In today’s cost-conscious environment, business leaders are being asked to do more with less. At the same time, the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic mean well-being is more important than ever before. Meeting these needs requires businesses to lean on digitization and automation of health and safety processes. These digital tools must also be integrated with central IT systems, allowing for greater accuracy and alignment as businesses grow and evolve.
It comes as no surprise then that most organizations now view safety culture as a key pillar of corporate identity, on par with compliance. Yet only 40% of businesses have a well-defined roadmap for safety performance improvement, and just 36% use lessons learned to prevent future incidents. Given the dynamic challenges of today’s business environment, this is a significant missed opportunity. Historical data can provide insight into how to build a safer workplace for colleagues, a better product for customers and a more resilient business. Read on to learn how Co-op, one of the world’s largest consumer cooperatives, used Sphera’s health and safety software to deploy incident data as a tool for prevention.
The Co-op Story
Co-op is the United Kingdom’s fifth biggest food retailer, its top funeral service provider, a major insurer and a legal service provider. They employ over 57,000 people, in addition to contract workers. With its primary business in the retail sector, Co-op colleagues are vulnerable to a range of incidents, including crime and workplace accidents. To improve their safety culture, the organization deployed SpheraCloud Health and Safety Software in October 2019. The software includes modules for Data Collection, Action Items, Advanced Analytics, Risk Assessment and Audits. Through this partnership, Co-op extended reporting access to all colleagues and contractors who have collectively reported over 1 million events as of July 2022.
“If you really want to know what’s going on in your organization and you truly want to drive a positive safety culture, you need to give everybody the opportunity to raise concerns and to tell you what’s happening in your organization,” said Louise Atherton, Co-op safety business partner, in a recent webinar.
The benefits have been numerous. Co-op’s data showed 5% of its reports were related to incidents such as property damage, injury and illness. Another 5% were near misses. This indicated that the ratio of incidents to near misses was approximately one-to-one. “This is a massive validation of the positive safety culture that we’ve created within our organization,” Atherton said.
What is more, Co-op has been able to use this data to drive reductions in high-severity incidents. Since 2021, Co-op has seen a 26% reduction in high-severity incidents, which means fewer colleagues have been seriously impacted by workplace safety incidents. This also translates to less sick time taken, reductions in the disbursement of sick pay and broad improvements in well-being. Automatic notifications enable managers to offer support in real time, rather than after the fact. Enhanced access to a wider range of key risk indicators (KRIs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) means managers and business leaders can use incident information to make better business decisions and ensure strategies reflect their workforce’s current needs.
Bigger Than the Co-op
Importantly, Co-op’s data revealed the vast majority of reports stemmed from crime-related incidents. While this is a well-known risk in the retail industry, Co-op used its real-time incident data to quantify the issue and drive positive change. Within its own stores, Coop has reduced physical assaults by 53% in the past year — meaning 366 fewer colleagues have been exposed to workplace violence compared to the year prior. But the impact goes further than that. Co-op’s crime reporting helped highlight the issue at the industry level and drove legislators to pass a bill that made assaulting a shop worker an aggravated offense in England, Scotland and Wales. Now the Co-op triage process is recognized as a market-leading strategy by the National Business Crime Centre and is being shared nationally.
“This has become bigger than the Co-op now. This is helping drive change in our whole entire sector,”
The Co-op story includes important key learnings for businesses in any industry that want to create a positive safety culture. Atherton’s top tips:
Engagement at all levels of the organization is key. To fully capture the direct and indirect impacts of incidents across the organization, the best health and safety systems will be valuable tools for end users across the organization.
Output is king. Businesses should think about what they want to get out of their systems while designing them. That way, data input supports efficient processes and produces valuable output.
Think beyond direct impact. Improved data collection means accident rates will appear to increase. It’s important to remember this is still a win — better data means better strategies to reduce incident severity and reduce the rate of future incidents. This data can be used to drive change more broadly and establish your organization as an industry leader, as it has at Co-op.
