Occupational Safety and Health Practices in Construction Projects: A Prerequisite for a Safe and Healthy Workplace

Introduction

The construction industry is formed of establishments primarily engaged in the building of structures or engineering projects like highways and utility systems; establishments primarily engaged in the preparation of sites for new construction and establishments primarily engaged in sub-dividing land for sale as building sites are also included in this sector.

The history of OSH dates back to 1950, with the introduction of the Factories Act. In 1990 this Act was amended to the Factories and Other Places of Work Act, to enlarge its scope. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Work Injury Benefits Act (WIBA) were enacted in 2007, and are now the principal laws that govern OSH in the country. There are other laws that touch on OSH, but they are managed by other government ministries and corporations (International Labour Organization, 2013).

OSH is managed by the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health Services (DOSHS). DOSHS is the designated national authority for collection and maintenance of a database, and for the analysis and investigation of occupational accidents and diseases, and dangerous occurrences. The Directorate’s policy and legal mandate are provided by the National Occupational Safety and Health Policy of 2012, OSHA 2007, and WIBA 2007 (International Labour Organization, 2013).

The body responsible for reviewing national OSH legislation, policies and actions is the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), whose composition includes the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) and the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU-K) (International Labour Organization, 2013).

The National Construction Authority Act, Number 41 of 2011 was set to streamline, overhaul and regulate the construction industry. This is because the industry has for many years suffered poor legislative framework and has been dominated by quacks and unqualified persons. The industry has also suffered a lot of competition from foreign contractors who are seen to offer cheaper and more quality work. The new Act is a win for the public as it guarantees public safety. All contractors must be registered with the Authority meaning that shady contractors and quacks will be locked out of the industry. It is an offence to carry out any construction work without first having been registered with the Authority (www.nca.go.ke, 04/01/2014).

The Act contains provisions on quality and safety standards of any construction work. The Authority is also charged with passing regulations from time to time on the quality of construction offered by contractors. The Act will also play a big role in streamlining the quality of construction work within the country. The Authority has wide ranging powers including accrediting training institutions that offer courses related to construction. The new Act is also a win for local contractors as some of its provisions serve as a protective mechanism to the local industry. The local contractors face a lot of competition from foreign entrants most of whom undercut their charges. Bilateral agreements between Kenya and other governments, especially relating to construction, have opened the market to a lot of competition. The new Act has some carefully worded provisions whose net effect would be to guard local contractors from unfair competition from foreign contractor (www.nca.go.ke, 04/01/2014).

In Kenya, Part V11 section 55 of the OSHA, 2007 requires that all plant machinery and equipment whether fixed or mobile for use either or as a workplace shall only be used for work which they are designed for and be operated by a competent person. Part V11 section 58(1) of this act provides that every dangerous party of any machinery other party prime movers and transmission shall be securely fenced provided so far as the safety of a dangerous part of any machinery cannot by a reason of any nature of the operation secured by means of a fixed guard, the requirement of this subsection shall be deemed to have been complied with if a device is provided which automatically prevents the operator from coming with the part. This applies to erection of safeguards at the edge of building while being constructed and safeguarding of saw machines used in construction.

Furthermore, the law prohibits any person in construction industry from being employed at any machine or in any process, being a machine or process liable to cause ill health or bodily injury, unless he has been fully instructed as to the dangers likely to arise in connection therewith and the precautions to be observed and; has received sufficient training in work at the machine or in the processor and is under adequate supervision by a person who has thorough knowledge and experience of the machine or process.

Construction work done may include new work, additions, alterations, or maintenance and repairs. Activities of these establishments generally are managed at a fixed place of business, but they usually perform construction activities at multiple project sites. Production responsibilities for establishments in this sector are usually specified in contracts with the owners of construction projects or contracts with other construction establishments (subcontracts).

