Building a Proactive Safety Culture
– Avinash Harde, Assistant Vice President – IMS, HCC Limited

The first aspect that is compromised during challenging economic times is investments in workplace safety. This is a critical aspect more so in the case of construction companies. This article details the various aspects involved in ensuring workplace safety viz, proactive steps to be taken, proactive safety index, proactive safety observation programme among other issues.

Companies invest significantly to ensure workplace safety, especially in the construction industry. In this industry, which operates on low margins, it may be tempting to scale down the investment on safety during challenging economic times. Doing so can cost far more than you save.

The average work-related injury results in direct costs, including worker’s compensation, ambulance fees, medical expenses, etc, which is much smaller than the exponentially higher indirect costs such as equipment downtime, lost productivity, legal actions, etc. They are estimated to range between 4 to 10 times the direct costs. It may help if you think of safety as a profit centre, rather than an expense. Following are just a few potential profit areas:
  1. Insurance premiums: If worker’s compensation and other insurance claims are under control, thus lowering the experience modification rating (EMR), insurance companies will perceive this company as a lower risk. Consequently, you may be eligible for reduced premium rates.
  2. Higher calibre workforce: A well-trained workforce with proper safety training is an invaluable resource for any company. Not only will employees be more productive, they will be able to help identify unsafe conditions and/or operating practices, as well as situations where jobs might be done more safely and effectively.
  3. Company safety culture: Promoting a safe work environment improves employee morale, a much-needed commodity in tough financial times. If employees believe the company cares about their well-being, they in turn will care about the well-being of the company. The result can be greater productivity and employee loyalty.

If safety is considered as just another expense, it will be reflected in the EMR and bottom line. But if you see it as a means to save both lives and money, the ROI will follow quickly.

Proactive steps
A proactive safety culture helps to save lives, retain workers, reduce claims and delays, and enhance productivity and profitability while strengthening the company’s reputation.

If you look at accident pyramid, a proactive safety culture can be developed by improving and increasing the reporting of
a) Near miss
b) Unsafe conditions
c) Unsafe acts

A Near miss reporting programme can be defined as an administrative tool to help reduce accidents and injuries at the workplace/sites. A near miss is an event, circumstance, condition or behaviour with the potential to cause injury, illness, accidental release or property/productivity loss, but did not actualise due to chance, corrective action and/or timely intervention.

A wide variety of occurrences can be near miss: unsafe conditions, unsafe behaviour, minor accidents/injuries with potential to be more serious, events where injury could have occurred but did not, events with property damage, events where safety barriers crossed, etc.

Unsafe conditions within the working environment of the employee increases his/her chances of having an accident. For example, improper scaffolding, no hard barricading for deep excavation as well as for working at heights, inadequate rock support, insufficient ventilation, inadequate lighting etc.

Unsafe act is any act on the part of the employee, which increases his/her chances of being injured. For example, improper lifting, handling or moving of objects, incorrect use of tools and equipment, improper placing and stacking of objects, annoyance in the workplace, ignoring to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), removing safety guards from the equipment, adoption of wrong work methods etc.

Proactive safety index
Effectiveness of the proactive safety culture can be identified on the basis of calculating the Proactive Safety Index (PSI).

Proactive safety index (PSI) = Total Number of Near Miss, Unsafe condition & Unsafe Act multiplied by 1 million and divided by total man hours.

When a construction company succeeds in building a strong culture of safety, it becomes a core value for every employee. A strong safety culture burnishes the company’s reputation, which is one of the most valuable assets for any business, and plays an essential role in its long-term success.

The construction industry is always adopting new methods, new equipment and new machinery. Safety has to continually adapt to the new ways that workers perform their jobs. At the end of the day, every company wants every worker to go home safe at night. The ultimate goal should be zero injuries.

Indian construction scenario
Indian construction industry is of significant economic importance as it accounts for about 11 per cent of gross domestic product and employs approximately 33 million people, making it the second largest industry after agriculture. It is an essential contributor to infrastructural developments like: roads, dams, irrigation projects, power plants, hospitals, schools, etc. The amount of money invested and jobs provided by construction industry are larger than any other industry in India.

The workforce in Indian construction industry comprises of 55 per cent unskilled labour, 27 per cent skilled labours and rest are technicians and supporting staff. About 16 per cent of the nation’s working population depends on constructional work for its livelihood.

Proactive Safety Observation Programme (PSOP)
The Proactive Safety Observation Programme is a dedicated and predetermined observation round conducted by the cross functional senior management team at any project site. This is not a part of regular safety inspection round or audit. Even a project manager who is in-charge of the project has to conduct mandatory PSOP rounds on a regular basis. The main aim of the PSOP round is to identify unsafe conditions and unsafe acts adopted at site. Minimum ten observations per round are a must for effectiveness of this initiative.

The unsafe acts are corrected on the spot and these observations are reported to the HSE in-charge of the site. The HSE in-charge documents these observations and assign responsibility for corrective action and close the loop with respective section in-charge.

These PSOP observations are discussed in weekly and monthly safety committee meetings. The project manager reviews the observations and gives direction to the concerned or responsible person for corrective actions and its 100 per cent compliance.

PSOP- Severity Index (SI)
The PSOP observations for any round comprises of unsafe conditions like unsafe practice, not following methodology/ drawing/procedure, unsafe equipment, poor housekeeping and unsafe acts. All unsafe conditions or unsafe acts will be categorised as per its potential severity in the scale of 1 to 5. The potential severity will be useful for evaluating the extent of risk and hazards for assessing the impact of activities in the projects. The severity index for each round will be calculated by using the severity of each observation with the help of below formula.

Subcontractor’s performance plays an important role on severity index of the entire project as they are involved in various activities throughout the lifespan of the project. The PSOP observation based on SI is highlighted in figure 8. The SI for subcontractors varies in the range of 2.5 to 4.5. This evaluation helps management to appreciate the managers and subcontractors based on their performance as well helps to identify the shortfalls and improvement areas.

Implementation of PSOP at HCC
At HCC, the proactive safety culture is developed over years through a proper induction programme to the workforce, a regular tool box talks that are conducted every day before starting the work and a detailed calendar of training imparted to workers on various initiatives and new techniques adopted while implementing the project work. The training programme include Vehicle incidents and traffic managements, Behaviour based safety awareness, Proactive safety observations, Near miss reporting, Occupational health and hygiene, Drilling and blasting techniques and safety precautions, defensive driving, Heavy lifting, Safe electrical handlings, Scaffolding simulations at working place etc. Safety posters are displayed at important locations and at the assembly points. Implementation of PSOP added a new dimension and discipline to the entire programme.

The PSOP was launched in mid of financial year 2012-2013. Average number of reportable accidents in three financial years i.e. 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 was around 73. After launch of PSOP there was drastic reduction of around 48 per cent in the reportable accident in financial year 2013-14. The programme took around one year to mature in its form and started showing the desired results.

The real success of this programme was evident in the financial year 2014-15 where the reportable accident number was reduced by around 78 per cent as compared to the average of previous three financial years. There was drastic improvement in FSI from 1.02 in FY2010-11 to 0.2 in FY2014-15. There was also improvement in the value of Frequency Rate (FR) from 0.86 to 0.22.

The overall objective of this programme was to reduce accident and improve productivity. This was very well achieved by implementing the PSOP. This programme gathered diverse data that helped in identifying the safety deficiency areas at work places and/or a lacuna by a sub-contractor so that corrective actions are taken to improve the overall situation.

The PSOP is a continual process to decide safety priorities, avoid major accidents and ultimately achieve the ‘Zero Accident Goal.’