Join Jim Rogers for an in-depth discussion in this video Safety in construction: Introduction to the issues, part of Construction Industry Weekly.
- Hi, Jim Rogers here, and in this episode of Construction Management Weekly, I'm going to start talking about safety issues in the construction industry. Safety is an ongoing issue in the construction industry, and we hear about it all the time. We have safety meetings and briefings and toolbox talks, and we get told what we can't do and what rules we're supposed to remember. And the safety person does job site walks and tells us what each individual's doing right and wrong. And all that's great and I'm not going to duplicate it here. Here, I want to start talking about construction safety and health from a management perspective.
I've already spent a previous episode or two talking about how safety, quality, and productivity are inextricably linked, and I pulled out the productivity element and discussed that for a few episodes. So now it's time to pull out the safety element and discuss that, again, from a management point of view, in order to pull in the concept that safety is planned. To work, it needs to be planned at the highest levels and incorporated as an integral component in all of our project planning. But let's start by looking at the issues first.
Going back to the report that I've mentioned several times in this series called the National Construction Goals, that report called for a 50% reduction in construction worker illness and injuries. That report states that health and safety issues exert a major effect on the competitiveness of the construction industry. And I'll take that a step further and translate that to say that health and safety issues have a major impact on productivity and construction. These issues also have an effect on our ability to continually attract a new workforce.
I'll use a simple statement that I pull out often when I discuss safety. I'm not going to work fast or worry too much about quality if I'm worried about falling to my death. The same thing applies to attracting new workers. If I have to choose between a couple different career paths, I'm probably not going to choose one that looks needlessly dangerous. And unfortunately I would say that the numbers show that in many instances, construction is needlessly dangerous and we need to do something about it. Just like the gains in productivity that we need to see in construction, we need to see big gains in safety in construction.
And the fact is that these two things go hand in hand. Regulatory agencies certainly do exist in many countries to establish and enforce safety rules in construction, and I think they're effective. They're also typically underfunded and they're stretched thin. And they shouldn't be the main motivator for safety on our construction sites. We need to want to be safe. We need to want to protect our workforce. And we need to strive to consider safety every time we plan an activity. Whether it's safety, quality, or productivity, in construction, we rely on skilled craft workers and laborers to build things, and I don't see that changing any time soon.
Yes, we have some automation in construction, but I think it's going to be a long time before we see the level of automation and robotics in the construction industry that we see in some manufacturing settings. Right now, our work just does not lend itself to that. We are seeing more pre-fabrication, which reduces labor on the actual site. But really much of that labor is just moved to the manufacturing facility. This isn't a bad thing, and for safety, it can actually be a good thing since it often is easier to control safety in a contained environment where all the workers are under the same supervision instead of at a construction site where there are many trades working in such close proximity to one another.
And by the way, that's one of the biggest safety challenges we have in construction. We do bring all of these different trades working for so many different employers onto one work site. We put everyone in close proximity to each other, and everyone sort of assumes that everyone else on the site knows where to be, where not to be, and how to stay safe. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, there are many people walking around that construction site that have no idea what's going on where and where they should and should not be.
Besides our subcontractors, we have visitors, third party inspectors, government and regulatory agency inspectors, owners reps, people from the design team, and drivers dropping off materials and picking up equipment. While all these people are on site, construction is happening all over being done by different trades who have probably not stopped to talk to each other, let alone the random new individual that they see walking around the job site. This is difficult to break down and analyze.
There's so much going on that it's hard to figure out what exactly we need to do to keep everyone safe and healthy. But I'll start with this. First things first, the craft workers, the labor in the field needs to be trained. And I'm not just talking about needing to put them through a safety orientation. I'm talking about teaching them how to do their work safely. That's different than just giving them a bunch of rules to follow. It involves more than general safety training like the OSHA 10-hour courses that we use here in the US.
It's an area we need to focus on in the construction industry, so make sure you join me in the next weekly segment and I'll give you some examples to help you as you continue on your path to be a better construction professional.