Have you had a worker die on your project? Have you visited a seriously injured worker in the hospital? Maybe you’ve been injured yourself working in construction? What does it feel like? How has it impacted your life? How has it impacted your project?
How safe is your project? Is all of the safety documentation in place? Have all personnel the correct skills and knowledge? Is everyone safety conscious, or is everyone simply following the rules blindly?
The impacts of poor safety
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 project director of a construction project in central Africa. 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 that provided first aid to the injured worker, before transferring him to the hospital an hour away.
There was lots of blood and I was concerned the worker would die. Because 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 and throwing us into prison. It was a scary thought.
Luckily, there was a happy ending. The injury wasn’t as severe as it 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 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 America, prisons may be slightly better than elsewhere, and the justice system may allow for a fair trial, however, the consequences of being found responsible for the death of a worker, or member of the public, is still possibly prison time and certainly a heavy monetary fine. Unfortunately, very few project managers and construction company owners 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, to 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 have the duty of care to ensure this happens.
I always hear the excuse that safety costs money, that it’s a waste of time and that it slows construction work. Well if you really want to know about additional costs, time wasting and delays to your project, then let there be a serious accident.
So, let’s look at the costs of poor safety.
- Poor safety results in accidents which:
- Can damage equipment, which costs money to repair, and often impacts progress when the item isn’t available because it’s damaged.
- Can damage finished work, which costs money to repair and often takes resources away from other work. It often results in delays.
- Take management time. The injured must be taken to the hospital and accident reports and investigations must be completed.
- Can result in the injured person being off the project for days, even weeks, which negatively impacts production, especially if the person is a key operator, supervisor, or has specialist skills required for the project.
- Result in increases in insurance premiums.
- Could even lead to legal actions by the injured parties if the project was negligent. These legal actions are time-consuming and costly to defend, and payouts to the injured can be huge.
- Damage contractor’s reputations. Invariably serious accidents attract media attention. Client’s don’t want to employ contractors with a poor safety record. After all, an accident on their project could delay the project, attract unwanted media attention, and it invariably takes up the client’s and their team’s time to investigate the cause. Many clients want to see the contractor’s safety statistics for the last few years before employing them. Contractors with poor safety records won’t get the job.
- Poor safety could result in the project being shut down by the authorities until the safety breaches are rectified, which costs money and causes delays. It often also results in negative publicity which impacts reputation.
- The authorities can impose monetary penalties for an unsafe workplace.
- Unsafe work conditions negatively impact production.
- People don’t want to work for a company with a poor safety record. Many values their health and will choose to work elsewhere, where they’re more likely to stay safe and healthy.
What’s the problem?
Over the years I’ve seen huge improvements in safety on projects. I look back now and wonder at 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.
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