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November 30, 2012

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Respect and clarity key to Olympics safety record

The value put on relationships between individuals and organisations working on the construction of the London 2012 Olympic Park was a crucial ingredient in the health and safety success of the project, new research reveals.

Findings from the study, Pre-conditioning for success: Characteristics and factors ensuring a safe build for the Olympic Park, focus on the underpinning role of 13 distinct human characteristics – including respect, trust, clarity, motivation, collaboration, openness and fairness – and how these concepts have a practical influence on effective leadership, worker involvement, safety culture, communication, risk management, monitoring and assurance.

The research concludes that the pre-conditions offer many potential benefits, including health and safety, across construction projects of all sizes, and can be applied flexibly to suit the simplicity or complexity of the work.

As the Big Build project entered its latter stages, a team from Loughborough University was commissioned to explore why certain things were done the way they were, focusing on the supporting human and organisational interactions.

Researchers were allowed to observe close-out meetings and ‘lessons-learned’ activities for six of the venue and infrastructure projects. Interviews were also held with executives from the client, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), as well as its delivery partner, contractors and the workforce.

Lead researcher Helen Bolt said: “The most important thing we discovered in this research was the value of the relationships between individuals and organisations. Of all the characteristics of the relationships in evidence during Big Build, the most critical were respect and clarity – they underpin everything, are not costly or difficult to achieve, and can have a significant impact on safety culture and standards.”

The report includes recommendations, based on the identified pre-conditions, for all parties involved in construction projects – from clients and CDM-coordinators, through to contractors, the workforce and the HSE. However, Ms Bolt explained that although the recommendations were categorised according to role, many of the pre-conditions apply to all duty-holders.

So, for example, while clients are recommended, from the outset of a project, to provide clarity on requirements and objectives, as well as roles and responsibilities, contractors also need to be clear in communicating requirements and objectives to sub-contractors.

HSE Board member and executive director for Laing O’Rourke, Howard Shiplee, was the director of construction for the ODA. He said: “Though London 2012 was a unique experience for everyone involved, fundamentally it was no different from other construction projects and there is no reason that what worked during the Olympic Park build cannot work elsewhere.”

Asked whether clients have the upper hand in the recession and need to be educated on the importance of good health and safety, he did not single them out but accepted that the economic slump has led to some “bad habits coming back”. He stressed: “Taking shortcuts on health and safety is completely counter-intuitive. Good levels of health and safety will underpin good levels of efficiency.

He added: “Getting the right culture and relationships in place early pays dividends, not just for health and safety but for so many of the benchmarks for success, like delivering the project on time and within budget, with high productivity and sustainability.”

Responding to those who might suggest the health and safety record of the Olympic Park was largely down to resources and funds, he said: “There is the suggestion that we paid in excess for safety. I have no interest in paying in excess for health and safety. It is an obligation on employers.

“We’re very satisfied that the prices we accepted were good value for money.”

The London 2012 Olympic Park was one of the largest building projects in Europe, but, as well as being completed on time and within budget, set a new benchmark for health and safety.

The accident frequency rate on site was 0.16 per 100,000 hours worked – less than the building-industry average of 0.55, and less than the all-industry average of 0.21. There were no work-related fatalities on the whole London 2012 construction programme.

Paul Morrell, the Government’s chief construction advisor, commented: “The Olympics is a great example of what happens when industry works to integrate around shared objectives. Whether we are looking at design quality, at environmental sustainability, or earning that magic phrase “on time or on budget”, the Olympics scores highly. That is especially the case with health and safety.

“As well as delivering all these wider benefits, the industry has looked after its own people. And this success is readily repeatable – it just takes leadership and resolve.”

The report, Pre-conditioning for success: Characteristics and factors ensuring a safe build for the Olympic Park, is available at: www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr955.htm

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