Inspecting Occupational Safety and Health in the Construction Industry

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The International Labor Organization

Summary Statement

International Labor Organization handbook is designed to help provide information and training for inspectors. It contains information on key safety and health concepts and occupational safety and health issues, including managing an inspection program and performing on-site inspections.

Section 10: Summary and conclusions

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The construction industry is an economic activity that involves many interested parties and produces unique products (a building, a bridge, a road, etc.) unlike other industries, which turn out products in series. Moreover, different contracting approaches are used, and each of them should follow specific procedures that take the project’s size, complexity and surrounding environment into account. Section 2 of this document accordingly covers key construction concepts and key OSH concepts.

These and many other features of this industry, addressed in section 3 of this document, make it a hazardous industry as is recognised by all those involved in it. Different hazards/risks are present in the daily activity as referred to in the section 7 of this document, which calls for more and more attention to the implementation of control and prevention measures, the main ones are covered in section 8. A knowledge of the construction processes is essential if we are to minimise the hazards/risks and to find new prevention measures.

Many countries have seen an effort at continuous improvement of working conditions and of safety and health measures by many construction enterprises and OSH experts, with fewer occupational accidents and diseases as a result. However, it is our belief that all the other parties involved in the construction process (namely, owners/clients, designers and managers) should make a bigger effort on these issues. They should recognise their own influence on the effective implementation of OSH measures in order to achieve the main objective, i.e., to reduce the number of occupational accidents and diseases in the construction industry continuously.

The owners/clients are the first party interested in the success of their construction projects and so they should bear all the costs, including those for OSH. They usually want a project to be built in a way that avoids having a harmful impact on the environment, and with an appropriate level of quality (avoiding both short-term and long-term defects) and of safety and health (avoiding occupational accidents and diseases among the workers who build and maintain the project), within the time scheduled and minimizing the costs involved. The traditional focus by many owners/clients on cost and time should be not encouraged in any way, and should never compromise OSH.

As most owners/clients do not know the construction process (they are not usually construction professionals), the designers and managers play a very important OSH role, as they are the “agents” of the owners/clients or constructors. They are professionals with construction knowledge, skills and responsibilities (during the design, execution and maintenance phases) and so they should stress the integration of OSH issues in their daily activity, as some of them already do in many countries.

From the point of view of OSH, a construction project can only be successful if all those involved in it shoulder their OSH burdens in an effective and proactive way. OSH laws and regulations should therefore include these responsibilities, while being consistent with the existing construction laws and regulations, and also taking the culture and practices of each country into consideration.

Because these laws and regulations have to be applied by different stakeholders, new laws or regulations should grade the requirements according to the size and complexity of each construction project, and should come into force only after those who have to implement them have had time to get information and training concerning the new arrangements. Failure to recognise the importance of this may lead to their not being applied in an effective and proactive way or, even worse, to their not being credible in the short term. It is our belief that non-compliance with OSH laws or regulations may sometimes be explained by the importance of these details not being recognised.

While those involved in the construction process are responsible for implementing the OSH laws and regulations, the labour inspectorate (and other parties, depending on the laws and regulations in each country) is responsible for enforcing compliance with them, including the inspection of the workplaces.

Regarding compliance with the OSH-related laws and regulations, a method for selecting enterprises and sites to inspect is proposed in section 4 of this document. Section 5 describes an approach to planning, monitoring and evaluating an OSH inspection programme.

Sections 6 to 9 describes a methodology to perform the inspection of construction enterprises and sites in a systematic way, including the main OSH hazards/risks and control measures in the construction industry and the management of subcontractors.

The high number of OSH laws and regulations, and also of changes made to them in short periods of time, may also in part explain non-compliance with their requirements. This has been said by many construction professionals in surveys. It brings out the need to improve the quality of the laws and regulations in some countries and also to follow the example of countries that have brought together most of their OSH laws into a “labour code”.

Concerning technical legislation, some countries have brought in a performance-based approach, in which the laws mainly restrict themselves to setting targets, and leave it to the social partners to draw up practical documents with details of how to achieve those targets.

The advantage of this approach is that these details are provided by construction federations or associations together with the construction unions, i.e. by those who know the construction process, the hazards/risks involved and the prevention measures. Compliance with these documents, too, should be enforced by the labour inspectorate.

Some countries now provide information on how to comply with the requirements of the law. These informative documents (which should involve the social partners) may also provide an “official” clarification and interpretation of the law, unlike books, which reflect the interpretation of their authors. This procedure is strongly recommended, as part of a proactive approach.

These approaches to OSH legislation are important because most of the proposals in this document can only be effective if the national legislation includes certain essential requirements as, for example, the prior notice, the safety and health plan, and the safety and health file, which are addressed in subsections 4.1 and 9.1 of this document.

The systematic and effective implementation of occupational safety and health management systems (OSH-MS) based on ILO-OSH 2001 guidelines, if duly tailored to the construction industry and the provisions of ILO Convention No. 167 on safety and health in construction, can help enterprises with their in-house monitoring duties and facilitate external monitoring by the labour inspectorate.

Every country in the world should seek continuous improvement of working conditions. The workers are indeed the most valuable resource in any organisation. They must be kept not only alive but healthy as well, at any “cost”. An effective and proactive approach of the labour inspectorates surely contributes for this dignified objective, which involves a high human sense.

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