Partners in Change
Sphera partners with organizations like Co-op to build better change management processes, leading to better risk identification, assessment, control and mitigation. Contact Sphera today to learn how to start your safety journey.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy is one of today’s hottest topics in boardrooms around the world. Now forward-thinking businesses are tapping Environment Health & Safety (EHS) frameworks to grow ESG’s impact beyond compliance.
A Dynamic ESG Landscape
The momentum behind ESG legislation in Europe, the United States and other regions is driving enormous interest in ways to update processes and technologies. Over the next couple of years, nearly 50,000 companies will be required to start reporting their ESG impacts under the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). At least 10,000 non-EU companies will be subject to the regulation.
In the U.S., large publicly traded companies will likely soon be required to report their Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and some may also need to report their Scope 3 emissions under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) proposed climate-related disclosure rules. Understandably, the new regulations have led to a focus on compliance, yet ESG provides a useful framework for performance improvement.
As businesses increasingly seek to approach ESG in more meaningful ways, we are beginning to see a convergence between EHS and ESG. Traditionally, EHS functions have concentrated on ensuring that business services, products and processes are safe for employees, surrounding communities and the planet. ESG can be a natural extension of that work. To take ESG efforts to the next level—and sharpen the focus for both ESG and EHS functions—these two business units need to work together around shared goals. Read on to find out how EHS and ESG can work together to move beyond the status quo.
5 Steps to Drive EHS and ESG Performance
1. Identify what data is most material to business decisions. The best way to begin the process of ESG-EHS operationalization is by conducting a materiality assessment. This approach provides insight into current operations and assures that resources are allocated to the highest-priority sustainability issues throughout an organization’s value-chain.
2. Understand current data and determine gaps. Many overlaps exist between EHS and ESG data-gathering and reporting. Take stock of available EHS data—this may include emissions, energy consumption, environmental incidents, employee safety, accident rates, policy and documentation, and compliance data. The process will also help ESG teams identify information gaps and prioritize future data collection strategies.
3. Evaluate existing technology. While ESG is new to many organizations, one of your first steps should be to review your current EHS infrastructure. In fact, often EHS processes and systems can be adapted to incorporate all relevant ESG topics and provide state-of-the-art capabilities, such as automated data collection and quality checks; auditable, traceable data storage; and analytic functionality to set targets, measure progress and report it to key stakeholders.
4. Establish collaboration frameworks. EHS and ESG teams can partner for greater efficiency and support. To facilitate collaboration, organizations should establish communication frameworks early on, outline respective responsibilities and integrate workflows. Equally important is identifying areas where ESG and EHS do not overlap. Cross-training on ESG and EHS solutions can ensure both teams function in a complementary, but not redundant, fashion.
5. Think about investments to complete a successful transition. Lastly, business leaders can begin to strategize investments to drive greater EHS and ESG performance. Companies can improve ESG ratings and attract new investors, partners and talent by reporting through the following reporting and disclosure frameworks including but not limited to: CDP, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), International Sustainability Standards Board’s (ISSB) SASB standards and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
These five steps can help organizations harmonize ESG and EHS functions. Collaboration will help organizations efficiently manage the expanding scope of ESG and sustainability initiatives. Being successful in this process will be all about clarifying business priorities, collecting the right data and using the right technology to support your people.
EHS Excellence Is Essential
It is important for businesses, especially those in high-risk industries, to have a scalable, configurable and easy-to-use solution for traditional EHS activities like health and safety management and performance improvement, integrated risk management, and environmental and operational compliance. Now it is also increasingly important that those solutions incorporate ESG elements.
This year, Verdantix named Sphera a market leader in EHS software solutions and gave our platform top rankings for management of ESG and sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions and air emissions. Our comprehensive offerings currently are being used to support EHS, ESG, operational risk management (ORM) and product stewardship efforts around the world.
“Verdantix finds that customers are increasingly seeking to eradicate the data silos that have historically existed between EHS and adjacent functions,” said Verdantix Industry Analyst, Chris Sayers, in a press release. “Firms intent on deploying a comprehensive environmental management platform that combines functionality across EHS, ESG, ORM and product stewardship should ascertain the value of leveraging Sphera.”
