For safety’s sake

For safety’s sake

Every year, the Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM) uses the month of September to focus on health and safety within the construction industry. This year’s Safetember campaign, presented through a webinar, again focused on falls from height (FFH).

“Our focus areas are determined by the trends that we see with respect to accidents in the construction space,” explained Ndivhuwo Manyonga, FEM’s CEO.

She emphasised that 2020 was an unusual year. “For the majority of the year the industry was operating at reduced capacity and, for a couple of months, some couldn’t operate at all. It is, however, sad to note that we had more than 5 900 reported accidents.

“About 12,8% of the accidents were as a result of falls – whether onto different or the same level,” Manyonga pointed out. “That is the reason why we are highlighting falls for this specific Safetember campaign.”

Dr Bronwyn Grenz* presented a stellar presentation on “A new approach to accident prevention and investigation”. “If I received R1 every time I heard ‘we had fewer incidents when safety was less strict’, I probably could have retired by now. The only reason there appears to have been fewer incidents is because we did not capture the data when they occurred.”

The data that is captured, with a few exceptions (such as with FEM), is at least two years old. “This would be classified as a lagging and not leading indicator,” Grenz highlighted. “In incident management we address both lagging and leading indicators. A lagging indicator is easy to measure, but hard to change.”

People often use budget or financial limits as an excuse not to monitor and measure leading indicators more often. “A comparative study between the UK and South Africa found that research conducted in the UK, by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), determined indirect costs of FFH accidents to be 11 times their direct costs; while research conducted in SA by the Nelson Mandela University, determined indirect costs to be 14,2 times the direct costs.

“In the UK the accident costs are also determined as the equivalent of 8,5% of the project tender price and approximately 5% of the annual organisational running costs. Comparatively in SA, the total cost of accidents is estimated to be approximately 5% of the value of completed construction. In a nutshell, FFH accidents constitute an expense which is morbid, mortal and financial.”

She said that the data reveals that it is more expensive to react after an accident has occurred. “It will be cheaper to invest in measurements to prevent the accidents.”

Grenz suggested that the data might also be captured in isolation. “Does the data on FFH, or any incidents for that matter, include asking when last the employee had a meal? Does the data captured address the number of hours the employee slept before the incident? I haven’t seen anything like this in any of my investigations.”

She noted that we underestimate the importance of neurochemicals, and the role they play in incidents. “The availability of some nutrients can have immediate effects on behaviour, especially on the ability to respond to stimulation. Several studies suggest that brain function, including cognitive processing, responds to changes in nutrients.”

As a solution Grenz suggested that an online support system should be developed as part of the governing bodies’ websites, where it becomes mandatory to capture incident data. “The data captured must be concise and able to provide the industry as a whole with lessons learnt.”

She also recommended that safety protocols and systems should be streamlined, “so you have more time available to put your boots on the ground. Do visual felt leadership, ensure you walk your site or workplace at least twice a day. It’s the best way to prevent accidents from happening. Safety is not just a job, it’s a vocation. We are working with people, not paper. Do more than you get paid to do – it opens doors of opportunity in avenues you never dreamt possible.”

* Grenz’s career in the construction and built environment commenced in 2009 after completing her two-year apprenticeship. Since then, she has been appointed as the lead investigator on many fatal fall from height incidents.  

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