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Early Health & Safety Interventions - Saves Lives

Thursday, 30 November 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ernest Roper
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Early Health & Safety Interventions Limit Diseases, Incidents & Fatalities in The Construction Sector.


Despite all the legislation in place, and various measures introduced to the sector through legislation that relate to Health and Safety (H&S), the sector remains among the most hazardous and notorious sectors across the globe. In developing countries, where the poorest and least protected are those who work in such environments, there is a higher rate of occupational diseases, fatalities, and injuries. Developed countries in contrast, have well established legal systems which are applied to the construction sector; however, statistics relating to accidents remain high. Early interventions imply that H&S is required during design.  Indeed, the consideration for designing out risk is entrenched in the Construction Regulations amongst others.

Accidents, disease and fatalities are unplanned events?

Most are taught that accidents are ‘unplanned events’, indicating that nothing can be done to prevent the outcome. However, the causal relationship between exposure to a situation, incidents and accidents is complex and the human element, added to the situation, is considered a major contributing factor. The irony is that in most cases the causes of accidents are known, therefore are largely preventable, or to use the term we probably all grew up with: prevention is better than cure.

Designing for H&S

The concept of H&S and any associated project liability has, until recently, been deemed to be part of stage 5, or construction stage.  Prior to the promulgation of the Construction Regulations (CRs) in 2003, there was very little involvement from the client that related to risk reduction on a project. The concept of including H&S from design stage (stage 3) has been shown to have the potential to significantly reduce project risk and therefore client liability. However, there are six stages in total, across the life cycle of projects, and it is clear that H&S is not considered at each stage. The exclusion of any H&S input during design, other than at face value, does not provide an opportunity to mitigate risk.

The ‘designing for safety’ approach is practiced in Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA). Each of the approaches is ultimately reaching for a similar objective: to design out risk. The USA approach ‘Prevention through Design’ (PtD) has been cited as one of the most effective means of preventing the losses experienced in the sector. The practice of PtD anticipates risk, and therefore is able to have a greater effect on designing out the risk associated with a task, or a highly complex design.

Designers and H&S

Designers dictate many component aspects relating to a design through the design documents. As design influences construction there is a domino, or ‘knock on’ effect to H&S risk levels; therefore the H&S risks during construction could increase significantly.  Specific aspects such as the separation of design and construction could potentially seriously limit early identification and management of H&S risks. The opportunity to formally address H&S as early as possible in the life cycle could lead to safer design, and therefore reduce risk during construction.

In a review of literature that considered the causes of accidents where linked to design, some significant findings in the UK and the USA indicated that between 47% and 60% of accidents were noted to have their origin in design.

Practical examples of risk reduction through design

The premise of designing out risk is based on the hierarchy of control, where the higher the risk, the greater the limitations imposed.  The proposed hierarchy does not only consider methodology, but the numbers of people exposed and the risks relative to the complexity of the activity, design or process.

Table 1. Aspects to consider and control methods during design.

Aspect considered

Control measure

Eliminating a system of work or plant, e.g. working at height

Prescribing built in working platforms to columns; pre-cast componentry to be used

Modification of the work space or plant

Ensuring attachment points for working in elevated positions that remain following construction

Isolating the hazard

Restricting access to working with high risk substances or products e.g. asbestos, through staging and planning

Administrative controls

Use of signage and training; lock out systems to limit access to high risk areas, therefore adequate provision in costing

Engineering controls

Increasing parapet wall heights, pre-cast vs cast in situ through the consideration of client needs and usage during and post construction

Personal Protective Equipment

Only supplied where the other aspects are not able to be applied, as the health risks of exposure during and post construction may be affected


Given table 1, the common response is that H&S is the contractor’s problem; not that of the client or the designer.  However, the lack of consideration of the design could result in workers being unnecessarily vulnerable during construction. The traditional project parameters of time, cost and quality cannot be realised unless H&S is considered.  The project may be stopped following an accident, realizing a large number of indirect or ‘non-compensable’ costs.  The results of such costs could impact on credibility, share prices and possibly even the loss of future business.

Managing H&S through early interventions

The identification, mitigation or elimination of risk is entrenched in South African legislation, as ultimately the suite of regulations available indicates the areas of risk and constitute a guide to management and mitigation set down in each across different disciplines.

In the past, managing risk generally included the transfer of the cost of failure to another party or parties and arose from the practice of ‘bonding’ to cover the financial losses from a failure.  Thus, many hazards related to risk, have been considered acceptable to some extent.  There are a number of models that indicate the appropriate time to identify and manage risk.  Figure 1 indicates one such model, a time and influence curve. The model indicates the life cycle approach and the optimum time to determine and identify project risks from start date to the end date of the project schedule.  The ability to influence H&S and to manage risks decreases as the project progresses. 


One of the greatest opportunities that exist in the South African sector is early identification and management of risk, more specifically during design. When client teams work together and understand the risk, such risks can be managed and cause a reduction in accidents, diseases and fatalities in the construction sector. 

No-one should die, become ill or be injured at work.

Figure 1: The Szymberski (1997) Time/Safety influence curve (Gambatese,2013)

Author: Dr Claire Deacon PhD (Constr Mgt) Pr CHSA

"Article Credit: This article was first published in the SACPCMP Shape Shifter magazine."


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