A careful management, development and operation should be enhanced and looked into if they are to contribute positively to organizational performance, and be retained in the long-term. Bennett (1991) recognized this when he identified the need for ‘a commitment to people in construction industry’, as one of the key drivers required to promote change and improvement within the industry. He called for a wider commitment to sustainable development and resource use plan as part of his ‘Rethinking Construction’ report, (Bennett, 1991). However, the susceptibility of the industry to economic fluctuations makes the applicability of many of the established mechanisms for developing human environment questionable.

Challenges facing construction firms in include the occupational health and safety. Construction workers build our roads, houses and workplaces and repair and maintain our nation’s physical infrastructure. This work includes many hazardous tasks and conditions such as work at height, excavations, noise, dust, power tools and equipment, confined spaces and electricity.

According to United States Department of Labor employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. The government role is to assure the safety and health of workers by setting and enforcing standards, providing training, outreach and education, establishing partnerships, and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health. Indeed, best practices used may include daily safety inspections conducted at the site and any hazards identified can be corrected immediately. Inspection results can be discussed at safety committee meetings. Each employee should know that safety issue would be dealt with promptly when it came to management’s attention. Additionally, an on-site incentive can encourage safe workplace practices (Choudhury, 2004)

Construction workers face a variety of hazards, particularly safety problems such as falls, slips, trips, cuts, and being hit by falling objects. There are also dangers from working high up, often without adequate safety equipment, musculoskeletal problems from lifting heavy objects, as well as the hazards associated with exposure to noisy machinery. Despite the fact that construction industry has brought the economy to high scales, there has been concern over occupational health and safety of those working in the industry. At the law courts, there have been cases of injury of both fatal and none fatal to the employees working at the construction sites.

Safety issues have gained vital importance throughout the construction industry. Many construction companies around the world are implementing safety, health, and environmental management systems to reduce injuries, eliminate illness, and to provide a safe working environment in their construction sites. Construction managers and professionals require careful management and development if they are to contribute positively to organization performance and effective implementation of its projects with high long-term retention of profits and workplace safety. In spite of the successful approach to expansion projects, a myriad of challenges is facing its implementation and assuming the important factor of OSH. This involves environmental sustainability of the project where strive to achieve the set long term goals is hacked by short term economic consideration.

In a construction industry employees are involved in falls from roof tops, floors, machinery cut, exposure to dust and paint and accidents in operation of machinery. These problems that are being encountered in Environment and Safety Department have posed a challenge in occupational, health and safety in construction.

Enforcement of legal requirements

The law has evolved from systems, principles and customs governing conduct in relation to various aspects of people’s lives. Rules are established by groups of all sizes to ensure that the rights of members are respected and responsibilities are fulfilled. Small or informal groups tend to adopt simple rules, which are not legally binding, while government develop complex and comprehensive rules which can be enforced (Morris et al, 1996)

The purpose of the law is to ensure that members of the society live and behave according to a set of acceptable rules. In relation to OSH, the law exists to indemnify the responsibility of the parties involved in industrial or commercial activities and here construction in particular. It improves responsibilities of the employers to protect the health and safety of their employees when they are at work and protects the right of the people to participate in the paid workforce without suffering injury or ill health as a result.

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An OSH officer from the government may write orders to the employer to correct any deficiencies related to the legislation and follow-up at a later date to ensure compliance. If an OSH Officer sees something at a work site that could immediately be dangerous to workers, they can write a stop work order or stop use order for a particular piece of equipment (Morris et al. 1996). As such, the law should be of primary importance in providing a ‘level playing field’ and ensuring that employers do not profit from failing to provide adequate protection for their employees. OSH law also ensures that, if people do suffer a work-related injury or illness, there are mechanisms by which they may obtain compensation and undergo rehabilitation to enable them to resume participation in the workforce and the community at large.

Thus, the aims of OSH law are to prevent occupational and ill-health, ensure compensation for those who are injured or become ill as a result of their employment and rehabilitate workers who suffer injury or ill-health as a result of their work in order that, so far as is possible, they can return to work and resume participation in the community (Quilan and Bohle, 1991).

Different legal systems have developed in different parts of the world. Many countries’ legal systems are based on English common law. These include Australia, United States of America, India Israel, Hong Kong, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia and Kenya. In each of these countries the law has developed differently to reflect local values and beliefs about justice. Other countries are civil law countries, meaning that all of their laws are contained in comprehensive legal codes.