Open the Door to Stronger ESG Performance
The ESG framework demands effective risk management, and EHS systems and solutions are increasingly recognized for their ability to help organizations operationalize ESG. Learn more about how Sphera’s EHS software can accelerate your journey toward improved ESG performance. Download the Verdantix Report here.
Are you in the process of evaluating EHS software vendors? A software selection process can be time-consuming and challenging.
But you can make things easier if you avoid the following common mistakes.
1) You don’t identify your requirements well
The most important step of an EHS software selection process is to identify your requirements. This is obvious but there are a few pitfalls to avoid.
First, don’t focus exclusively on individual features. We all like software with convenient bells and whistles. But don’t make the mistake of creating a ‘wish list’ of all features you want and thinking that’s enough.
Identify also the EHS processes you want to automate or improve with software. Examples include incident management, incident investigation, audits and inspections, job safety analysis, industrial hygiene, etc.
Also, consider related processes. You want EHS software for incident management? Think also about how the software will help with risk management processes, because information on incidents provides insights into hazards and risks, and therefore the controls you need. You should address all aspects, so you don’t end up with a partial solution.
Second, just like any other organization, you have unique needs. Software vendors may not meet 100% of your needs. Be sure to categorize your requirements as ‘must-haves’, ‘should-haves’, or ‘nice-to-haves’ so you focus on the most important elements.
2) You don’t have clear commitment from leadership
Here’s a scenario: Management agrees to allocate budget for a new EHS software system. EHS defines the requirements, evaluates vendors, goes through demos, shortlists solutions, and makes a final choice.
In summary, EHS does everything right. And now it’s time to work on a final software purchase agreement and sign the contract.
Unfortunately, management says they’ll have to postpone the purchase for an undetermined time because the company had a bad financial year, or experienced some problem, or there’s a new CFO who wants to review all expenses.
It’s very frustrating for EHS teams to go through something like this. Imagine all the time and work that has been wasted.
To avoid this type of frustration, make sure the leadership of your company, including the C-suite, are strongly committed to the project, through thick and thin.
3) You don’t look at the big picture
An EHS software selection takes time and effort. You want to get the most out of it, rather than going through a similar process repeatedly over the years.
A typical mistake is when an organization lacks vision and fails to be pro-active by concentrating only on a current, immediate pain point. Maybe today you have a pressing need for incident management. But what about audits, inspections, action plans, compliance management, etc.? They’re all connected.
Similarly, you may be looking only for an occupational health solution. But there are many synergies between occupational health, risk management, incident management, and chemical management. Look at the big picture!
It’s more efficient and economical to consider a software platform that will empower you to improve all current and future EHS processes, not just one or two. You don’t want multiple, different EHS software solutions, each with a different user interface, thus increasing training costs and complicating user adoption and onboarding.
4) You don’t involve users
The decision to purchase EHS software is made by EHS and financial leaders. But the successful implementation and adoption of EHS software will be determined by users, whether they’re frontline workers, staff, technicians, specialists, etc.
Imagine investing a large amount of money in EHS software, only to have it go unused. The entire business case of the investment and the ROI would be severely undermined.
To prevent this, involve those who will use the EHS software system on a regular basis in the selection process. Be sure they see the demos provided by vendors. Ask what is important for them. Check whether the different applications being considered meet their needs. Get their feedback before making a final selection.
5) You focus too much on technology
When evaluating software, it’s natural to focus on technological aspects, such as features and workflows. And ultimately you want EHS software to align with your requirements.
But be careful about looking only at technology. The vendor’s organizational attributes must also play a role in your final decision. Many companies make the big mistake of deciding mainly on software features or pricing, without considering other factors.
What should you look for in a software vendor? First, try to find out about the type of customer service they offer.
Second, how does the vendor prioritize requests and define product roadmaps? What type of interactions do they have with their customer community?
Finally, will the software vendor be around to help you, and in what form? There have been many mergers and acquisitions in the EHS software space. Therefore, you want to build a partnership with a stable EHS software vendor that has the financial and organizational resources to be around for a long time. Stability will prevent a lot of disruption for your company.
