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Sat 16 Oct 2010 04:00 AM

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Safety is good for business

Barney Green looks at the evolution of safety standards throughout the GCC region.

Safety is good for business

For many years construction safety has been seen as an extra
work item consuming budget, resource, and time. Reluctance increased as
competition for work intensified, corners needed to be rounded off, and
everything considered extra was removed from the price. “We would like to do it
with safety, but we cannot afford it…”

This old fashioned view of safety has been steadily debunked
across the construction world. Major contractors increasingly recognise that
well-planned projects, which invest in detail, are better organised, waste less
material, and run on time. Invariably this costs the client less and makes more
for the contractor. Interestingly, these projects also have far fewer
accidents.

This is normal in the life cycle of the safety message,
represented by the four stages of learning. Starting with ignorance, or
unconscious incompetence, we don’t know what we don’t know, and in this place it
is easy to maintain the status quo.

Knowledge or awareness drags us into conscious incompetence.
We now know that we are not doing well, that things should change, that we
should act to improve. This is uncomfortable, as we see every step as new and
challenging.

We work hard and improve things to arrive at conscious
competence. Here we are working hard at keeping things going well. We equate
the effort with expense, but we value the reward. This is also an area of
discomfort.

Finally we enter the nirvana of unconscious competence.
Things are done correctly as a matter of habit, without effort or additional
allocation of resource. This work method is accepted practice and other
practice is not acceptable.

I have been amazed at the progress made within the Middle East over the last few years. The construction
industry in Dubai
has moved through these stages of the safety message at a staggering pace. Site
practice that would have been considered acceptable as little as four years ago
has been completely replaced with organised, systematic, planned processes.

These bring with them the significant commercial benefits so
badly needed at this time, and the enhanced safety for all involved on the
project is an added bonus.

The campaign is not yet won, and there is still lots to do,
but the efforts have been enormous and the results impressive. The
ground-breaking projects clearly attract attention. They are, of course,
well-planned and well organised, frequently representing the best in the world
and reflecting this in their accident ratios.

It is in the more general projects that I have noticed so
much change for the better. Many now use systematic solutions for formwork,
edge protection, material loading, and fall prevention. Pre-cast thinking is
coming in, as the start of off-site production for low rise units, and the
industrial roofers are starting to use safety nets and edge protection to speed
up work.

A few years ago the building methods on adjacent sites would
seem as different as an aircraft and a donkey, now the differences are far
smaller. There is still an obvious variation, but this helps enforcers to focus
their efforts. Accepted practice is more visible and better known, and so
unacceptable practice stands out.

Who should take credit for this transformation? Clearly the
constant efforts of the municipal safety authorities have helped level the
playing field, and set the bar for all. Equally, initiatives, such as the
Emirates Safety Group, have bought best practice to spread the word.

Credit must also go to the systematic product manufacturers,
who have been quick to see the vast potential in this market and to capitalise
on the local skills and manufacturing opportunity. They have also supported
many events marketing the safety message, such as conferences and exhibitions
within the region.

My fascination with this market is not driven by the fact
that construction safety has been so readily embraced, but I am in awe of the
speed of that embrace.

This speed, more than anything, confirms the message that
safe business is good for business.

Barney Green is an independent safety advisor.

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