In common law, if the employer is negligent in respect of their duty and death, injury or ill health occurs, employees and their families have rights to be paid damages by the employer.

Employees also have duties under OSH legislation. Normally, each employee is expected to comply with all occupational safety and health standards, rules, regulations, and orders issued under the law that apply to his or her own actions and conduct on the job. Employees are typically required to co-operate with their employers in OSH, and must not wilfully or recklessly interfere with any item provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare or wilfully place themselves or others at risk (Chikati, 2006).

Effects of the contractor’s safety policy on building construction sites

A written health and safety policy is an important part of managing health and safety in workplace and an important step in demonstrating management commitment. By OSHA, employers are obliged to plan their overall approach to managing safety and health and must commit the necessary resources to implement the plan. As an initial step, employers must develop a safety and health policy which should form part of the Safety Statement. It must be specific to their organization and be in a written format. The content of the safety and health policy of an organization should be based on the hazards and risks present in the organization and should reflect the fact that systematic hazard identification and risk assessment have been undertaken(Dorsey, 1997).

The company should be committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment that meets or exceeds the standards of the Provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act, Regulation and Code with a purpose of protecting employees, visitors, sub-contractors, clients, company property and the environment. An OSH program requires a statement of the employer’s aims and the responsibilities of the employer, supervisors, and workers. This statement—called a policy—typically states: the employer’s commitment to the OSH program, the employer’s commitment to protect the health and safety of workers, the aims and priorities of the OSH program, the responsibilities of the employer, supervisors, and workers.

Company’s level practices influence safety performance. Safety performances are better on projects of companies that have strict and standardized OSH policies and also employ a fulltime company safety officer; those with stronger top management support for safety; those who conduct safety meetings for supervisors; and those who monitor the safety performances of their supervisors. Lower injury rates may be noted on projects that employ a project safety officer. Better safety performances may occur on projects which employ more sophisticated scheduling method (Jimmie, 2001).

The contractor is required to monitor activities at the work site to ensure that the health and safety system is functioning properly. This is intended to be high level oversight or auditing. The employer is responsible for the details of their workers’ health and safety

Improvements to contracting organizations’ safety standards could inevitably be helped by continuous monitoring and review of their safety performance. To achieve this, an objective OSH framework is a prerequisite. Although various policies of OSH have been proposed and formulated, a more comprehensive OSH framework which takes into account factors pertinent to an organization and its project has to be realized (Thomas, 2006). It is company policy that accident prevention be a prime concern of all employees. This includes the safety and well-being of employees, subcontractors, and customers, as well as the prevention of wasteful, inefficient operations, and damage to property and equipment.

It is the responsibility of the contractor to ensure that health and safety in the workplace is adequate and abides to legal requirements. Protecting the health and safety of employees and the public is an essential part of risk management.  Planning the health and safety policy is fundamental. It should be integrated into a business’s culture, values and performance standards. It is required that businesses have strong systems of internal control which covers health and safety, environment, financial risks and business reputation (Gloler, 2000). It will decide what methods will be taken to address these risks and also how health and safety duties and benefits will be communicated throughout the business. It is important to remember that a health and safety policy will evolve over time.

Safety Training Effects in Safety at Building Construction Sites

If employees are to make the maximum contribution to safety and health, adequate arrangements must be in place to ensure that they have the necessary skills to do their work safely. This means more than simply training. Experience of applying skills and knowledge is an important ingredient and needs to be gained under adequate supervision. Managers should know the relevant legislation and be able to manage safety and health effectively. All employees need to be able to work in a safe and healthy manner. It is also necessary to check the abilities of contractors where they work close to, or in collaboration with, direct employees (Thomas 2006).

Company’s program must include a system for communicating with employees – in a form readily understandable by all affected employees – on matters relating to occupational safety and health, including provisions designed to encourage employees to inform the employees of hazards at the worksite without fear of reprisal.