To accelerate your EHS software selection, download your complimentary copy of the Green Quadrant: EHS Software 2023 report from independent research firm Verdantix. The report provides a detailed fact-based comparison of the 23 most prominent EHS platform vendors. Use the report to benchmark the capabilities of leading EHS software applications and to determine which EHS software vendor can be a reliable partner for the future.
Safety has always been important but never more so for businesses than during the past year. While the world struggled to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the hard reality is that frontline workers faced severe health risks. For health and safety professionals, this meant increased pressure to keep their company’s workers safe. Sphera’s Safety Report 2021 shows heartening improvements in the overall safety culture. But it also points to a concerning gap between “Safety Intent” and the reality of safety practices. 75% of respondents said that safety is part of the corporate culture, but only 40% said they have a well-defined roadmap to improve safety performance.
Need For More Leading Indicator Data
To understand safety performance, accurate and up-to-date safety metrics are needed to capture risks by recording incidents, near-misses and safety-related observations. This brings us to our findings on how companies conduct incident reporting today: 56% report, in addition to incidents, near-misses and observations. 35% report incidents and near-misses. 27% report only incidents.
Safety metrics based on existing data need to be analyzed, acted upon, and learned from to improve safety performance, anticipate and prevent future incidents. There is a driving need to allow the complete workforce to report (Key #1). The benefit would be more leading indicator data that include near misses and behavioral-based observations in addition to incidents.
Call For Digital Tools For Incident Reporting and Data Analysis
The concerning gap between safety intent and reality is better explained when we look into the tools used to report incidents: 26% record events on paper only. 29% record events in Excel-based logbooks or similar apps. 43% record events with an appropriate software tool.
More than 50% of event data seems to be hidden on paper and in Excel documents rather than made available to all concerned parties across the organization. When only 43% of companies use software to report incidents, and only 40% of the complete workforce can report these events, we see why such a yawning gap exists.
Digitalization has immense potential to support nearly all mission-critical business processes. Why is there so little technology adoption for health and safety management processes? We found some more surprising facts: 49% adopted a software tool to increase efficiency in their health and safety program. 20% use health and safety management software to support automated data collection. 25% use analytics, and only 37% use structured actions and remediations.
Leading indicator data is key to preventing future incidents, which increases productivity and lowers costs (Key #2). But only 43% of companies record events with a software tool, only 20% use a health and safety management software tool to automate their data collection and only 25% use data analytics.
Based on the existing data of leading safety metrics, analytics tools must be used to drive learnings which are then incorporated back into the culture. (Key #3). Based on leading indicator data, information needs to be shared across the organization for collaboration and training that meets local and global needs. Analytics and leading indicators will drive safety performance together.
Increased Safety Performance Drives Business Performance
So, if it is clear that effective safety culture and efficient safety tools help ensure a healthy workforce, which results in enhanced business performance, why don’t more companies see the link between safety and business performance? Do some businesses still look at health and safety management as a cost factor rather than a major contributor to the overall business performance?
“The connection between a healthy workforce and superior marketplace performance is becoming increasingly clear. It is estimated that for every dollar saved in direct health care costs, employers save an extra $2.30 in improved performance or productivity.1“
How to prove that health and safety contribute to overall productivity and, therefore, to business performance? Will it help to use reliable, accurate, and up-to-date safety metrics that show your actual performance, progress and identify areas for improvement? Automation and digitalization are cost-effective ways to protect workers and keep profit margins strong.
Where to Begin?
SpheraCloud Health and Safety Management software is a powerful, integrated platform that enables automated data collection, provides an incident reporting tool for all employees across the entire organization and provides analytics for fast and informed decision-making. Based on the collected data, actions and remediations are set and training management is planned that is visible to all relevant stakeholders via insightful dashboards.
There used to be a time when companies did not have the same quantity and quality of EHS data that they have now. That certainly was a problem. But do we have another type of problem now?
Today, organizations have gotten better at collecting data on incidents, near misses, risks, hazards, observations, and environmental metrics. This has been greatly facilitated by EHS software.
