Safety excellence is not separate from construction or operational excellence – a safe site avoids the cost of incidents and improves personnel’s motivation and the company’s relationships with clients, thereby forming a “solid business case” for a project, says South Africa-based contractor Concor chief human resources officer Craig Lawrence.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has added a layer of difficulty to focusing on safety, as site management has had to direct much of its attention to Covid-19 protocols.
Lawrence notes that the hard lockdown – enforced in South Africa during March and April 2020 – has, in some cases, increased the difficulty for Concor’s off-site management team, complicating visit sites and the carrying out of safety-related duties.
Nonetheless, he tells Engineering News that Concor’s site management teams have “demonstrated agility and have handled all these difficulties while ensuring that the company has an outstanding year from a safety perspective”.
The pandemic has prompted Concor to “do some things differently”, such as hosting virtual meetings and training, thereby reducing the amount of travel exposure for staff and, consequently, exposure to the virus, Lawrence explains.
Innovative digital developments resulted from this approach, such as the Concor Engage application (app), which communicates health, safety and environment (HSE) lessons learned while recognising achievements within the company.
The app makes policies and procedures more readily available, as the Covid-19 pandemic has enhanced awareness of the importance of other occupational health protocols such as medical surveillance and health risk assessments.
The company’s comprehensive HSE strategic framework guides its programmes and initiatives, such as the Concor Major Incident Prevention Programme, and the Concor Zero Harm Leadership Behaviours including visible felt leadership.
Lawrence says while there are no plans for new HSE programmes this year, Concor intends to “get back to basics” after the pandemic and refocus on its programmes that have been successful over the past few years, though some digital enhancements to make them easier or more effective are expected.
The construction sector has been severely affected by job losses and a general lack of work; therefore, initiatives that are designed to support the growth and survival of emerging contractors should draw support from established companies in the construction industry.
Despite the negative outlook thus far, he notes that Concor is seeing an increase in tender and other construction project opportunities, which will have positive implications for direct employment and the employment of subcontractors, including emerging contractors, states Lawrence.
“To be successful in this day and age, a principal contractor, such as Concor, has to have the ability and systems to quickly orientate new local resources to its HSE approach and commitment to zero harm – or safety results will suffer.”
Lawrence explains that improved safety in a region may – to some extent – encourage more investments in projects because investors, especially large international investors, do not want to damage their reputations because of safety incidents.
“What is more certain is that a company’s good safety record is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage to winning work from reputable and responsible clients.”
Concor’s HSE plans respond to the client’s designs and plans, although the company’s preference is to be involved in the design stage of a project to influence the safety aspects of the construction phase of the project, which Lawrence says is a more cost- effective approach.
Currently, the company’s involvement starts when the contract is awarded, but Lawrence urges that, if Concor could be involved earlier and influence some of the construction methodologies and plans, it would “probably result in a cheaper and more effective safety solution”.