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Safer construction : the development of a guide to best practice

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In Australia, an average 49 building and construction workers have been killed at work each year since 1997-98. Building/construction workers are more than twice as likely to be killed at work, than the average worker in all Australian industries. The ‘Safer Construction’ project, funded by the CRC-Construction Innovation and led by a task force comprising representatives of construction clients, designers and constructors, developed a Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction. The Guide, which was informed by research undertaken at RMIT University, Queensland University of Technology and Curtin University, establishes broad principles for the improvement of safety in the industry and provides a ‘roadmap’ for improvement based upon lifecycle stages of a building/construction project. Within each project stage, best practices for the management of safety are identified. Each best practice is defined in terms of the recommended action, its key benefits, desirable outcomes, performance measures and leadership. ‘Safer Construction’ practices are identified from the planning to commissioning stages of a project. The ‘Safer Construction’ project represents the first time that key stakeholder groups in the Australian building/construction industry have worked together to articulate best practice and establish an appropriate basis for allocating (and sharing) responsibility for project safety performance.
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Lingard, Helen., Blismas, Nick., Wakefield, Ron., Jellie, David and Fleming, Tim
Safer construction : the development of a guide to best practice. In : Third
International Conference of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for
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‘Safer Construction’: The Development of a Guide to Best Practice
‘SAFER CONSTRUCTION’: THE DEVELOPMENT OF A GUIDE TO
BEST PRACTICE
Helen Lingard, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT
University
Nick Blismas, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT
University
Ron Wakefield, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT
University
David Jellie, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT
University
Tim Fleming, John Holland Group Pty Ltd.
E-mail: helen.lingard@rmit.edu.au
ABSTRACT
In Australia, an average 49 building and construction workers have been killed at work each
year since 1997-98. Building/construction workers are more than twice as likely to be killed at
work, than the average worker in all Australian industries. The ‘Safer Construction’ project,
funded by the CRC-Construction Innovation and led by a task force comprising
representatives of construction clients, designers and constructors, developed a Guide to
Best Practice for Safer Construction. The Guide, which was informed by research
undertaken at RMIT University, Queensland University of Technology and Curtin University,
establishes broad principles for the improvement of safety in the industry and provides a
‘roadmap’ for improvement based upon lifecycle stages of a building/construction project.
Within each project stage, best practices for the management of safety are identified. Each
best practice is defined in terms of the recommended action, its key benefits, desirable
outcomes, performance measures and leadership. ‘Safer Construction’ practices are
identified from the planning to commissioning stages of a project. The ‘Safer Construction’
project represents the first time that key stakeholder groups in the Australian
building/construction industry have worked together to articulate best practice and establish
an appropriate basis for allocating (and sharing) responsibility for project safety performance.
Keywords: Occupational health and safety, Guide to Best Practice, Client,
Designer, Constructor
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1.0 INTRODUCTION
1.1 OHS IN CONSTRUCTION
The International Labour Organization estimates that there are at least 60,000 fatal accidents
on construction sites around the world each year. This means one construction fatality
occurs every ten minutes. Construction accounts for a 17% (one in six) of all fatal workplace
accidents (ILO, 2005). The fatality rate in the Australian construction industry is 9.2 per
100,000 workers, compared to 3.1 for all industries and, since 1997/98 an average of 49
construction workers has been killed each year – nearly one per week (Fraser, 2007). Figure
1 shows the incidence rate of all non-fatal claims per 1,000 employees in the Australian
mining and construction industries from 1997/98 to 2005-06. The incidence rate in the
construction industry fell from 37.0 in 1997-98 to 26.0 in 2005-06, a decrease of 29.7%. In
comparison, the mining industry incidence rate fell from 43.3 to 18.6 (57.0%) in the period. In
2002-03 the mining industry incidence rate fell below that of the construction industry and
has continued to decline at a greater rate than that of the construction industry.
