Wednesday 28 April marks the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the day when the International Labour Organisation (ILO) promotes safe, healthy and decent work surroundings for all employees. With the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt everyday life for millions of workers across the globe, it is more important than ever to reflect on the impact this has had on our approach to health and safety within the workplace.
The global pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of the way in which we live and work, from how we minimise the risk of transmitting the virus in our workplaces to the impact of the efforts that have emerged as a result of measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
For workers in the construction industry, safety has always been of the utmost importance. At the height of the pandemic, and the subsequent national lockdowns in countries across the globe to reduce the spread of the virus, construction firms have gone to great lengths to keep their employees and their sites safe. Construction companies are implementing stringent sanitation and social distancing measures, separate points of entry and exit, temperature screenings, prioritising healthcare projects, and staggered shifts.
However, not only are construction workers grappling with the physical effects and changes the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the world of work, but they are also facing greater pressures to meet the demands that modern working life places on the population. Increased competition as countries struggle with the impact lockdowns are having on their economy, higher expectations on performance and longer working hours are all factors that contribute to their workplace becoming an ever more stressful environment.
According to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), one construction worker takes their own life every day in the UK which shows the important role of mental health and not just physical health in the industry. A 2019 report from the UK Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) found that 26% of construction industry professionals thought about taking their own lives in 2019 – before the Covid-19 pandemic had hit the industry. Job insecurity, long hours, time away from families, lack of support from HR and late payments all contributed to the ‘silent crisis’ according to the CIOB.
When we look at this issue in relation to the rest of Europe the picture is much the same. The European Construction Industry Federation found that psychosocial risks and work-related stress are among the most challenging – and growing – occupational safety and health concerns for the industry in the region. Over half of the EU construction workers report that stress is common in their workplace and research found that psychosocial risks have a serious impact on productivity.
With all of these risks at play in the industry, what can construction firms do to protect and improve the physical and mental health and safety of their workers?
Creating and refining construction safety programmes using new technology
Improving communication to reduce workplace stress
From improved transparency across projects to clearer lines of communication, using technology to improve collaboration can also improve safety both mentally and physically for those working on a project. Stress often occurs as a result of a number of factors – demanding deadlines, lack of clear information, poor communication and a lack of knowledge on the status of a project. By improving the way teams collaborate on projects where progress, transparency and accountability is clearer, team members can feel more confident in obtaining and distilling information using technology like a common data environment for example. Missing information and data can create dangers on a construction site, and stronger document management control practices reduce this risk leading to a more informed project team who feel up-to-speed with every aspect of their project.
Using technology to manage safety reporting
Managing construction safety and inspections is a massive undertaking. Every project is different, and companies have their own standards and ways of working. As construction sites and projects get more complex, workers experience greater physical load and higher stress. Accelerated schedules often mean site workers are expected to work faster, increasing the likelihood of missed details and potential errors, with construction site safety sometimes suffering as a result.
To better manage safety performance on sites, construction companies have turned to using technology. However, today many main contractors are not yet using digital technologies to manage safety inspections. This means that some safety incidents are still being documented with analog processes, siloing issues that cannot be automatically connected to detect patterns of unsafe incidents. Some larger firms struggle to implement newer practices at speed or to achieve full-scale standardisation which leads to a varied approach across projects when it comes to safety.
Filling out construction reports and completing project checklists, whether for construction safety or quality inspections, can often be a tedious process with some lists containing hundreds of items. But project management tools can make navigating these laborious checklists easier and faster. Mobile-friendly software can be used in real time to capture issues and inspections, making it more likely to improve safety outcomes and accuracy.
Harnessing the value technology can bring to safety practices
Tracking technology, like sensors and wearable technology, make it easier for workers to gather data and follow safety protocols whilst minimising the impact this has on their productivity or day-to-day tasks. Linked to this, automation can play a big role in improving the timely communication of changes and reduces the amount of rework needed by providing workers access to the right information in the right place at the right time.
As ever, safety will always be the number one priority for construction companies across the globe. As we mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, it’s imperative to look at the impact Covid-19 has had on safety practices, the role technology can play in improving how we do things and the important role minimising stress plays in creating a safer working environment for all.