To grasp the importance of a safety management system in the construction industry, there are two things to understand: the increased safety risks that come part and parcel of construction in all its forms (as opposed to other industries), and the effectiveness of safety management systems in ensuring that a worksite is as safe as possible. Piece the two together, and you have a very valid answer: a safety management system (SMS) can prevent accidents and near-miss incidents in the places where that is most needed. Construction sites are hazardous and health and safety issues are often more immediate than in other workplaces; an effective SMS can truly save lives.
So let’s take a look first at the risks involved in construction, and then at how a systematic approach to safety can mitigate them.
Occupational safety in construction: risky business
The statistics don’t lie: construction is a risky business for workers. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in the US released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year showing the 2018 numbers highlighted a few facts: transportation incidents were the most frequent type of fatal event, accounting for 40 percent of deaths. There was an increase in incidents involving workers caught in running equipment and machinery, as well as in those involving being hit by falling objects. Fatal falls, slips, and trips had decreased slightly but remained high, with a number in the 700s. All of the above are dangers presented on construction sites of all kinds.
The Association of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada’s fatality statistics for 2017 put the construction industry well out in front as the industry with the most fatalities. The International Labour Organization has found through its gathering of statistical data that “the construction industry has a disproportionately high rate of recorded accidents.” Construction death and injury rates vary widely across the globe, but it’s clear that the industry is a risky one overall.
It’s not difficult to see why, either. A construction site generally involves heavy machinery and equipment, scaffolding and ladders, working at height, electrical installations, vehicles, flammable materials, and more. There are so many things to think about when measuring and improving safety performance; any safety program for a construction company must cover a vast array of scenarios. There is also room for continuous improvement as things change throughout the course of the project.
Safety management systems: mitigating the risk
To maintain an overview of all aspects of safety policy on a worksite, a robust safety management system is essential.
What is an SMS?
At its core, a safety management system is a systematic way to manage all safety-related activity on a work site. That starts with hazard identification and includes safety policy, plans, objective setting, safety training schedules, meeting schedules, reporting procedures, committee and management structures, assigning responsibilities, and anything else that applies. They take many forms and are used most extensively in industries that manage significant risk—of which we have already established that construction is most certainly one! They are also important in other sectors like the aviation industry, where careful oversight of safety practices is crucial and there are global standards such as those set by the ICAO.
How does an SMS improve workplace safety?
As a framework, a safety management system—at the very least—allows a company or organization to meet its legal obligations according to the relevant local or national health and safety governing body. It also makes it much easier for said organization to prove that it’s meeting the obligations. And the laws and regulations around occupational health and safety aren’t there just to generate income via fines—they are intended to set standards and offer accountability that keeps people safe.
Safety management systems have proven results. Take the STEP program by Associated Builders and Contractors in the USA, a tried-and-trusted SMS. Participants in the highest levels of their program have shown themselves to be 680 percent safer than the industry average, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics average.
Having an overarching safety management system reduces the risk of siloed information and oversights due to a lack of shared knowledge. It also contributes to a strong safety culture with everyone on the same page. When everything is put together into one system, there is more transparency. It is also clearer to workers what the procedures are, and where to go for the information they need.
Of course, for any management system to be effective it must translate into action. Good SMS implementation is perhaps the most important step in reducing fatalities, injuries, and near-misses.
With a quality SMS in place and an effective action plan, safety risk management becomes achievable across the entire construction site. That’s why a safety management system is so important: it offers an oversight of safety practices, ensures that a site is in line with the relevant regulations and laws, and saves lives through creating strong safety practices and culture.
So it’s evident that a safety management system is very important. It does, however, entail a lot of work, a lot of thought, and often a lot of paperwork. Thankfully, modern technology can help.
Software: a helping hand
Keeping track of each aspect of a safety management system is a tall order, especially on a construction site. Traditionally, it means a lot of paperwork—and anyone who has dealt with paperwork will be aware of how tedious and time-consuming it can be.
Good safety management software makes the creation and implementation of a safety management system much easier. It cuts down on paperwork and simplifies tasks such as incident reporting, filing, audits, and more.
A comprehensive software will facilitate many different aspects of safety management. SafetyTek’s platform, for example, includes handy features such as the employee training matrix which allows those in charge to oversee and manage employee training. It makes it obvious when there are gaps in training schedules mandated by your SMS. Not only can you file forms digitally with SafetyTek, but you can have employees fill them out on any device. No paper, scanners, or printers required!
A safety management system has many moving parts; technology can simplify processes and offer better oversight of the whole picture. To find out more about how safety management software could help your construction site meet safety requirements and goals through administration of your safety management system, get in touch with the SafetyTek team. You can also take a look at the free online demo.