These compensation-based statistics are also considerably lower than those published by
the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Using data collected in the Multi-Purpose
Household Survey (MPHS) conducted in 2005 – 2006, the construction industry had an
incidence rate of 86 per 1,000 employed people, almost twice that indicated in the ASCC
compensation statistics (ABS, 2006). This difference highlights the need for a consistent
approach to recording industry-level OHS performance in Australia and also suggests that
compensation-based statistics do not reflect the magnitude of the construction industry’s
OHS problem.
Figure 1: Incidence rate of occupational injuries and diseases (per thousand
employees), construction and mining, 1997/98-2005/06 (Source: ASCC, 2007)
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
1997/98 1998/99 1999/00 2000/01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06
Year
Incidence rate
Const Mining
In 2002, the National OHS Strategy established clear and ambitious targets for the reduction
of work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses in Australia. The Strategy was agreed to by all
Australian governments, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to sustain a significant, continual reduction in the
incidence of work-related fatalities with a reduction of at least 20 per cent by 30 June 2012
(with a reduction of 10 per cent being achieved by 30 June 2007), and to reduce the
incidence of workplace injury by at least 40 per cent by 30 June 2012 (with a reduction of 20
per cent being achieved by 30 June 2007). Figure 1 suggests that the response of the mining
industry to the National OHS Strategy has been more effective than that of the construction
industry. This is despite the fact that the National Strategy identified building and construction
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as a priority industry due to its high incidence rate (of occupational injury and illness) and the
high number of compensation claims arising in construction, compared with other industries.
This paper reports on an industry-led initiative, titled ‘Safer Construction,’ which aims to
improve the OHS culture and performance of the Australian construction industry. This
improvement will be driven through the development (and ultimately adoption) of a voluntary
Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction (‘The Guide). The Guide articulates OHS ‘best
practice’ for key stakeholders, namely clients, designers and constructors. The Guide
establishes a logical framework which can be used by construction stakeholders, as project
participation evolves from one participant to another. By engaging all of the key participant
groups in the development and implementation of the Guide, it is expected that significant
improvements in the way in which construction projects are procured, designed and
constructed will be achieved. These improvements will help to ensure that OHS becomes an
integral part of the pre-construction activities of procurement and design, and not just an
issue for those involved in the construction of a building or structure. This paper describes
the rationale for the Guide and the process by which it was developed. The structure of the
Guide is briefly described and lessons learned from the development process are discussed.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE PROJECT
The ‘Safer Construction’ project was an initiative of Engineers Australia’s Civil College Board
which, under the leadership of Mr Bill Wild, formed a committee to address the issue of
construction OHS. Under the auspices of this committee, a task force of senior industry
participants was formed and funding obtained from the Co-operative Research Centre for
Construction Innovation for the ‘Safer Construction’ initiative.
The task force was made up of senior representatives of major industry stakeholder groups,
industry peak bodies and professional institutions. The engagement of this diverse
stakeholder group ensured that the view of construction OHS reflected in the Guide to Best
Practice for Safer Construction represents a realistic and reasonable basis for the allocation
of responsibility for construction OHS.
2.0 CHANGING AN INDUSTRY CULTURE
2.2 FROM SHIFTING BLAME TO SHARING RESPONSIBILITY
The traditional approach to procuring construction work (the Design-Bid-Build model)
prohibits the early involvement of constructors in the project planning and design stages. In
this model, the client typically adopts an ‘arms-length’ approach to managing the design and
construction stages, responsibility (and risk) for which is transferred to other parties via
contract documents. Responsibility for the OHS of construction workers is similarly
transferred in its entirety to a constructor, engaged to build a facility/structure to the
specification of an independently contracted designer. In many instances this situation
creates an adversarial project culture in which OHS issues, arising during the construction
stage, are ‘blamed’ on a party upstream of the construction process. Clients, for example,
have been criticised for imposing unrealistic time or cost pressures and selecting the
cheapest (though not necessarily the safest) design option or supplier. Designers have also
been criticised for focusing too much attention on aesthetics and failing to address OHS in
‘buildability’ reviews of their designs. This adversarial culture is not helpful because it fails to
reflect the fact that all parties to a construction project (i.e. the client, designer and
constructor) have an important role to play in promoting the OHS of people who will build the
structure/facility.
