Safety Behaviour in the Construction Industry

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Health and Safety Authority

Summary Statement

A multifaceted study of occupational safety culture and habits in the Irish construction industry.

The primary goal of this research was to investigate the factors that influence safety behavior and compliance with safety requirements on construction sites. This goal was realized through the following objectives:

  • The first objective was to examine compliance with safety requirements in the construction industry.
  • The second was to investigate the behavior, perceptions and attitudes associated with safety in construction.
  • The third was to investigate management practices and associated documentation relating to safety.
  • The final objective was to seek to establish what factors are significantly associated with safe behaviors or safety compliance.
  • Furthermore the high incidence of falling from heights in construction accident statistics led to a focus, particularly in the site observations and operatives' questionnaire, on factors associated with falling from heights.
In particular, the research strategy adopted was to investigate the following aspects:
  • Observation of compliance with a range of standard safety requirements.
  • Perception of risk associated with certain target behaviors and situations, estimation of prevalence of these situations on this site and elsewhere, and most likely response in those situations.
  • Attitudes to safety and safety climate (perception of the organization's commitment to and involvement in safety)
  • The role and activities of management and other persons with a specific safety role, and of organizational activities related to safety.
  • Review of available company documentation relevant to the management of safety. The design adopted was a cross-sectional one based on a comparison of a sample of sites in Ireland, employing measures of these dimensions.
Site Sampling

Because the goal of the research was to investigate factors influencing compliance, this required that the sample contained a variety of contrasting sites, giving sufficient variance in the factors being studied to investigate their influence. To achieve this it was not necessary to have an exactly representative sample. It was however considered desirable for the sample to be broadly representative of important parameters of the industry. In order to gain our sample of construction sites the following aspects were taken into consideration:
  • Comparison of sites in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland
  • Comparison of sites in Dublin and other urban areas in the Republic
  • Comparison of small and larger building sites
  • Comparison of House Building work with General Contracting work
Because the absence of a comprehensive database of the number and location of the construction sites in Ireland and the current stage of their projects, it was impossible to construct a probabilistic random sample. As a consequence, the sample was stratified according to the following criteria: from site-lists from CIS reports (dating from October 1999 to May 2000) and other sources. Sites that did not have a start date or price and any valued at less than one million Irish pounds were discarded in the selection process. The remaining sites were classified as using above criteria. Upon this classification, a sample of sites per each category was selected following a random selection and site managers were asked for participation in the research. This process was carried out until completing the preselected number of sites per category. In a few cases, as for Dublin, the objective site categories could not be filled accordingly to above procedure and then sites were selected on a convenience basis (mainly approaching visually located sites). The HSE in Northern Ireland were contacted and they provided the names of a number of Contractors who were carrying out work in the Belfast area.

Because of the possibility of biases in the final composition of the sample, the question of sampling will be considered again in the discussion section of this document.

Analysis of the fatality statistics allowed those sites to be chosen that most closely matched the type of contractor and the trade of recorded fatalities that most represented the characteristics of the fatalities. However due to practical limitations the sample did not represent very small sites or sites in purely rural areas.

A total of eighteen construction sites took part in this research project. Table below provides a breakdown of sites across the different areas. For the purpose of the study small sites were defined as being worth between one and five million Irish punts in the Republic of Ireland and one and five million pounds sterling in Northern Ireland. Large sites were defined as being worth over five million Irish punts in the Republic of Ireland and over five million pounds sterling in Northern Ireland.

Table 6 provides a breakdown of sites in the sample and table 7 provides a detailed description of each of the sites visited.

  Large General Contracting Small General Contracting Large Housing Small Housing Total
Dublin 4 1 2 1 8
RoI Urban 3     1 4
Belfast 3     1 4
NI Urban 1       1
NI Rural       1 1

Table 6: Breakdown of sites by type and size

Site Project type Location Number
Size m2 * Build Type Main structures
and activities
01 Social Infrastructure Dublin 80 30,000 New build Substructure External walls to first floor level Internal walls to first floor level
02 Social Infrastructure Dublin 80 >250,000 New build Substructure External wall and cladding in Roof deck
03 Social Infrastructure Dublin 200 >250,000 New build Substructure , external walls Steel framework Roof and roof covering
04 Social Infrastructure Dublin 30 20,000 New build Substructure Internal fixtures and fittings Roof and roof covering,
05 Housing Dublin 40 50 units New build Substructure External & Internal walls Floor slabs in place Services in part
06 Housing Dublin 50 250 units New build Substructure in part Roof and roof covering in part Internal fixtures and fittings in part
07 Housing Dublin 60 150 units New build Substructure in part Roof and roof covering in part Internal fixtures and fittings in part
08 Social Infrastructure Dublin 50 1,000 Renovation refurbishment Internal fixtures and fittings Internal partitions Finishes
09 Social Infrastructure Republic of Ireland 40 15,000 New build Ground floor First floor slab Roof deck
10 Housing Republic of Ireland 20 50 units New build Substructures in part Roof and roof covering in part Internal fixtures and fittings in part
11 Housing Republic of Ireland 160 450 units New build Substructure External walls part Roof and covering part
12 Social Infrastructure Republic of Ireland 150 10,000 Renovation of existing / expansion Topped out Internal partitions fixtures and fittings Services
13 Social Infrastructure Belfast 100 12,000 New build Substructure Steel framework External walls, roof and covering part
14 Social Infrastructure Belfast 50 15,000 New build Substructure Steel framework External walls part
15 Social Infrastructure Belfast 60 15,000 New build Nearly complete Internal fixtures and fittings Services
16 Housing Northern Ireland 20 50 units New build <10 units incomplete External walls Internal partitions and floors.
17 Housing Northern Ireland 30 50 units Refurbishment & development of existing structure Groundworks Internal partitions Basement and ground floor slabs
18 Housing Northern Ireland 20 30 units New build <10 units incomplete
Roof and roof covering in part Internal fixtures and fittings in part
Housing could consist of residential units ranging from one bed apartments to five bed detached houses. Social Infrastructure: small less than 5000m 2 / Large over 5000m 2 . Housing: small Less than 100 units/ Large Over 100 units
Table 7: Description of the characteristics of the sites in the sample.

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