Health, safety, and profits in construction go hand in hand - GIC

Health, safety, and profits in construction go hand in hand
April 29, 2024

By Roelof van den Berg, CEO of  Gap Infrastructure Corporation

Workplace health and safety should never be a tick-box exercise in construction. When given the proper care and attention, health and safety practices keep workers safe, help projects stay within budget and timelines, and can have a substantial impact on companies’ bottom-lines.

Health safety and profits in construction go hand in hand

World Day for Safety and Health at Work on Thursday, 25 April 2024 called on companies in every sector to reassess their safety practices, and to help spread awareness among their stakeholders regarding the value of prioritising a safe and healthy work environment.

Critically, maintaining a high health and safety standard is not as simple as conducting a risk assessment once every few months, or handing out personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers before their shift begins. To be successful, workers at every level must be consistent and vigilant in their approach to practicing safety.

In construction, that means accounting for every possibility, however remote, which in turn requires the active involvement of every person who will be part of your project. That includes management, on-site workers, any sub-contractors, and even the various suppliers who may at some point have to access the worksite. To juggle all these moving parts without incident, construction companies require a clear, concise, and comprehensive health and safety strategy.

Health and safety’s ultimate goal

Any comprehensive health and safety plan should be designed with a zero-lost time injury (LTI) status in mind. A project can only be considered an absolute success if, when the project concludes, there has not been a single incident resulting in injury – which may require strengthening systems.

At Gap Infrastructure Corporation (GIC), for example, we require upwards of 95% regulatory compliance rather than the industry norm of 80% as we continuously strive for incident-free projects. And as one example of the success of this approach, GIC’s Kathu construction project has maintained its zero-LTI status even as we near the completion date.

Located in what is known as the ‘iron ore capital of the Northern Cape’, the region is home to many workers essential to the local mining industry. The project was initiated by the local municipality to assist in relocating residents to an area pre-equipped with the necessary services. As a result, GIC was brought in to provide over 5,100 residential stands and households with access to a water and sewer reticulation system, a formal road network, and accompanying drainage solutions.

The relatively remote nature of the region, and the fact that we have largely employed labourers from the local community, have meant that it’s been vital to place a strong emphasis on workplace health and safety throughout.

In response, GIC implemented and refined an exhaustive health and safety plan specifically designed with worker’s needs in mind, closely monitoring and managing this plan throughout the course of the project.

Measures to mitigate risk

Any risk mitigation efforts begin back at the office, where the management team will develop a safety policy that serves to guide any prevention, regulation, and response practices going forward.

This policy must cover guidelines for training, safe practices for risky situations such as working on scaffolding or handling of heavy machinery, as well as managing exposure to hazardous materials, the preparation of the worksite, correct use of PPE, assigning safety management responsibilities, inspection criterion and timetables, protocols for sub-contractors to follow, and more.

A comprehensive training program should then be implemented and repeated every few months. This must include a clear and impactful health and safety awareness element that alerts workers to potential hazards, and teaches them how to spot these hazards.

From there, training should provide clear guidelines on how to secure the site and workers’ persons within that site in any given situation. Workers should also be shown exactly how to respond to unsafe situations and incidents if they ever do occur.

Training programmes should further touch on the standards and requirements laid out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), as well as how to conduct formal risk assessments, use PPE, follow emergency procedures, safely handle tools and equipment, and communicate and report unsafe conditions.

The construction industry is also in the early stages of what will be extensive, rapid technological changes as artificial intelligence and robotics become more advanced, easier to obtain, and less complex to understand and use.

Digitisation and digitalisation are quickly growing in popularity, making certain health and safety processes easier to implement and maintain. GIC already uses an advanced digital safety reporting system which makes it easy and quick to enter and update safety data, and share it with anyone in the company. Training programs have also been digitised, and can be completed and reviewed by workers on an app at any time.

Additionally, by utilising digital monitoring technology such as CCTV cameras and sensors connected to PPE that warn of dangerous situations, we can detect when our workers face certain hazards and rectify the situation immediately.

The future use of robotics is also promising. Exoskeleton suits will provide additional lifting support to the arms, legs, and back, providing workers with more strength to move heavier objects and will help protect against injury.

Small autonomous vehicles may also replace the standard person-operated wheelbarrow. These vehicles can be loaded with heavy materials and be set to follow a worker as well as adhere to specific instructions, making it easier and safer for workers to transport material across the worksite.

By implementing these measures and staying up to date with the latest developments in the industry, construction companies and their sub-contractors can also achieve a zero-LTI status for every project, improving project outcomes for the company and benefitting clients in the process.

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