The performance of construction firms throughout Australia in ensuring the safety of their workers can be separated into three categories, the latest report has found.

Commissioned by construction project management software firm Procore Technologies and undertaken by ACA Research, the Safety InSite: Examining WH&S in Australian Construction report examined attitudes, practices and behaviour in regard to safety of 287 firms from across the building sector along with the relationship between these and outcomes delivered on site.

Overall, the results were encouraging.

In total, 76 percent of firms surveyed view accident-free workplaces as their top priority whilst 82 percent have a formal program for work health and safety (WHS).

Nevertheless, performance was neither uniform nor consistent.

Instead, companies fell into three main segments:

  • Safety First companies, who display the greatest level of commitment and effort
  • Business as Usual (BAU), companies who demonstrate average levels of effort; and
  • Vulnerable companies, whose efforts are least extensive.

Interestingly, company size was not a predictive factor of safety commitment levels.

Along these three segments, the report found considerable variance in actions, attitudes and outcomes.

In particular:

  • Only 22 percent of Safety First companies had experienced an incident which required medical attention over the past three months. This compares with 35 percent and 38 percent for BAU companies and Vulnerable companies respectively.
  • Whereas Safety First companies displayed high levels of commitment to safe workplaces throughout all levels of their organisation (leadership, team leaders, site staff and office staff), strong commitments in BAU and Vulnerable companies rarely permeated downward below the top two levels.
  • Compared with Safety First companies and BAU companies, vulnerable firms rely more heavily upon subcontractors to design WHS policies, monitor compliance, identify hazards and resolve safety issues. BAU firms, meanwhile, relied most heavily on site management whilst Safety First companies relied predominately upon senior management.
  • Safety First companies are more comprehensive in their plans to address risk. Amongst Safety First companies, 43 percent address concerns relating to stress and mental health within their WHS plan. This compares with 30 percent for BAU companies and only 8 percent for vulnerable companies. In addition, 53 percent and 45 percent of Safety First companies address hazards associated with excavation work and demolition work within their WHS plan. For BAU and Vulnerable companies, these numbers fall to 46 percent and 30 percent and 28 percent and 23 percent respectively.
  • Compared with BAU and Vulnerable companies, Safety First businesses are more confident in their ability to manage external challenges and disruptions without safety being compromised. These include busy periods, subcontractors on site, wet weather, hot/cold weather, shift completions/commencements and quiet periods.

Across all businesses surveyed, company and site inductions were the most common means through which to address safety risks followed by toolbox talks, regular staff safety plans, project specific safety plans and equipment management tools.

More worryingly, however, workers themselves are often being blamed for safety failures.

Asked about the main causes of incidents on site, respondents nominated a lack of care by workers themselves followed by workers taking unnecessary risks and a lack of compliance with personal protective equipment requirements.

Other causes such as inadequate supervision and failure to provide the right training or equipment were considered to be less common.

The report also indicated that technology had a role in improving safety outcomes.

All up, more than half (57 percent) of businesses surveyed believed that new technologies will help improve safety within their business.

Technologies listed as important in this regard include project management software, drones, robotics, Internet of Things, BIM, safety software, connectivity and data.

Despite this, a concerning number of businesses rely on paper based systems to manage safety.

All up, one-third (34 percent) of companies surveyed depend on paper based systems to manage safety risks whilst a further one-third (33 percent) rely upon spreadsheets.

Only one-third (34 percent) use specialist safety software.

A particular challenge involves use of data to drive decision making, the report found.

Whilst 37 percent of companies surveyed use data in some form to predict and mitigate potential hazards, the report says many companies struggle to capture and extract the right data on which to base decisions.

Until data capture and analysis is exploited to its full potential, the report says construction firms will remain vulnerable to ad-hoc auditing, insurance claims, legal issues and business critical events that can jeopardise not only safety but the ongoing viability of the enterprise.

Tom Karemacher, APAC Vice President at Procore, said that whilst standards on construction sites remain high, the research identifies where improvements can be made.

“The Safety InSite report has confirmed Australia’s high WH&S standards and revealed there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to embracing new technologies and digitisation,” Karemacher said.

“There is a clear opportunity to make significant WHS improvements by utilising specialist software, capturing valuable data, and extracting the right insights to help prevent onsite incidents and deliver better worker outcomes.”