that managers understand. They must be able to talk in terms of business impact, reputation, risk and liability.

Commercial rewards and developing HSE partnerships

It is important that positive action on safety is recognised via reward.

On larger jobs, there is a wide range of good and bad HSE management competencies. The poor performers can have a very negative effect by dragging down site safety standards. Project management teams and consultants often have biased commercial interests. Commercial rewards could address this, for example: financial rewards for solutions to safety and production issues, a balanced scorecard approach for safety performance based on lagging and leading indicators, progress bonus only being given if lagging and leading safety indicators are achieved or shared financial bonus with main project contractors based on leading safety indicator measures.

Networking and sharing HSE information

Varied HSE initiatives are being developed across many UAE construction companies. The BuildSafe Dubai programme launched in 2007 has introduced an excellent framework for companies in the UAE to meet regularly and work together to improve standards.

HSE enforcement

In many countries, government HSE agencies have a wide remit to advise, inspect and enforce on HSE issues. In the UAE, the announced expansion of the HSE enforcement agency is to be congratulated. This expansion should assist in providing additional scope to promote their important enforcement and advisory role across the industry.

Simplifying HSE documents

Current emphasis is being placed on weighty generic HSE plans and method statements being signed off at the start of projects. It is questionable if this affects safety performance on the site. The development of common site safety work practices and simplified on-site safety-specific documents will be far more effective in ensuring good working practices are being followed.

Health and Welfare

As safety often takes priority above health and welfare, it is important that health controls are in place for the high-risk tasks (welding, painting) via routine health checks. It is also important to ensure that good standards are maintained for labour camp food, hygiene and welfare issues, to ensure that workers efforts are recognised.

Education on a range of health issues such as; regular exercise, balanced diet, and maintaining a work life balance are also important to promote amongst workers.

As UAE contractors become more involved in long term contracts, improved safety systems will become established, however sustainable change will always be a challenge. Ultimately top management will be the key element in achieving a sustainable change. Our 2008 HSE Plan is almost signed off, and the aim is to ensure that we have the correct balanced integration of safety within our commercial business arrangements. We now look forward to contributing to only the good news UAE headlines covering 2008 construction stories.

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