Reporting of health and safety stories arising out of the huge construction project that has taken place ahead of the London Olympics has been a mixed bag. There have been the usual “Elf and Safety gone mad” stories such as the giant sandcastle that took four days to build on Weymouth beach to mark 100 days to the start of the games that was demolished immediately after publicity photographs were taken or the decision not to have the Olympic torch carried along the Thames on board a replica of the Greek warship The Olympias for fear spectators would become over excited at the spectacle and jump from bridges into the Thames.
However, lost in amongst such stories is a remarkable good news story. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) issued a special Diamond Jubilee Award to the Olympic Delivery Authority in respect of the Big Build construction phase of the games.
The construction of the various sporting venues and associated infrastructure at the Olympic Park involved around about 62 million hours of work and at its peak a 12,500 strong work force. Nonetheless the project achieved an accident rate that was less than half the construction industry average and completed the project without an accident related fatality.
Putting aside the moral obligation to complete the construction project safely the ODA and all in the construction supply chain have a legal obligation to protect employees at work on the project and non-employees, such as visitors, from risks to their health and safety. Furthermore, construction projects are controlled by detailed regulations that require health and safety to be factored into every stage of a project from design onwards. So why have ODA been awarded for complying with their legal obligations?
The answer is that they have gone some way above and beyond the minimum requirements. Planning the work commenced with an impressively wide ranging research phase involving Loughborough University and others. At the outset ODA issued a statement to all involved in delivering the project setting out clear aspirations that included the aspiration to conclude the project with zero fatalities. Certain higher level contractors were required to self monitor their achievement of the bench marked standard and to provide monthly reports on their achievements.
The approach to safety was incredibly thorough and beyond the realms of this blog to repeat in detail but one area that stands out is the provision of Occupational Health Services to all contractors and workers on site. The team was made up of nurses, physicians, physiotherapists and occupational hygienists. The team were focused on employee well being, the main health hazards that construction workers are exposed to (vibration, noise, dust, hazardous materials and manual handling) and promotion of healthy behaviours. The success of this measure can be found in the fact that 78% of those working on the site indicated that their interventions with the service encouraged them to make changes to the way that they worked to better look after their health and 73% of managers indicated that they would behave differently in the future as a result of what they learned whilst working on the park.
Whilst this good news story is like to be swamped by tales of bull dozed sandcastles, celebrities tweeting whilst carrying the Olympic torch and in time no doubt the monumental efforts of the athletes it is a story that sends out an important message. Taking a positive and proactive approach to health and safety can bring enormous benefits. The completion of one of Europe’s largest construction projects without a single fatality really is something to be proud of and although it must be accepted that not every construction project will have the resources to replicate what ODA have achieved that there are key lessons to be learned that will keep bringing home the benefits for a long time after the games are finished.