Moreover, the technology exists today to analyze EHS data and make sense of it. With a massive volume of data available, organizations can use advanced analytics to gain better insights, including descriptive analytics (“What’s happening?”), diagnostic analytics (“why it’s happening?”), predictive analytics (“What could happen?”), and prescriptive analytics (“What should be done?”).
Here’s a question that you don’t hear often: Is there a danger of relying too much on data?
Not everything that counts can be counted
Almost 60 years ago, in 1963, sociologist William Bruce Cameron wrote ‘Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking’, which included the following passage (emphasis added separately):
“It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
At first glance you may think that the passage is irrelevant because sociology and EHS are completely different. But are they? Aren’t humans at the center or both? Ultimately, EHS is about keeping workers safe and health.
Listen to your EHS data
Let’s be clear: The great progress in technology and data management is a positive development. Advanced analytics present many opportunities for EHS professionals to improve safety performance.
You should trust what your EHS data says. You can gain a competitive edge and better protect your workers if you fully embrace EHS data analysis and new technologies.
Listen to your EHS data to generate these types of insights that will inform your decision-making:
The top hazards that are leading to the most incidents. This informs your risk assessments and shows you where controls should be implemented.
The locations, job types, or work groups with the most accidents and near misses. This helps you determine where you should focus your efforts and attention.
Changes in incident rates following an increase in observations of at-risk or unsafe conditions or behaviors. This allows you to see if you’re successfully identifying or addressing problems.
In sum, it’s good to be data-driven. Numbers don’t lie. Decisions supported by data are more likely to stand scrutiny and to achieve their desired outcomes.
But talk to your workers also
However, there is a danger of relying too much on data.
Why? Because data is rational, precise, structured, and logical. Humans can also exhibit these traits, but they also carry inherent cognitive biases, irrationalities, and emotional complexities.
There are things that EHS data will tell you that you will not learn from conversations with people. But there are also things that conversations will reveal that you can’t learn from data.
For example, go talk to the professional with more than 40 years of experience who is about to retire, and who has a wealth of knowledge. He may give valuable information on how people feel, think, act, and behave, which is something that data may only partially tell you.
Talk to the employee who was recently hired, and graduated from university only last year. She may give great insights about the expectations of your future employees and the new workplace trends that may be common in one, five, or ten years.
Don’t dismiss what people have to say by relying too much on data.
Complementing, not competing
Ultimately, it’s about complementing data insights with what people say. Both are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they strengthen each other.
Data will tell you what happened, where it happened, and when. Through advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, data may even tell you why something happened, and what could happen.
But conversations with workers offer glimpses into the thought processes, emotions, and feelings that people go through, and which may provide critical insights into such questions as:
Why are workers reluctant to wear PPE?
Why is training material not being remembered?
Why do workers hesitate to report near misses or observations?
Why do they see processes and paperwork as unnecessary burdens?
In conclusion, always aim to improve your EHS data management through software and technology. But keep talking to your workers and don’t forget the human aspect of safety.
ERM is proud to sponsor the 2022 EHS Congress in Berlin – we hope you’ll join us for coffee!
Meet the ERM Team at booth #4. Our Safety and Digital experts will be on hand to share what we’re hearing in the market – we hope you’ll come say hi and do the same.
Our Consulting Director, Philippa Knapp will speak on September 13th at 13:10 pm. Join us for her talk titled, ‘Indicators, culture and performance improvement – what really changes EHS outcomes?’.
She’ll challenge you to think through whether:
Your indicators reflect the different cultures and risk profiles across your organization?
You capture the richness of human performance data, to learn from it and improve?
Your leaders challenge the green indicators? How do they make informed decisions and engage the workforce?
As the world’s largest sustainability consultancy, ERM helps clients to build safety programs that are easy to embrace, replicate, and sustain. With 40 years’ experience, our safety specialists help our clients move beyond traditional compliance and corrective programs – to safeguard lives, protect assets and strengthen their reputation – so they can maximize the return on their safety investments.
