One of the highest most recorded occupational incident rates is reported from the construction industry. This is due to significant risks, hazards and many other unfortunate events that can affect the health and safety of all workers.
Why do high rates of incidents occur in this type of activity? What are the key elements to improve, to significantly reduce the accident rates?
In this article, we will be relying on data published in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to the quarantine policy that had been applied all over the world in the past 2 years. These measures lead to a decrease in economical activities all over the world.
Workplace safety measures are essential for any company, especially since employers are legally obliged to provide a healthy and safe working environment for their employees. However, when it comes to the construction industry the stakes are higher regarding the safety of the workers. Between temporary workstations, the presence of subcontractors on site, handling of dangerous materials and heavy equipment, working from heights and SIMOPs on construction sites, etc. The risks and hazards are everywhere endangering both the employees and the infrastructure, the environment and public health.
Some statistical data
Occupational incidents and accidents are a fact. They can be non-fatal and unfortunately fatal. In the construction industry, occupational incidents are common.
In 2019, non-fatal injuries in the European Union (EU) were estimated at around 3.1 million incidents, and the construction industry comes in third place with 11.8% (372000 non-fatal accidents), behind the manufacturing industries (1st) and wholesale-retail trade (2nd). Besides, the incidence rate of these non-fatal injuries puts the construction industry at the top with 3210.6 incidents per 100 000 workers. Statistics concerning fatal accidents, the construction industry was at the top, with 755 cases, which is 22.2% of the total reported incidents.
In the United States (US), in 2019, the situation is approximately similar to the one in the EU. Concerning the non-fatal injuries, the construction industry came fourth with 200 100 non-fatal injury cases (7.11%). However, when it comes to the reported fatal injuries, again the construction industry came on top in 2019 with 1061 deaths, 19.89% of the total reported cases. With these numbers the cost of construction injuries, both fatal and non-fatal, is really high, estimated at around $170 billion every year.
The causes of these incidents in the construction industry remain nearly the same. According to OSHA, there are 4 main hazards in the construction industry:
- Struck-by incidents
- Caught-in/between incidents
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Why are there so many risks and accidents in the construction industry?
The lack of management in terms of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) is often pointed out in the construction industry, particularly the SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises): lack of resources and means, the use of unadapted equipment, lack of training, etc. This lack of management may lead to the violation of standards and requirements. For example, in the US, the fall protection standard is the most violated in the construction industry, which leads to multiple incidents.
Construction project deadlines are sometimes very tight, and companies are regularly under pressure to deliver and respect their due dates. It is not always easy to keep the balance between the workload, the equipment’s delivery and its on-site management, and the perfect organisation and handling of different other contractors and subcontractors to achieve the tasks. All these factors and many more may weaken the safety and health of the workers causing sometimes unfortunate events on the construction site.
Therefore, the implementation of an EHS management system (and possibly its certification) is an important step toward improving safety procedures. It is not only a question of protecting the health and safety of the workers on-site, but also of controlling the risks related to the environment and all the risks related to the construction activities. Moreover, beyond all the fundamentals of an EHS management system, its implementation aims to:
- Identify and control all the risks related to the construction activities
- Raise awareness of the encountered risks to reduce occupational accidents
- Reduce the activities’ impact on the environment
- Improve productivity
- Adopt a responsible approach centred on the sustainable development
- Show a better brand image
We can mention that the challenges that face the EHS management system are consistent with certain ones related to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance (ESG). We are talking about environmental protection, green building, decarbonisation of construction sites, corporate brand image and even working comfort.
To achieve these objectives, it may be useful to have appropriate management tools. Nowadays, new technologies can provide real answers to the EHS challenges of the construction industry.
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The importance of digital transformation of the construction industry
The construction industry has already integrated and welcomed the digital transformation thanks to the use of tools such as BIM design software, which allows the optimization of the construction site’s activities by improving the building performance and monitoring all the associated stakeholders.
However, some applications and features also deserve to be digitised, such as the EHS processes. Digitising the EHS system will considerably reduce the administrative tasks, strengthen safety procedures on the construction sites and bring innovation to all the EHS processes by applying new technologies.
So, what are the benefits of digitising the EHS system in construction companies?
- Improve productivity:
In the construction industry, it is known that delays and cost overruns are a major concern. Digitised checklists allow efficient and regular monitoring of the Quality and EHS performance, and help with the statistical analysis based on real-time data. EHS requirements and regulations regarding the safety measures among other procedures are effectively applied on all sites, reducing the rate of accidents/incidents and enhancing the productivity of the workers.
- Efficient information sharing:
A digital tool allows the centralisation of all the information and collected data (including the EHS data). This feature will allow every user to directly and in real-time synchronize their work and easily access their corresponding information.
- Improve field monitoring:
A digital tool is a collaborative tool that allows all the operating teams on the field to fill in pre-configured digitised forms via their smartphones or tablets. In addition, they can easily access the necessary data relevant to their tasks or any other element at any time, anywhere and in offline mode.
- Guarantee and maintain the equipment’s condition:
Digital technology will help you with the periodic maintenance of the equipment (safety equipment, carriers, etc.). By setting the dates of every scheduled maintenance you will be able to receive automatic alerts to perform these tasks. Pre-configured and digitised checklists forms for maintenance can help you perform this task rapidly and efficiently.
- Improve by relying on past projects:
Thanks to digital tools, old data and previous documented projects are easily accessible and archived. The accessibility to these data is important to learn and identify possible weaknesses in future projects, in order to implement the necessary corrective actions and measures. This will lead to an automatic update of the Global Action Plan.
- Certify your prevention approach:
In addition to quality certifications that can help different craftsmen stand out from each other, construction companies can have also their own certifications, among which there are the ISO standards certifications. In the construction industry, we can frequently find companies certified ISO 14001 for environmental management and ISO 50001 for energy management. These 2 ISO certifications are becoming more and more popular to make the construction sites eco-responsible. In addition to these ISO certifications, we can find others that are especially for the construction industry, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) a green building certification applied worldwide, which is used to evaluate the energy and environmental quality of new or renovated buildings.
Here, the use of digital technology will help companies to go through all the targeted certification requirements and make sure that all the necessary elements are achieved by associating evidence to each requirement and/or each criterion of the standard (photos, videos, audit forms, etc).
It is important to emphasise that digital transformation represents a source of opportunities in terms of performance, effectiveness, efficiency and innovation. The construction industry is still a step behind in terms of digital transformation. However, construction companies are starting to realise the importance of the solutions and innovation that a digital transformation can offer.
The construction industry is always subject to high accident rates, this is why companies should take their EHS management to the next level to instal a healthier and safer working environment. Emerging new challenges, such as climatic and ecological, are putting pressure on the construction industry pushing them to act and adopt greener practices. Digital technology alongside certifications can help improve, innovate and protect all the processes and workers on the construction sites.
To go further:
> Discover our Top 3 apps for EHS management on the BlueMarket.