New research from Procore Technologies and ACA Research reveals how Australian construction companies are approaching health and safety practices on the job site.
Australia may have a reputation as one of the safest places in the world to work, but it is by no means perfect. According to Safe Work Australia, injury and work-related illness costs the nation's economy $61.8 billion, or 4.1 percent of GDP.
The new report, entitled Safety InSite: Examining health and safety in Australian construction, seeks to understand the attitudes, behaviours and practices potentially contributing to this statistic, and proposes that technology and data can play an important role in reducing incident rates.
Creating accident-free workplaces is the top priority for 76 percent of businesses, with 82 percent having a formal health and safety policy in place. What ultimately defines the difference between companies with low incident rates and those in which workers are, statistically, at higher risk, is commitment.
The report separates its sample group of 287 construction firms into three groups:
- Safety First. Representing around 30 percent of respondents, Safety First businesses demonstrate commitment to work health and safety on a company-wide scale. They report fewer workplace incidents across all categories and are confident their policies and processes are fit-for-purpose.
- Business as Usual. The largest cohort in the survey, 40 percent of businesses are in this group. Leaders and site managers in this group show an average level of commitment to health and safety, with less consideration shown by site and office staff.
- Vulnerable. 30 percent of organisations are classified as vulnerable. This doesn't mean that it doesn't consider safety important, only that it recognises the limited commitment of all its members. This group is represented by companies of all different sizes and locations.
While minor incident rates were similar between all three groups, disparity grew as cases grew more serious. Only one percent of Safety First organisations experienced incidents resulting in extended leave, chronic conditions, fatality and/or external investigation in the three months prior to responding. The rate raised to nine percent for Business as Usual businesses, and 11 percent for Vulnerable businesses.
When it comes to deciding who should be making decisions regarding work health and safety, responsibility is seen to trickle down as each group is considered. On average, more Safety First organisations believe management is responsible, Business as Usual organisations put the impetus on site managers, while Vulnerable organisations shift the responsibility to subcontractors.
This shift is important when considered in context with what respondents said when asked what the main causes of incidents on site are. The top three responses came down to workers showing a lack of care and responsibility. This highlights a need to connect workers with safety policies from the point of concept to practical implementation. The report acknowledges the difficulty in making this a reality, but one thing is clear: it's only possible when those at the top are willing to commit.
"At the end of the day, we know that people are the only assets we have as builders," said Sarah Cuscadden, Probuild group HSE manager at a launch event held for the report on November 14.
She joined other panellists in affirming that improving health and safety on the worksite doesn't mean reinventing the wheel, but recognising the highest risks and focusing on them. To do so effectively, Safety First organisations are looking to technology for guidance.
Remarkably, while 57 percent of companies surveyed believe new technologies will improve safety on the job site, only 37 percent of organisations are using data to predict risk and 34 percent still use paper-based records to manage safety. If technology is to be the solution it's capable of being, there is still much work to be done to encourage businesses to embrace the change.
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