I decided to study the topic of the engagement of contractors after working very closely for two years with the project department of an organization that used contractors almost exclusively. This organization, a mineral extraction and processing business, already had health and safety structures and systems, and, of course, like many others, specific requirements for subcontractors. When the company set up the project department, which would be using subcontractors extensively, the people in charge reflected on how to best deal with prevention matters with subcontractors.
These people, my clients, laid the foundation of a thought process that I explored for the 3 years that followed, and very probably for many other years, as part of my doctoral studies. How to promote health and safety in projects requiring subcontractors? Should we be stricter or, on the contrary, more understanding? Can we be even more successful in this regard with subcontractors than with our organization’s direct employees? All these questions were the starting point for the research I undertook, which finally boiled down to the following question: “what makes a subcontractor decide to engage with health and safety or not?” We’ll come back to this question and the answers I found following a contextualization of the outsourcing situation.
Contractors are a risk themselves?
Here’s a joke I hear every once in a while, when talking about risks with a group of workers: “You know, it’s really not complicated—the risk here is my coworker, ha ha ha!!” This joke may be funny in some contexts, but I realized, after a few years working in prevention, that that’s exactly the way contractors are seen: as being the risk themselves. Last week, I opened a risk analysis document sent by a client only to realize that the first risk on the procedure was “work done by contractors”. It let me wonder “how prevention had gotten there?”. To consider a person or a group of people as being the risk gives me a feeling that prevention has taken the wrong path.
Contractors are more exposed to risk
Studies carried out to determine the effect of outsourcing on health and safety performances have, in general, identified a negative effect on health and safety performance (Hasle, 2007). More specifically, these studies show that there are higher accident rates (Johnstone et al., 2003) and that accidents are more critical in severity (Muzaffar et al. 2013). Research conducted through the years has tried to explain the phenomenon by pointing to different reasons and has proposed various solutions, including recommending stricter laws and regulations, encouraging greater cooperation between contractors and owners (Brun, 2004), carrying out better risk analyses and doing so jointly, considering the time subcontractors spend on site, and recruiting subcontractors known for their level of safety.(Valluru and al., 2020, Nunes, 2012, James and al., 2007, Nygren and al. 2007, Huang and Hinze, 2006, Clarke, 2003).
Contractors are real actors
The angle of engagement for this study was chosen after much reflection and exploration of the literature and a qualitative study was carried out to achieve the results obtained. However, because this article was not intended to be the ultimate scientific article, we will spare readers the methodological details and even the data and data analysis and focus instead on a few practical conclusions and interesting discoveries for better prevention with contractors. It is appropriate, however, to mention that the theoretical framework used was that proposed by Michel Crozier and Erhard Friedberg in their work “L’acteur et le système” (Crozier & Friedberg, 1977). This is worth mentioning because the article suggests an approach that considers subcontractors as real actors, as opposed to a view in which they would be mere performers of work in exchange for payment, as established in a contract. The findings can be considered as compatible with the new approaches as brought by researchers like Hollnagel (2015) with Safety-II and the work of Sidney Dekker. This article is written especially in the context of HSE congress in Berlin 2021 and is inspired following a Master degree “mémoire” done at University of Québec in Chicoutimi.
The findings of this exploratory study allowed us to determine that contractors act as actors and make health and safety decisions based on their strategies. This strategy is influenced by several elements. Therefore, the belief that a contractor performs work for the sole purpose of receiving the money provided in the contract is too simplistic to be applied in real life and should be rejected out of hand by anyone wanting to achieve better OHS performance. It would be more accurate to consider contractors as real actors and accept that they have many different goals and concerns that influence their decisions.
