OHSAS 18001 case study: Implementation in the construction industry

OHSAS 18001 is the primary recognized worldwide standard for advising on OH&SMS (Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems) and ensuring employee safety in the workplace. Employee safety is critical in any workplace, but becomes even more important in sectors such as the construction industry where incidents and accidents can lead to serious injury and death in many cases. It therefore becomes very important that an OH&SMS within a construction company is effective, and that particular elements of the standard are adhered to in order for employee safety to be maximized. It was with these considerations in mind that I advised a company in this sector recently, and the key elements of such an implementation are worth considering for those in the same industry.

OHSAS 18001 in the construction industry: The challenges

As with most industries, building an OH&SMS for a construction industry has specific challenges, as any proficient consultant knows that what is needed is not only a system that passes a certification audit, but also one that encourages a culture of health and safety to exist within the organization. In sectors such as the construction industry, prevention really is better than cure, as there are often no second chances when it comes to accidents. Trips and slips, failure to comply with legislation, machinery failure or incorrect operation, or even failure to wear appropriate safety wear can all have devastating impacts on an organization and its employees in the construction industry. So, given that we know that any OH&SMS and the company who hosts it has to comply with all of the clauses of the OHSAS 18001 standard, what areas did our experience with this construction company tell us that we needed to pay particular attention to?

OHSAS 18001 in the construction industry: Areas of interest and concern

As with any organization complying with the OHSAS 18001 standard, the basics had to be satisfied. A Health and Safety Policy had to be written to specifically deal with the general restrictions, hazards, and objectives aligned to the company. However, it was discovered that even the contents of the policy itself can change as we examined and discussed the critical areas of health and safety that had to be considered and planned for. Let’s examine them in some detail:

  • Leadership: This was found to be especially critical in this construction company. Delivery of communication, leadership by example, and general reinforcement of the importance of OH&S are critical factors, and effective and proactive leadership can go a long way to ensuring the team shares this belief. The employees confirmed that regular and effective updates on OH&S from management ensured that health and safety was perceived to be of critical importance to the workforce. You can find out more about this topic in the article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO/DIS 45001.
  • Legislation compliance: Again, this was found to be of paramount importance to any organization operating in this sector. Legislation on personal safety, safety workwear, personal protective equipment, and site management must be analyzed, logged, communicated, and adhered to. Compliance to legislation provides the foundation for internal health and safety, particularly in this sector.
  • Hazard and risk identification: Obviously, this is key within any OH&SMS, but particularly in the construction industry where risks provide real danger of grave injuries. It was found by this particular organization that special attention had to be paid to risk identification and mitigation, especially using the knowledge, experience and opinions of all staff – who brought years of experience from similar, but varying companies in the same sector. Gathering and collating this information was found to be central to mitigation of risk.
  • Communication, participation, consultation: Paired with training and awareness, it quickly became obvious that these elements were the “glue” that held the OH&SMS together. The element of consultation held the key to how the employees perceived the culture of the company, as well as making a hugely positive impact in mitigating risk. It was found through employee questionnaires, forums and meetings that the greater the level of consultation was, the more motivated the workforce were to cooperate with strategic OH&S initiatives, and actually play a proactive role in company health and safety. This message quickly was filtered back to the management team who would therefore lead by example, communicate and consult accordingly, reinforcing the culture desired to deliver an environment positive to employee well-being. You can learn more about meeting consultation requirements in How to meet consultation and participation requirements in ISO/DIS 45001.

So, while all terms of the clause had to be met to ensure compliance and certification, it became clear that certain elements took priority over others when ensuring an environment where risk could be mitigated, and employee input was all important. So, what else did this implementation teach us?

Other considerations

The heightened amount of employee consultation highlighted risks that really helped to construct an OH&SMS that was truly proactive. Preventive maintenance programs and periodic machinery checking processes were developed, as were internal training programs for machinery operation. Where necessary, external training and accreditation was sourced and engaged. Regular meetings and forums ensured that OH&S discussions were never more than two days away, and although some meetings can be conducted very quickly, the culture of consultation, input, and action was established. Certification was granted after a formal audit, and in this case the credit goes to the team, who have truly worked together to promote a culture of safety for each other. Consultation and engagement were found to be the key elements in implementing a culture of safety in an OHSAS 18001 implementation within the construction industry; isn’t it time you started your implementation on the same basis?

Why not use our free  Gap Analysis Tool to measure your OH&SMS against the standard?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.