Modern theories of accident causation recognise the importance of organisational issues and
management actions in contributing to workplace accidents (Reason, 1990). In the
construction industry, root cause analyses of accidents reveal that many on-site accidents
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can be attributed to professional or managerial failures arising well before work commences
on site, most notably in the project planning and design stages (Bomel, 2001, Suraji et al
2001; HSE 2003). Consequently, there is a growing trend for some OHS management
responsibility to be driven up the supply chain, and be partially borne by construction Clients,
and the Designers of buildings and facilities.
In bringing together the perspectives of each of these parties (through their respective
professional/industry associations), the Safer Construction project provides the basis for
moving away from a reactive industry culture of blaming other parties for OHS problems, to a
proactive culture of establishing (on a project-by-project basis) an appropriate allocation of
responsibility for OHS during the planning, design, construction and commissioning stages of
project delivery. The objective is not to reduce the responsibility of the constructor for the
OHS of the workers and contractors they employ. Rather, the Guide aims to identify
additional measures that can be taken by clients and designers prior to the commencement
of construction work that will contribute to OHS during the construction stage.
2.3 THE CLIENT’S ROLE
As the initiators of projects, clients are in the best position to drive the cultural change
needed to bring about further OHS improvements in the construction industry (Levitt and
Samelson 1993; Liska et al 1994; Lingard & Rowlinson 2005). At the most basic level, the
client’s selection of project delivery strategy determines the timing and nature of engagement
of both the designer and constructor, which can have an impact upon the extent to which
OHS issues are integrated into project planning and communicated within the project delivery
team. Research by the Health and Safety Executive (UK) identifies client requirements as
being one of the most significant root causes of on-site accidents (HSE 2003). Clients make
key decisions concerning the project budget, project objectives (including timelines) and
other performance criteria, which can create the pressures and constraints known to have a
significant impact upon OHS in the construction stage (Suraji et al 2001). Bomel (2001)
identified client company culture and contracting strategies as areas presenting considerable
opportunities for OHS improvement in the UK construction industry. In the USA, Huang and
Hinze (2006a; 2006b) report that the involvement of the client in pre-project planning,
financially supporting the constructor’s safety programme and participating in the day-to-day
project OHS activities were important requisites for excellent project OHS performance.
Winkler (2006) describes how client involvement in construction contractors’ OHS processes
has created a set of shared values supportive of OHS in the UK construction industry. In
recognition of this, the Office of Government Commerce in the UK (OGC 2004), the Scottish
Executive have developed processes designed to help public sector construction clients to
raise the health and safety standards of workers engaged in their construction projects.
Despite these initiatives, Crosthwaite (2007) reports that public sector clients in the UK still
have a relatively narrow view of their involvement in project OHS, focusing more on the
selection of a competent team than on the monitoring and review of project OHS
performance during the design and construction stages. The Guide recognised that there is
more that Australian construction clients could do to promote OHS in the construction
projects they procure.
2.4 THE DESIGNER’S ROLE
In Australia the National OHS Strategy 2002–2012 defines the elimination of (physical)
hazards at the design stage as an area of national priority. The strategy aims “to build
awareness and observance of this approach and to give people the practical skills to
recognise design issues and to ensure safe outcomes”. The case for design OHS in
construction is compelling. Recent analysis identifies design as a causal factor in fatalities
and serious injuries in the construction industries of other developed economies (Suraji et al.
2001; Behm 2005). Gibb et al. (2004) conducted a detailed review of 100 construction
accidents that occurred in the UK and report that, in 47% of cases, a change in the design of
the permanent structure would have reduced the risk of injury. This is not to say that design
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was the only contributing factor but that the design of the permanent structure contributed to
the injury. Designing for OHS is also consistent with the ‘hierarchy of controls’ adopted in
OHS risk management. This hierarchy is based on the principle that control measures that
target hazards at source and act on the work environment are more effective than controls
that aim to change the behaviour of exposed workers. In many instances, design decisions
can be regarded as the ‘source’ of OHS risks in the construction industry. The Guide
recognises that not every OHS risk can be eliminated. The aim is therefore to systematically
identify OHS risks at the design stage, assess these risks and reduce them so far as is
practicable, while communicating information about any project-specific residual risks
associated with design to prospective constructors, enabling them to take appropriate
preventive action during the construction stage.