The protection of the health and safety of all employees through training is vital to the success of all organizations. Poor performance in occupational health and safety (OSH) can take a heavy financial toll on any business, not to mention the human cost of work-related illness, injury, and fatality. As an employer, one should take every possible opportunity to show workers that you are committed to health and safety practices by becoming actively involved. Employees should be talked to and informed about health and safety practices. Employer should offer suggestions for improvements, and solicit employees also. Employees should be made to feel comfortable coming to the employer/management to discuss their concerns. At meetings, health and safety issues and concerns should be discussed and also take an active role (Dorsey, 1997).

Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all workers at the work site by training them at all times. There are also specific requirements of employers depending on the hazards and the work that is to be done. Employers are required by OSH legislation to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable/reasonably achievable, the health and safety of both the workers engaged in the work of that employer and those workers not engaged in the work of that employer, but present at the employer’s work site at which that work is being carried out. This is achievable by having OSH committee with members who are trained on OSH matters to oversee that there is safety at the site (Morris et al, 1996).

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Every employee (management, employees, contractors, and sub-contractors) is responsible for maintaining the safety management system by setting a good example as well as understanding their assigned responsibilities and the legislative requirements as they apply to their work site and job tasks. One of the most important ways to ensure the health and safety of your workplace is to regularly train work site employees in order to identify hazards, and then eliminate or control the hazards. Training and inspection is an ongoing task as the workplace may be constantly changing.

Systems of training that are both scheduled and unscheduled make identifying and controlling hazards a normal part of everyday work. Formal training should be conducted by supervisors and OSH officers whenever possible. The general requirements for worker training are included in the OSH regulation. Specific requirements for different types of worker training are identified throughout the OSH Code. Training is only part of becoming competent at a particular task. A worker must demonstrate competency whenever undertaking a new task, or whenever a task which was performed in the past has changed to include new hazards(Dorsey, 1997).

Effective workplace health and safety programmes can help to save the lives of workers by reducing hazards and their consequences. Health and safety programmes also have positive effects on both worker morale and productivity, which are important benefits.

Monitoring and evaluation of Safety and Health

Safety and health principles are universal, but how much action is needed will depend on the size of the organization, the hazards presented by its activities, the physical characteristics of the organization, products or services, and the adequacy of its existing arrangements. Many of the features of effective safety and health management are comparable to the sound management practices advocated by proponents of quality management, environmental protection, and business excellence. Commercially successful companies often excel at safety and health management as well, precisely because they apply the same efficient business expertise to safety and health as to all other aspects of their operations (Thomas, 2006).

The organization should measure, monitor and evaluate its safety and health performance. Monitoring and evaluation can be measured against agreed standards to reveal when and where improvement is needed. Active self-monitoring reveals how effectively the health and safety management system is functioning. Management should develop and incorporate into the Safety Statement a safety and health policy that recognizes that safety and health is an integral part of the organization’s business performance. They should ensure that this safety and health policy is appropriate to the hazards and risks of the organization’s work activities and includes a commitment to protect, so far as is reasonably practicable, its employees and others, such as contractors and members of the public, from safety and health risks associated with its activities (Johnson, 2006).

Monitoring and evaluation hare the basis of planning and measuring safety and health achievement. If the organization is to be efficient and effective in controlling risks, it needs to co-ordinate its activities to ensure that everyone is clear about what they are expected to achieve. Both the direction of the organization as a whole and specific risks have to be controlled. Setting performance standards is essential if policies are to be translated from good intentions into a series of co-ordinated activities and tasks (Buttrick, 2005).

Theoretical literature

They are independent in this study and shall be examined in relation to occupational, health and safety in construction projects. According to Johnson (2006), enforcement of legal requirements under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also comply with the employer’s duties clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards.

OSHA Act 2007 states that the occupier of a workplace shall cause a thorough safety and health audit of his workplace to be carried out at least once in every period of twelve months by a safety and health advisor, who shall issue a report of such an audit containing the prescribed particulars to the occupier on payment of a prescribed fee and shall send a copy of the report to the Director of OSHA.

