We asked construction industry professionals for their perspectives on the industry and where they see the market heading for 2013. They provided Zintro with their top 5 concerns for the New Year.
Mohamed Abd El Salam, an expert in occupational safety, operations and risk management, outlines his top five priority areas:
1. Fragmentation is the real challenge
“Health and safety in the construction industry has never been out of the spotlight and that is a positive thing. Large, sophisticated clients are leading the way in promoting positive attitudes and behavior towards health and safety. Main contractors are doing the same with their zero tolerance policies and insistence that their supply chain adopt the same policies,” says El Salam. “However, fragmentation of the industry means that this can only go so far. There are many small, relatively unsophisticated, one-off clients, especially on domestic projects, and small contractors or sub-contractors at the bottom of the supply chain. It is unrealistic to expect them to be able to do the same as the large clients and contractors. Fragmentation is one of the biggest challenges to health and safety in the industry.”
2. Too much/too little regulation
“The reform of health and safety laws aims to simplify the current raft of health and safety legislation and guidance to reduce the burden on businesses. The approach to the construction industry will also change; it will shift the focus of health and safety enforcement activity away from businesses that do the right thing to concentrate on high-risk areas and deal with serious breaches of health and safety regulations,” explains El Salam. “To the extent that this helps smaller businesses, clients, contractors and sub-contractors to understand their responsibilities and what they have to do in terms of health and safety, this is a positive step. However, the HSE will need to ensure that it advises, assists and properly supports the initiative, and that its resource is not simply focused on prosecution. This will be a major challenge given the withdrawal of funds from the HSE as part of the government’s cost-cutting initiative.”
3. The cost of health and safety
“There are costs associated with safer methods of working, and the benefits of good health and safety management may appear intangible to some. This, together with the current climate of low tender prices, small margins, and contractor insolvencies, may have contributed to cutting corners and losing sight of the importance of health and safety as an integral part of any risk management strategy,” says El Salam. “Strong client leadership is seen by many as the key to overcoming these challenges and creating a positive culture and behavior towards health and safety but, in practice, it is difficult to see this happening across the board.”
4. Contractors and the supply chain
“Many of the large contractors have put in place stringent requirements for health and safety – zero harm/zero tolerance policies – which are passed on to the supply chain. This has largely contributed to the fall in construction fatalities since 2006/2007,” explains El Salam. “However, statistics suggest that it is the smaller firms, and the smaller projects (especially refurbishment), that account for approximately 60-70 percent of the fatalities. The HSE is asking major contractors to help smaller companies outside the immediate supply chain. This sounds more like an ideal rather than a workable solution at the moment. Corporate social responsibility may have a part to play in encouraging larger firms to take on this role in the future but realistically, in the current economic climate, main contractors have other issues to deal with.”
5. Client leadership on health and safety
“Clients have to take the initiative on health and safety matters, setting high standards at the outset and promoting behavioral change at the top of the industry. In my view, an important message is that clients not only have a legal obligation to ensure the well being of all those working on a project, they have a moral obligation to do so,” says El Salam. “HSE carries out reactive market surveillance activity looking at significant health and safety issues and product compliance that has been brought to HSE’s attention following accidents or complaints. HSE also undertakes some limited proactive risk-based market surveillance and research activity. This may include some testing of specific products. This work may be instigated for a number of reasons including:
informing HSE of the risk potential of new and developing technology, the import of possible non-compliant products, or ensuring the targeted products are safe because of an accident history with the type of product or intelligence from users.”
2. Increased construction lending for qualified contractors and home building companies.
3. Recovery of the commercial construction industry for multi-family and light commercial.
4. New jobs and increased income to qualified applicants. “Even if many are now working, they are still at 50 percent or less of their income prior to the economic slowdown in 2007/2008,” says Reid.
5. The cost of health insurance and healthcare for individuals and families. “Some employers are only offering insurance for the employee or expensive options for a family,” Reid points out.
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