Working on your project is not a contractor’s sole goal
It would be important to try to depart from traditional understandings to identify a project’s goals and issues, considering both the contractor and the owner. For example, in a critical project for the owner that they must successfully complete to boost their production, image issues have to be taken into consideration right away on the owner’s side: it is very likely that the owner will want the project they complete to be considered a success. On the subcontractor’s side, if it’s a major project for them as well, and will allow them to position themselves as the service provider of choice in the owner’s eyes, we have a situation in which the issues are complementary between owner and subcontractor, if not similar. This situation encourages the integration of health and safety into work because it brings about a spirit of partnership and a shared desire to succeed in all aspects of the project. That may seem obvious, but many contractors are required to do work in a very different context: in some circumstances, speed of execution is the main reason the subcontractor is hired, or the work performed is of secondary importance or presents no technical challenge, no potential for the subcontractor’s work being recognized. In such circumstances, the subcontractor’s strategy may less effectively integrate health and safety. The goals and issues of the subcontractor and owner may vary and lead to situations less favourable for health and safety. It would therefore be appropriate to reflect upon the other goals and issues that the owner and subcontractor are faced with apart from the desire to perform short-term work. There is often a lot more in the relationship between the two and a “game” that unfolds between them, including several factors such as costs, time allocated for the project, quality requirements, etc.
Among the goals and issues that a subcontractor is faced with, image is one that has a significant impact on their decision of whether to make health and safety part of their strategy. Thus, it would always be appropriate, when hiring a subcontractor, to ask: does their image depend a lot or not at all on their health and safety performance? Is this subcontractor central to the project, and will being exposed to risks also cause real damage to their image, or, on the contrary, will it go unnoticed or even benefit them? Conversely, could working safely in spite of the constraints it may cause strengthen their image as a subcontractor in a critical project? These questions, although they may seem obvious to some, are not, and there are likely to be a variety of answers, even within the same contract.
Having resources and being a resource
The resources available to subcontractors in achieving their strategy also affect their decision about health and safety engagement. Time constraints affect their profitability as well as that of the owner and can have a negative impact on their engagement decision. The availability of human resources, on both the subcontractor’s side and the owner’s, to plan for and ensure workers on the site, has a significant impact on the decision concerning health and safety engagement. It is important to be aware of time constraints and parameters related to financial resources in order to assess the risk that these factors will influence the engagement decision. This aspect can be incorporated into the project’s risk analyses and should be taken into consideration in the planning phase of any project involving subcontractors.
Moreover, situations in which the subcontractor constitutes a resource for the owner in the achievement of their own strategy tend to favour the subcontractor’s decision about health and safety engagement. This situation is also particularly interesting because certain contracts require work of lesser importance of a subcontractor, who may be less supported or central to the project, without any real technical challenge. This is the case, for example, of certain subcontractors providing pre- and post-work cleaning services, scaffolding services or those performing tasks that are simple and of lesser importance than the “real” projects. The decision to become engaged in health and safety is less likely in these cases where the subcontractor is not at the centre of a partnership that’s meaningful for themselves and the client.
The power relationship and systems: a sound alternative for promoting OHS engagement?
Most of the time, the power relationship between the actors favours the owner, who is positioned as the client. Can the owner then force the subcontractor to become engaged in health and safety by making threats to coerce them? Although it may have some impact, this approach has its limits, because the owner’s concerns (costs, timeline, image) don’t really or easily allow them to “punish” a subcontractor by removing them from a project while a contract is underway, even though this alternative is often mentioned by owners’ project managers: “Being safe is a part of the job and we’ll hire another contractor if this one doesn’t comply with safety requirements!” Once again, this approach belongs to an old paradigm in which the owner doesn’t establish a real partnership, in addition to being implausible because changing a subcontractor while a project is in progress is expensive and very difficult.
Furthermore, in this regard, our research also suggests avoiding adding more systems aimed at increasing the traditional, bureaucratic control over subcontractors. Instead, it’s better to focus on the quality of the systems in place by ensuring their monitoring and evaluating their performance, as proposed by Dekker and Pitzer (2016)
Culture is also in the picture
The identity and culture of the subcontractor and owner influence their strategy, which may have an impact on the subcontractor’s decision about health and safety engagement. It would be appropriate to add elements of culture to the subcontractor prequalification process to determine whether health and safety are an integral part of their identity and culture, because this also influences their decision to engage. Overall, either when considering culture or the other suggestions of this research establishing a strong and trusting partnership with the contractors is a good way to go.
Although considering all these elements may seem like an extensive work, my research is leading me to one main thing to remember: the contractor is not the risk that you should control with more rules and considering them as real actors can be the starting point in a paradigm shift on prevention withing your whole organization.
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