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Bringing Down Incidents to Level Zero
E Pramod, General Manager - Projects, Aker Powergas Pvt. Ltd. Industries have been trying their level best to adopt the policy of 'Health is Wealth' by implementing measures that bring down hazardous incidences to zero level. Though there has always been an awareness regarding the importance of safety, an effective implementation necessitates a cultural change and a change in the mindset of the people. The article highlights certain key elements, which can ensure highest level of safety by nullifying incidences in construction industry.

Construction industry has been one of the most demanding industry involving multidimensional challenges. It contributes 10 per cent of a developing country's Gross National Product (GNP), but it also has six times as many fatalities and injuries per hour worked compared to the manufacturing industry. Over a period of time, construction companies have mastered the art of overcoming challenges, which have helped them increase their margins and execute projects in a predictable manner along with earning a good reputation. However, these companies are still struggling to overcome the challenge of construction safety and the goal of 'zero incidence'. Though there has always been an awareness regarding the importance of safety, an effective implementation necessitates a cultural change and a change in the mindset of the people.

In spite of mechanisation, the Indian construction industry is still very labour intensive with changing working environment involving several different parties. Workers are exposed to various hazards and risks, which affect their safety. The costs of accidents in the Indian construction industry run into crores of rupees. Even in the fixed price projects, accidents can lead to higher capital cost for the owners through delays and third party liability suits. Some direct accident costs may be absorbed by contractors in the short term, but ultimately all the accident costs are passed on to the owners leading to cost escalation for the current capital project and higher bids for the future capital projects. It is vital for all companies to remain competitive by minimising price impact on account of construction accidents.

Types of Accidents
The most frequent type of construction accidents in India comprise of construction site falls, crane accidents, scaffolding accidents, collision with operating machineries, electrical accidents, trench collapses, welding accidents, pressure testing related accidents, fire and explosions. Approximately two in five fatalities were on account of falls, followed by transportation accidents, which contributed one in four fatalities. Since construction works are generally temporary in nature, most arrangements are planned and made for shorter durations. Hence, companies fail to enforce complete safety standards. Most of the labour employed belong to agricultural background and are unaware of the industrial risks. Due to the transient nature of this workforce, the training programmes are generally ineffective. There is a general tendency to crash the schedule to cover up the delays occurred due to delayed machinery and other resource mobilisation including the project equipments. This gives rise to increased risks at work.

Steps to Improve Safety
What should be the first step in improving the safety? Is it enough to declare a mere reduction in the lost time accidents with respect to previous year? Any yearly reduction target will also mean that the company is allowing a certain minimum amount of accidents to happen! Even a 60 per cent reduction may sound a very good target but this would also mean that the company is perceived to be doing fine, though some numbers of accidents are still considered acceptable. This will send a wrong message to the construction team. Hence, the only goal that represents the intended result of an effective programme is ‘zero accidents’. Companies must also have a strict policy against concealing accidents as it blows the credibility of the entire safety programme. In short, the company should always have very high expectations on their safety performance and set their goals accordingly.

Over a period of time, companies have evolved a set of practices and key elements that have helped them to minimise the accidents. However, they were never good enough for ensuring zero incidents. The proponents of zero incidents (US Construction Industry Institute studies in 1993 and 2003) have come out with the following key elements:

1. Management commitment: The key is that the top management should be actively involved in worker safety at project level to exert a strong influence on setting up project safety culture. They should also be involved in the accident investigations, organise frequent safety audits, and send direct communications to work force at site. Some of the barriers are lack of funds, differing or conflicting philosophy, lack of visibility or field interaction, company silos (safety Vs business, management, production etc), and the mindset that 'zero incident' is not possible. However, the best practices listed below will overcome these barriers to a certain extent.

• Consider the cost of safety improvement as cost savings, offer monetary benefits for achieving safety goals and make statements and perform actions showing that cost is not an issue.
• Promote nothing other than zero incident, clearly illustrate the vision of a safety culture, exude passion for safety, empower each person to what it takes to be safe including stopping a job or unit.
• Organise safety audits.
• Discuss perceived barriers openly with workforce for feedback and implement these changes.

2. Leadership: Leadership can be achieved by providing management and leadership training, assigning coaches and mentors, hiring the right people. The barriers are seen in an antagonistic environment, inconsistent priorities or direction, poorly communicated vision, different safety approach outside work place. These can be overcome by measures like creating an employee network to identify and address the safety issues, treat people alike, include safety as a topic in every meeting agenda, keeping consistent safety and health messages, defining the vision and referring to it often, having consistent sincere commitment with visibility and creating programmes to emphasise the importance of safety at home and work.