2.5 THE CONSTRUCTOR’S ROLE
Constructors have traditionally borne the largest portion of responsibility for construction
OHS. Most large construction organizations have established corporate OHS policies and
implemented sophisticated OHS management systems and processes that are subject to
independent third party audits. These systems include OHS risk assessments, the production
of detailed plans and statements documenting safe working methods, training, monitoring
and reporting processes. Yet, there often exists a ‘disconnect’ between the content of OHS
policy statements and procedure manuals and actual safety practices on-site. Production and
cost pressures compete with OHS goals and intentions communicated by site managers and
supervisors as to what top management ‘really wants’ are not always consistent with the
contents of formal policy statements (Leather, 1987; Hofmann and Stetzer 1996). The Safer
Construction project placed a strong emphasis on leadership and the demonstration, by
managers, of genuine and consistent commitment to OHS.
An underpinning goal of the Safer Construction project was to share knowledge and
experiences about how to improve OHS throughout the construction community. To this
end, the Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction identified practices that could entrench
OHS best practice throughout the industry. In particular, practices that would encourage the
adoption of OHS best practice in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are specified.
SMEs make up the majority of firms in the Australian construction industry but are known to
suffer from a lack of formalised OHS management systems, resource constraints and lower
levels of OHS knowledge (and/or access to expertise) than larger firms.
3.0 DATA COLLECTION
3.1 CONSTRUCTION PROJECT SURVEY
To inform the content of the Guide, interviews were conducted to identify what safety
practices were currently implemented in the Australian construction industry. Data were
collected for 42 construction projects. Consistent with the focus on best practice, the sample
was skewed towards the better performing projects. The highest Lost Time Injury Frequency
(LTIFR) rate for these projects was 25.5 and the lowest was 0. The mean LTIFR for the
surveyed projects was 5.3. This compares to an industry average of 22.6 for general
construction and 19.7 for construction trade services. Data were collected from a variety of
different types of project. The project cost ranged from $2.7 million to $2.5 billion, with a
mean value of $205 million dollars. Nineteen of the projects were procured via a Design &
Build strategy, five were traditional Design-Bid-Build projects and thirteen projects were
procured using an alternative strategy.
The qualitative survey data was subject to thematic analysis, undertaken independently by
two occupational health and safety specialists. The researchers coded the data from each
project according to whether there was evidence of specific safety management practices in
the project. The data revealed well established practices for the management of safety
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during the construction stage but far less activity during the planning and design stages of
construction projects. For example, in only 50% of the projects was there evidence that
project stakeholders other than the designer had input into design decision-making. In 64%
of cases there was some attempt to eliminate safety risks during the design stage but in only
36% of the projects was this risk reduction considered to be innovative. In only 50% of the
projects was project specific safety information communicated to prospective constructors
and in only 40% of the projects was safety included in project specifications at the
tender/award stage. Although not universal, ‘best practice’ in the pre-construction stages of
projects was apparent, for example in some projects a detailed analysis of design safety
risks was performed and innovative ways of ‘designing out’ OHS risks were observed. In the
construction stage there was evidence of more widespread safety management activity,
largely undertaken by the constructor. For example, in 90% of projects detailed work
methods developed prior to commencing major construction activity, meaningful
arrangements were made for worker consultation in safety risk management and training
needs were carefully analysed and appropriate training was provided. However, in only 57%
of projects was there evidence that on-site design changes were subject to a rigorous risk
assessment to determine and manage their safety implications.
The data collected were used to identify examples of best practice, as well as areas in which
substantial ‘gaps’ existed for incorporation into the Guide. In particular, client-led safety
management in the planning and procurement of construction work was not well established
and the degree to which design safety processes were implemented depended largely upon
the design and construction organizations involved in the project. These data were used to
distil practical examples of safety best practice which are used throughout the Guide. Gaps
were then filled by a comprehensive review of Australian and international literature
addressing the issue of construction safety management.