In relation to OSHA Act 2007, on contractor’s safety policy the employer’s obligations under OSHA don’t stop with maintaining a safe work environment. Employer must also meet reporting requirements, posting requirements, and recordkeeping requirements, and must submit to OSHA inspections. For example, report of fatal accidents to OSHA within eight hours of their occurrence. There should be posts on OSHA informing workers of their rights and obligations under the law. Employer must also keep records of efforts to comply with the law and to prevent injuries and illnesses.

It is the responsibility of each contractor working on a project to implement, enforce and modify when necessary the safety policies and procedures identified here-in. Communication and training is an integral part of the program, and should be emphasized over the duration of the job. In order to facilitate the above, every employee on site should follow the established policies and procedures, report hazardous conditions and mitigate areas of concern before an illness, injury, near miss or other incident is realized. Contractors as well as other persons on this site are obligated to follow the same rules and regulations that have been implemented for the contractors in accordance with the requirements (Ghosh, 2000).

Buttrick (2005) notes that working in the construction industry can sometimes be dangerous. Work-related accidents can cause serious injuries, while most of these accidents are preventable. He says that a company should use resources to learn more about construction safety, from OSHA compliance and safety training to fall protection and hazard communication. In addition, OSHA Committees should be formed to coordinate the company’s regulatory activities in the areas of jobsite safety, OSHA regulations and workers’ compensation.

(Dorsey, 1997) says that construction jobsite safety remains a collective concern. In light of the OSHA regulations and decision, all construction contractors need to consider how to meet the collective goal of jobsite safety without assuming the liabilities of others.

Summary

There should be consistency in developing employer/labor/government strategic partnership approaches to further occupational safety and health. It allows for effective use of OSHA resources, innovation in safety management, and encourages participation in the safety process by industry members, employees, and other interested parties.

OSHA will provide resources appropriate to assist the industry partners in achieving the goal of reducing the number of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses in the industry. In executing this agreement, OSHA does not forfeit any of its responsibilities or obligations to administer and enforce the OSHA, 2007. As a result, there exists legislation to ensuring that the workplace is a safe place of work. OSHA, 2007 is an important piece of legislation which seeks to promote and encourage occupational safety and health awareness among workers and to create organizations along with effective safety and health measures.

Theoretical Framework

Construction companies need to be responsive to the dynamic market in which they operate, and so by inference must retain flexibility in managing their human resources and concentrating in human environment.

Accidents, ill-health, and incidents are seldom random events. They generally arise from failures of control and involve multiple contributory elements. The immediate cause may be a human or technical failure, but such events usually arise from organizational failings which are the responsibility of management. Successful safety and health management systems aim to utilize the strengths of managers and other employees. The organization needs to understand how human factors affect safety and health performance (Dorsey, 1997).

Conceptual Framework

Enforcing of Legal Requirements

Construction remains a disproportionately dangerous industry where improvements in health and safety are needed. The improvements require significant and permanent changes in duty holder attitudes and behavior. Since the Regulations were introduced, concerns were raised that their complexity and the bureaucratic approach frustrated the Regulations’ underlying health and safety objectives. These views were supported by an industry-wide consultation in 2007 which resulted in the decision to revise the regulations (Morris.P, 1990).

Contractor’ Safety Policy

While the impetus for ensuring a safe jobsite comes in part from the contractor’s internal desire for an efficient and accident-free project, there are external forces at work as well, such as federal, state and local regulations. Often it is these external factors that prompt or even require the contractor to adopt safety policies and incorporate them into their contractual relationships. Perhaps the most prominent of these federal regulations are those enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).

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Safety Training

Working in the construction industry can be very dangerous. The nature of the work itself carries risks, and accidents can result in serious injuries or even fatality. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) law requires employers to offer a workplace that is safe and free from hazards. Everyday construction workers face dangers that threaten their health and lives. While construction sites are always filled with danger, proper knowledge on safety rules and regulations can be the only thing protecting an individual from certain serious injuries (Klir, 1995).