3. Employee Involvement: Employees should realise that safety measures are meant for them and they should own different aspects of safety in their area. Workers’ behaviour is one of the key elements as most injuries take place as a result of unsafe actions or behaviour. Hence, it is recommended to have behaviour based safety and perception surveys. The use of worker safety perception surveys are very effective as it gives a feedback on the safety issues at ground level and helps management to take corrective and preventive actions. The use of a safety committee, made up of supervisors, workers, and representatives of key subcontractors can be very effective in assuring a safe job site.

4. Accountability: Accountability shall mean the obligations to meet the safety expectations or to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected, when expectations were clearly communicated and agreed upon. The best practice is to develop a culture of accountability, enforce consequence for non-conformance to expectations, define and communicate critical infractions and consequence of violation, measure the performance and provide feedback on expectations, enforce safety recovery plans to minimise the violations, encourage peer intervention and align the policies and practices.

5. Training: Training generally commences with work orientation for all the work force, which will help them to acclimatise with new environment of the work. The key topics addressed by the orientation training include general information about the project, jobsite policies, project objectives, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), fall protection, confined spaces, etc. Companies also need to provide specialised safety training programs, which are normally held during the working hours so that workers receive their wages during these training sessions. Toolbox meetings tend to be a strong component of many safety programmes. These weekly meetings can be used to cover various topics on safety. Upon completion of a training programme, workers must be encouraged to implement the newly acquired knowledge so that they are incorporated into their daily routine.

6. Staffing for safety: The chance of a mishap increases proportionately to the number of people on the site, so there is a need for increased supervision. Most companies employ only one full time safety officer per every fifty workers and the same has found global acceptance. It is advisable that the full-time safety representatives are involved in regular project management meetings and share the reports relating to quality, costs and scheduling with the safety personnel. In short, safety personnel are integrated with all project functions. The owners stipulate the contractor to have a safety organisation chart in place, which depicts the responsible persons from the top management. This shall highlight the seriousness and accountability expected from the contractor.

7. Safety planning for pre-project and pre task: It is imperative for companies to conduct a job hazard analysis prior to site mobilisation for all projects. Companies also need to conduct constructability reviews in the pre-project planning process, with safety being a part of the constructability review. Pre-task safety planning is commonly called 'Task Safety Analysis'. This consists of a review of all potential hazards associated with the performance of a particular task and to make plans to eliminate them. A separate task safety analysis is performed for each new task. Workers will be oriented regarding the magnitude and nature of the hazards involved prior to each task. This contributes to better and safer performance.

8. Recognition and rewards: In order to promote safety performance in various forms of incentive programmes, awards are declared to the employees. Safety incentives can be given progressively or for a given specific period. In the former one, the incentive will be larger if the incident free period is of longer duration and in the later case the best performer for the specific period is awarded. It was noted that safety performances are better as the frequency of incentives awarded are more, demonstrating that the company is more committed to safety.

9. Sub contractor management: Nowadays, owners have started defining minimum expected safety requirements in detail during the bidding stage itself. This ensures that contractors get a fair chance to consider all the costs related to 'project safety requirements' in their bid. Having clearly defined safety expectations, owners can evaluate the contractors’ safety standards based on the past track records of executed projects, by carrying out independent audits of the contractors, by speaking to other owners with whom the contractor has worked etc. In developed countries the owners have also started to consider 'experienced modification ratings' as these ratings can be accessed through the insurance companies or agencies in those countries. Once the contract is awarded, the contractor will be treated as part of the owner’s team for implementation the Health Safety Environment (HSE) plan at site during execution. Any deviations or violations to the plan can then be treated as per the terms of the contract. None the less, the main objective is to have a cohesive approach in HSE implementation, for all the parties involved (owner, contractor and sub-contractor).

10. Accident / incident investigations: As a rule, all companies track, document, report and investigate recordable injuries and lost time injuries. Top management is normally involved in accident investigations and analysis of the same. However, the companies tracking and recording the near misses actually has less number of recordable incident rate. This implies that companies who are vigilant in tracking near misses, potential injury source and other incidences are successful in preventing actual injuries.

11. Drug and alcohol testing: Though the perils of substance abuse and alcoholism are known, the effective screening of workers is still a question mark in India. Seldom do companies carry out random tests for substance/alcohol abuse and these violations are only spotted through behavioural pattern of the worker. Considering the rampant alcohol consumption pattern among workers, Indian companies have to implement more frequent checks for identifying and curbing such violations at sites.

The current traditional method of EPC-design-bid-build approach in contracting doesn’t strictly warrant a designer to consider construction site safety during design process. Since designers have the most prolonged involvement in the total project phase, they can play an effective role in identifying and mitigating potential hazards at site. Global companies who are pioneers in setting safety standards realised long time ago that safety need to be coupled with concern for health and environment. Most of the companies in developed countries centre their business models on the HSE factor highlighting the seriousness in their approach. Since most of the companies have started to embrace safety as one of their core value, we can expect that Indian construction industry shall (or shall strive to) achieve ‘zero incidents’ on their projects.