4.0 THE SAFER CONSTRUCTION FRAMEWORK
4.1 SAFER CONSTRUCTION PRINCIPLES
The Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction comprises two booklets and a number of
supporting documents, including a comprehensive literature review and best practice case
study report. The first booklet establishes Best Practice Principles for creating a strong safety
culture. These principles are intended to operate at an industry level and establish broad
values by which organisations within the industry should operate. The success of the best
practice tasks (detailed in the second booklet) is highly dependent upon the adoption of the
Best Practice Principles at both corporate and project-level. The Safer Construction
Principles are:
Principle 1: Demonstrate Safety Leadership;
Principle 2: Promote Safety in Design;
Principle 3: Communicate Safety Information;
Principle 4: Manage Safety Risks;
Principle 5: Continuously Improve Safety Performance; and
Principle 6: Entrench Safety Practices.
At the heart of the guide is an ‘Implementation Table’, specifying safety practices to be
undertaken at four life cycle stages of a construction project, i.e. Planning, Design,
Construction and Commissioning. The practices are numbered and organised under the
principles that they represent. Figure 2 shows a small section of this Table, indicating the
layout of project stages, principles and practices.
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Figure 2: Layout of the Safer Construction Implementation Table.
4.2 SAFER CONSTRUCTION TASKS
The second booklet in the Safer Construction Guide identifies how the six best practice
principles are applied in practice
through the four stages of a project’s lifecycle - planning,
design, construction and post-construction. Each Best Practice Task is documented using a
standard layout that is intended to provide a concise tool for implementation, monitoring and
review .The layout includes:
Action –the task to be carried out,
Description –a short description of the safety best practice, an explanation of the
importance of the action, and some suggested strategies for consideration,
Key Benefits –the benefits to be achieved by implementing the safety best practice,
Desirable Outcome –the behavioural and procedural changes effected by the
implementation of the safety best practice,
Performance Measure –the outputs that can be measured and recorded as evidence
that the safety best practice has been carried out, and
Leadership –the stakeholder with prime responsibility for implementing the action.
4.3 EXAMPLE LEADERSHIP MATRIX
Supporting documentation to the Guide also includes an example ‘Leadership Matrix.’ This
matrix identifies the roles and responsibilities of project participants (stakeholders) in relation
to the Safer Construction Tasks. Suggested roles and responsibilities are indicated (against
the three categories of project participant, i.e. client, designer, constructor) for each of three
‘ideal type’ project delivery models of:
(1) Traditional – where the client undertakes the planning and engages a designer to carry
out the design and a constructor to build the facility;
(2) Design and Construct – where the client undertakes the planning and engages a
consortium of a designer and a constructor to design and build the facility; and
(3) Collaborative – where the client, the designer and the constructor form an alliance to
plan, design and build the facility.
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As it is recognised that project procurement is complex, with many hybrid forms, and that the
roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders will vary from project to project, the Guide to
Best Practice for Safer Construction also includes a series of Implementation Checklists.
These are designed to enable project participants to identify, agree and document an
allocation of roles and responsibilities for the Safer Construction Best Practice Tasks,
appropriate to their project.
Figure 3: An example Safer Construction task box (Fleming et al 2007)
4.3 EXAMPLE LEADERSHIP MATRIX
Supporting documentation to the Guide also includes an example ‘Leadership Matrix.’ This
matrix identifies the roles and responsibilities of project participants (stakeholders) in relation
to the Safer Construction Tasks. Suggested roles and responsibilities are indicated (against
the three categories of project participant, i.e. client, designer, constructor) for each of three
‘ideal type’ project delivery models of:
(1) Traditional – where the client undertakes the planning and engages a designer to carry
out the design and a constructor to build the facility;
(2) Design and Construct – where the client undertakes the planning and engages a
consortium of a designer and a constructor to design and build the facility; and
(3) Collaborative – where the client, the designer and the constructor form an alliance to
plan, design and build the facility.
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As it is recognised that project procurement is complex, with many hybrid forms, and that the
roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders will vary from project to project, the Guide to
Best Practice for Safer Construction also includes a series of Implementation Checklists.