Monitoring and evaluation of safety and health

The organization’s executive board of directors or other senior management team, client, government officials, contractors, needs to ensure that it is kept informed of, and alerted to, relevant safety and health risk management issues. It is recommended that boards and other controlling bodies appoint one of their numbers to be the safety and health director who will ensure other directors are kept informed and that safety and health is actively managed on a daily basis monitoring and evaluation of safety and health(Dorsey, 1997).

Conclusion

Construction workers build, repair, maintain, renovate, modify and demolish houses, office buildings, temples, factories, hospitals, roads, bridges, tunnels, stadiums, docks, airports and more. The International Labour Organization (ILO) classifies the construction industry as government and private-sector firms erecting buildings for habitation or for commercial purposes and public works such as roads, bridges, tunnels, dams or airports (International Labour Organization, 2013).

It can be concluded that when construction workers are injured, it not only affects their health and livelihood, it poses a challenge for their family as well. On-the-job injuries can lead to expensive medical bills and treatments, as well as lost income and earning ability if the injury keeps the victim away from work. Families can find themselves in very dire financial circumstances if they’re not careful.

Management of occupational safety and health in Kenya construction sites should be focused and be considered as an important department and function in order to avoid fatal and none-fatal accidents. All persons conducting a business or undertaking who are involved in high risk construction work must develop and implement arrangements to ensure the work is carried out in

accordance with the safe work methods. Your study does not feature in this statement it is too general.

Enforcement of legal requirements in construction projects is done although there are numerous accidents which are experienced at the construction sites majorly on machinery accidents, slips and falls. Contractor’s safety policies are available but have been termed as poor. Most of those interviewed are in the view that the available organizational policies are ineffective and cannot provide a workable platform to improve the occupational safety and health. The employees at the construction sites are annually trained on safety and health. Most of unskilled and skilled staffs are not aware of the laid down legislations. This promotes the occurrence of injuries which can be avoided through information and training on occupational safety and health.

Recommendations

To improve the efficiency and management of occupational safety and health the following recommendations have been suggested;

Enforcement of legal requirements for building construction at the construction projects

Kenya promulgated a new Constitution in August 2010. This includes a chapter on the Bill of Rights, which provides for the rights and fundamental freedom of all citizens. Although the Constitution does not address OSH specifically, it provides for the rights of every person to fair labour practices, reasonable working conditions, and a clean and healthy environment. The OSH services in Kenya are governed by two pieces of legislation: the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2007 (OSHA 2007) and the Work Injury Benefits Act, 2007 (WIBA, 2007). The Ministry Of Labour Through its Director of Occupational Safety and Health Services should be strict and make sure that the set regulations are followed and adhered to by all contractors.

Contractor’s safety polices in construction sites

Every contractor should have OSH policies in order to maintain the standards of safety in construction sites. In doing so, they should ensure that every person employed participates in the application and review of safety and health measures and policies to avoid tome and also to allow the employees to own the policies and feel accommodated. This will assist in compliance as the employees and the management will be part of all formulated policies.

Contractor’s safety training to the employees in the construction site

Ministry of Labor together with client and contractors should provide for information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure the safety and health at work of every person employed.  A worker should not be employed at any machine or in any process liable to cause ill health or bodily injury, unless he/she has been fully instructed as to the dangers likely to arise in connection therewith and has received sufficient training in work at the machine or in the process; or is under adequate supervision by a person who has a thorough knowledge and experience of the machine or process. This training has to be carried out on recruitment; transfer or change of job; the introduction or change of new work equipment or materials; and the introduction of new technology. The training should be adapted to take into account new changed risks, and be repeated periodically.

Monitoring and evaluation of safety and health in construction sites

In Kenya construction sites, there should be an appropriate risk assessments in relation to the safety and health of employees and, on the basis of these results, adopt preventive and protective measures to ensure that under all conditions of their intended use, all chemicals, machinery, equipment, tools and process under the control of the employer are safe and without risk to health and comply with the requirements of safety and health provisions of OSHA, 2007 and other regulations.

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