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New occupational health report addresses vital safety and well-being developments in construction

4 April 2019

A collaborative report by the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management provides a comparison of the health and safety environment in construction, exploring issues of culture, systems and procedures in changing environments.

Occupational health in construction report

A collaborative research report, Occupational health, safety and wellbeing in construction: culture, systems and procedures in a changing environment [pdf 1.08MB], was launched last week at a workshop attended by health and safety representatives and industry leaders.

The report, authored by Prof Hedley SmythDr Meri Duryan, Dr Aeli Roberts, PhD students Angeliki Toli, Jing Xu and Anglia Ruskin University's Dr Fred Sherratt, provides a comparison of the health and safety environment in construction, focusing on culture, systems and procedures in changing environments in the UK.

It was prompted by a changing market, the plateau in safety statistics in developing countries and a growing interest in wellbeing and the belief that an improvement in wellbeing will have a positive effect upon performance. 

The findings from the report address:

  • The role of the firm as a vehicle for making transformations that not only potentially make a difference to occupational health, safety and wellbeing (OHSW), but also have wider performance implications
  • Firm strategy for OHSW from the international to the local scale
  • Integration of existing H&S, along the supply chain from the institutional level to the self-employed operative
  • OHSW, and particularly H&S, from the viewpoint of integrating top down initiatives with bottom up practice and experience 

The report was commissioned by UCL-HKU Grand Challenges and is part of a joint research project between UCL and Hong Kong University (HKU), A comparison of the health and safety environment in construction: issues of culture, systems and procedures in changing environments. This report focuses on the UK findings. 

Prof Smyth comments:

“There are matters to address at the Institutional level. Government, regulatory and advisory institutions encourage firms to move towards identifying facilities and tools. They place less emphasis upon the ‘soft’ issues and any strategic approach towards OHSW for the firm level. A more balanced approach is needed. 

This report is not going to resolve these issues, but aims to make a contribution towards a more robust understanding and ways in which current barriers can be broken through. It presents both confirmatory and challenging findings, which suggests there is much more that needs to be done.”

Report launched at Occupational Health and Safety Workshop 

OHSW workshop - Hedley

The Occupational Health and Safety workshop brought together industry leaders and representatives from HSE, Multiplex, MaceBAM Nuttall, Highways EnglandSeverfield and Costain

The focus of the workshop was to discuss the research findings of occupational health, safety and wellbeing (OHSW), with a focus on the UK market.  Breakout sessions led by Dr Aeli Roberts, Prof Hedley Smyth and Dr Meri Duryan explored relevant topics such as business models, senior management and agenda setting to address operations. 

The workshop was chaired by Prof Hedley Smyth who provided an overview of the report and a presentation was given by Prof Steve Rowlinson from HKU who discussed OHSW findings in Hong Kong. 

The topics discussed by the group included:

  • Multi-level subcontracting
  • Behavioural change 
  • Top-level influence 
  • Drug and stimulant use in relation to the work (not limited to construction worksites)

Prof Smyth comments:

“There was a great deal of energy generated in the Workshop. It really got the dissemination of the research findings off to a good start. Different people took things away and our hope is that follow up action makes a difference to occupational health, safety and wellbeing in the organisations they come from. Many of the barriers to improvement lie in the firm and the way main contractors and subcontractors are managed.

While most safety research focuses on site operations in construction, this research identified a number of developments that related to the management of the firm as a way of breaking down the barriers posed by the current plateauing of H&S statistics. Merging safety management systems with knowledge management systems caught the attention of a few people for industry and this will contribute to strengthening the weak systems between the management of the firm and projects."