These are designed to enable project participants to identify, agree and document an
allocation of roles and responsibilities for the Safer Construction Best Practice Tasks,
appropriate to their project.
5.0 CONCLUSIONS
5.1 THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF THE GUIDE
The Guide is intended to reflect ‘best practice’ in the management of safety on construction
sites. It is a voluntary document and it was not intended that it replace or supersede any
State/Territory or Commonwealth law relating to construction OHS. In particular, legislative
requirements for constructors (as employers) establish minimum requirements for on-site
OHS during the construction stage. However, the Guide recommends an increased role for
construction clients (in the planning stage) and designers (in the design stage) in achieving
OHS best practice during the construction stage. The Guide recognises that clients, in
particular, can do a great deal to drive OHS best practice in construction projects. Clients
(and/or their professional advisors) make decisions about what is to be constructed, the
terms and conditions upon which each of the parties is to be engaged and budget and
schedule requirements for a project. The client’s selection of project procurement method is
particularly important because this dictates when and how other key project stakeholders will
be engaged to advise on OHS in the project. For example, a designer could be expected to
consider OHS during the design stage but would not reasonably be expected to advise upon
the OHS risk implications of design issues during the construction stage, unless explicitly
instructed to do so by the client. Defining, up-front, the roles and OHS responsibilities of key
stakeholders in a project is recommended. In articulating best practice, the Guide provides
an opportunity for property, design and construction professionals to enhance the
professional services that they provide and improve OHS performance within the
construction industry.
The Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction was launched in September 2007 and it is
therefore too early to ascertain it’s impact. However, the extent of the Guide’s adoption will
be evaluated in future research.
The voluntary nature of the Guide is in contrast to legislative strategies adopted, for example,
in the United Kingdom. In the UK, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations
were enacted in the mid-1990s and were reviewed and re-written in 2007. These Regulations
created statutory OHS responsibilities for construction clients and designers as well as
creating a new overall OHS co-ordination role called the ‘planning supervisor’ (now replaced
with an OHS Coordinator). Prior to the recent review, this legislative response was reported
to have had limited impact on the UK construction industry’s OHS culture and performance.
Criticisms were based on the fact that clients and designers failed to integrate OHS into their
decision processes (Rigby 2003; Entec, 2000) and the creation of a new administrative role
with overall coordination responsibility for project OHS, did not ‘fit’ comfortably with existing
roles and relationships in the construction industry (Bluff, 2003). It is hoped that, as a
collaborative industry-initiated and endorsed document, the Safer Construction Guide will be
widely adopted by industry stakeholders, thereby effecting cultural change in the Australian
construction industry with regard to OHS.
5.2 THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATIVE FUNDING
The involvement of key stakeholder groups, industry peak bodies and professional
institutions ensures that the Guide represents a reasonable allocation of responsibility for
OHS and increases the likelihood that it will be adopted throughout the Australian
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construction industry. Through the CRC-CI, industry, academics and government are brought
together to engage in applied research to collaboratively solve industry problems. The Safer
Construction project also illustrates the need for engagement of a broad range of project
participants in the development of strategies to improve the OHS performance of the
construction industry. Safer Construction illustrates the need for an integrated approach in
which all the key industry participant groups (i.e. clients, designers and constructors) share
responsibility for OHS in construction projects.
5.3 FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The Guide for Best Practice for Safer Construction provides an opportunity to extend the
CRC-CI’s safety competency framework, which currently only addresses competencies of
persons engaged in the construction stage of a project, to client and designer organizations.
Thus a similar research methodology as was utilised in the development of the Safety
Competency Framework could be applied to identify OHS competencies for persons
engaged in construction planning, procurement and design. An extended industry-wide
competency framework would identify the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to
undertake the safety best practices. This information could then be integrated into human
resource management, project management and OHS management processes, for example
in the selection of design consultants and contractors, identification of training needs and
management of project and/or employee performance.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the Cooperative Research Centre –
Construction Innovation in funding the Safer Construction development. Grateful thanks are
also extended to the industry task force members for their input and comment and to
researchers from RMIT University, Queensland University of Technology and Curtin
University.
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