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Sat 11 Dec 2010 12:00 AM

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Taking the lead

Connectivity, collaboration and leadership are vital if HSE is to take a lead in safe and effective construction, conference delegates were told.

Taking the lead
QPM’s HSE director Wayne Harris (left) with guest speakers.

Contractors, developers and all companies involved in construction
should take the lead in creating sustainable, workable health, safety and environmental
practices, delegates at the first annual HSE in Construction Conference, hosted
by QPM and Construction Week were told.

Held in the Qatari capital past week, just days after the Gulf
state was granted the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the conference was
targeted at HSE professionals working in the country in a bid to raise standards
throughout the construction industry.

Guest speakers included Dr Elias Choueiri, director general of
the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in Lebanon; Julie Tuck, senior associate
at international law firm SNR Denton; David Morris, chairman of NEBOSH; Belal Kayyali,
vice president of HSE at Greek construction firm CCC; Karl Simon, regional director
of construction and integreated management systems at Hyder; and Martin Hoerlesberger,
manager of the high-rise engineering team, Doka Middle East.

The conference was opened by QPM’s CEO Dr Nasser AbdulRahman
Kamal, who said: “Qatar stands
stronger than ever, and it is time for our nation to represent the Middle East, its culture and its people. This achievement
demonstrates an important moment in our history, and we must salute those who have
made this accomplishment possible. Those whose hard work has led us to victory,
those who believe in Qatar’s
unrelenting potential.”

“In light of our nation’s most recent achievement, I would like
to suggest that the time has come for the region to share its knowledge and adopt
best HSE practices across the board.”

“Connectivity, collaboration,
leadership and vision will carry our leadership in to the future, and that environmental
protection, health and safety will become the currency of our success.”

“The objectives behind creating this forum is ensuring employees,
companies and the countries in which they reside gain more information about leading
practices in HSE as well as access to the industry’s latest technology.”

QPM HSE director Wayne Harris said Dr Kamal’s vision was a fresh
and long overdue initiative for the region.

“If you look at HSE at present levels, and I’m talking globally,
we’ve hit a plateau – we’ve stagnated over the past 10 years. We’ve put a lot of
investment in, and a lot of time, but we’ve reached a level where we’ve plateaued.

“That’s because we’ve taken a very generic approach to HSE. We
see this cut-and-paste approach to management a lot, and once you start to do that,
there’s no growth: you just sit there at that level and you accept that that is
the way things will be. We’ve got to snap out of this.”

He also said that attitudes towards measuring accidents and fatalities
also needed to change. Simply compiling statistics isn’t a measure of effective
HSE management, and it was a dangerous approach, Harris said, because it meant companies
tended to rest on their laurels, rather than introduce comprehensive HSE directives.

“We’ve got to get away from very old-fashioned approaches to
performance which are measured on zero fatalities and zero accidents. Yes, it’s
a way to measure it, but it’s not really a true measurement, it’s just a statistic,”
Harris said.

“We’ve got to get away from the general approach of being happy
to measure accident statistics simply because we’ve had a good year, because the
next year, we could have a disaster.”

That, he said, was a key message that contractors and developers
needed to bear in mind. In building a brand, a company relies on its credibility
and reputation. Reputations, he said, took years to build and moments to destroy
– but stringent, transparent safety measures should be viewed as business assets.

“The HSE logo, if you call it that, is a brand. And like any
business, you protect your brand. If you don’t protect your brand, your business
goes. So HSE has got to be viewed as part of your business model.”

Effective HSE programmes, with targeted key performance indicators
(KPIs) not only tackled an individual company’s role, but also those of everyone
in the chain of construction – from the client to the end user.

“You’ve really got to
look at HSE management systems that encompass the entire lifecycle of a project.
You start with the initial idea by the client, work through the various stages of
design, but also go in to construction, then the actual operational use by the end
user.

“If you don’t meet the safety to match all of those areas, then
you stand alone and don’t have an impact with your stakeholders.”

Changing attitudes was simply a matter of viewing HSE in a different
light – companies should not just wait for government legislation to effect change,
it is a company’s duty of care, Harris said, adding, “Although we all agree that
governments play a part.”

Corporate governance was key, Harris said, particularly as Qatar now faced
a building boom in the lead up to the World Cup.

“The boom is going to come, we know that – but we need to be
ready and we need to manage it. If we don’t, then we’re going to have a problem,”
Harris said.

“The economic climate is going to have an impact. We’re going
to see an increase in materials because there’s going to be a demand. We’re going
to have a shortage of skilled labour, so we’ll see the booms that we’ve seen previously
in the ME.”

“There’s going to be a very competitive environment: everybody
is going to want their cut, and there’s going to be some areas where people will
want to cut costs, potentially in HSE.”

Harris said in achieving and maintaining high standards, corporate
governance was key. As companies built their reputations and brands with high levels
of best practice, many would be reluctant to risk dealing with non-compliant sub-contractors.

“If you look at it from the point of view of the client, they’ve
got to have the confidence that every time they award one of these prestigious projects,
how will you get the confidence that these contractors have a level of credibility
that will not damage your brand? That’s what it comes down to,” he said.

Developing an effective, sustainable HSE programme was a matter
of setting achievable goals and having the programme in place for a meaningful period
of time, Harris said.

“Set your standards so they are deliverable. If you set your
standards so high and you fail at the first hurdle, then the first thing you get
is rejection by the rest of the company. Any HSE system needs to be sustainable.
You need to have a programme that runs for a good 12-18 months so that you can measure
its impact. Any less than that, you may as well forget it.”

Cost is also a key consideration for contractors. “I’ve seen
companies spend millions on safety with zero results because they’ve spent it unwisely.
Incidentally, you don’t need to spend a lot on safety, so long as you spend it wisely.
There’s nothing worse than coming up with a plan that costs $2m, and it’s not sustainable.”

However, visible leadership was also an important part of effective
HSE management, Harris said.

“Transparency is also going to be key. People are going to want
to see what you’re doing and how it you are managing it. We need to see more of
this, and once we do, we will begin to see more investment. Safety is a bit of a
black science, and that needs to get out there to the workforce.”

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