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Three leading experts will explore how the safe design of construction projects can protect the health and safety of workers – not just while they are being built, but throughout the project’s life cycle.

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The panel will discuss how companies in the construction supply chains can work together to apply safe design and improve work health and safety outcomes. Better design at the start of a project can benefit businesses throughout the building process and during subsequent use of the building.

Who is this presentation for?

This seminar is particularly relevant to residential and commercial building constructors, large and small, and property managers.

About the panellists

Mark McCabe has been the ACT Work Safety Commissioner since 2008. Mark is the head of WorkSafe ACT, the ACT’s work health and safety and workers’ compensation regulator. He leads the agency’s work to promote understanding, acceptance and compliance with the Territory’s work health and safety laws, undertake research, and develop educational material to promote work health and safety.

Professor Helen Lingard from the RMIT University is an expert on improving health and safety by design and integrating health and safety into supply chains. She wrote The Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction, which won the Engineers Australia National Engineering Excellence award in 2010.

Dr Ross Trethewy, Head of Environment, Health & Safety with Lendlease Building, is an industrial specialist with 22 years’ experience across a broad range of industry sectors. He has extensive experience in identifying risks and developing integrated risk management systems.

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Construction: work design in complex supply chains

Dr Mark McCabe, ACT Work Safety Commissioner
Professor Helen Lingard, ARC Future Fellow
Dr Ross Trethewy, Lendlease

Mark Goodsell: 

Hello. I'm Mark Goodsell. I'm the New South Wales Director for the Australian Industry Group. I'm also a Member of Safe Work Australia but I'd like to thank you all for joining us here today, both in our theatre audience and those joining us online. 

Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal People. I acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they've made to this city and to this region.

Now all of us spend the majority of our lives in buildings, whether these are our homes, the places where we learn, our workplaces, where we shop or where we recreate, and many of us would be aware when those buildings meet or fail to meet our needs as users, how many of us stop to consider whether they were safe to build.

Over the five years to 2013 in Australian construction, 182 Australian construction industry workers were killed and over 63,000 were seriously injured, sometimes with lifetime injuries. Research done by Safe Work Australia and others, some of which we'll talk about today, tells us that there's a pressing need not only to consider the design of buildings in terms of how they will be used when they're complete but also to ensure that design and planning processes make them safe to build.

We also noted the construction industry has many supply chains and networks and stakeholders, from the client to the people who design and project manage, the many different trades and subcontractors and of course the suppliers of construction materials. Supply chain dynamics can impact on work health and safety performance quite dramatically. There are business impacts and reputational issues associated with poor safety in supply chains but they play out differently in different supply chains. In construction, the supply chain is frequently concentrated on the one site and this can promote a closer client-to-supplier relationship than in other industries where supply chains are largely off-site.

Our work health and safety laws place significant obligations on business owners to, so far as reasonably practicable, protect their own workers and others who may be affected by their work and this can include workers of those along their supply chains. There are also obligations on building designers who must ensure again so far as reasonably practicable that a structure is designed to be without risks to the health and safety of those who build it or use it. 

So today's discussion explores the intersections of the design of safe to build and use structures and the complex supply chains in which they operate and it's an important discussion and a topical discussion. In today's seminar we will examine work health and safety issues in construction and the benefits of effective work design of materials, structures, systems and the methods to eliminate or minimise hazards and risks right along those processes. We will consider the benefits of an integrated lifecycle approach that looks at design, construction, occupancy, maintenance and demolition of buildings. We'll look at the role of the regulator to help designers and constructors in understanding their obligations. We'll also examine the systems companies use to manage health and safety along their supply chains and on sites.

So I'm delighted today that Mark McCabe, Professor Helen Lingard and Dr Ross Trethewy will be joining us to discuss Construction: design in complex supply chains. 

Our first panellist is Mark McCabe. Mark is the head of WorkSafe ACT and is also the ACT Work Safety Commissioner. WorkSafe ACT is the Territory's work health and safety and workers’ compensation regulator. Mark is a member of the National Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council which advises the Federal Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations on the implementation of the National Asbestos Safety Management Plan. In 2012 Mark's contribution to health and safety was recognised when he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia.

Our second panellist is Dr Ross Trethewy. Ross is the head of Environment, Health and Safety at Lendlease Building. Ross is an industrial specialist in environment, health and safety management with over 22 years’ experience across a broad range of industry sectors including property and asset management, development and construction including major civil infrastructure, light rail, mining, waste management and hospitality. Ross is also the author of over 50 Australian and international publications on work health and safety.

Our third panellist today is Professor Helen Lingard from RMIT. Helen works in the School of Property, Construction and Project Management and undertakes industry based research into work health and safety and the health and work/life balance of construction industry workers. In 2007 Helen was an author of the Guide to Best Practice for Safer Construction which won the Engineers Australia National Engineering Excellence Award in 2010.

Let me also introduce today's facilitator Professor David Caple who has over 30 years’ experience as a work health and safety consultant and ergonomist in Australia and internationally. David is an Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors at La Trobe University in Melbourne and a senior research fellow in the Federation University in Ballarat. Would you please join me in welcoming our panellists.

(Audience Applause) 

I'll now hand over to David to lead today's discussion. Thank you.

David Caple: 

Thank you Mark, and thank you for everybody who's joining us here in the auditorium and to those that are viewing us online. For those that are able to interact with this session online, you're welcome to tweet any comments or questions as the session progresses using the live chat facility or the hashtag and after the session the panel members have agreed to stay behind for another 30 minutes. So they are happy to chat online with any outstanding issues that aren't resolved during the session itself.

As Mark indicated, this session today is following this construction sector and particularly looking at it as an example of complex supply chains. The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy has identified supply chains as one of the key seven areas that as a country we need to be thinking through in this current ten year period. So it's quite a topical area for us to think about what are the relative roles that our various panel members have and their perspectives in understanding what we should be doing as a country to improve this data that Mark alluded to of fatalities and injuries in this sector.

The scope as Mark indicated is to look at the construction industry within the context of it's a place where buildings are built and thinking about construction workers, contractors, subcontractors who are involved in that construction process. But also it's a design model that provides us with workplaces and buildings where we live and where we work and that's part of a lifecycle of how that building operates as a workplace through maintenance, right through to demolition. 

So it's a broad topic that we've selected for today and I'd like to personally welcome Ross and Helen and Mark and maybe just Mark if we could just start with your perspective in what has been a significant initiative here in the ACT through the ACT Attorney General in 2012 who was asking you to implement this Getting Home Safely Program. So for the benefit of the audience maybe you could elaborate a bit about what that was and what did you find out in the course of the project?

Mark McCabe: 

Yes. Look the Getting Home Safely Report was commissioned by the government in response to three fatalities in the one year in the ACT which was a record for us, an unfortunate record. The government asked to look at "Well what was going on in the construction industry?", "What needed to change?", "What needed to be improved?" and I think there was something like 27 or 28 recommendations that we made which were all adopted by the government and implemented. I think two of the most important recommendations which have a direct relevance to the topic today were following an observation we made when we were writing the report that the ACT Government was probably the biggest client of the lot in the ACT in terms of construction work. And what it did as a client at the top of the supply chain had a big impact on how the industry operated and would set a demonstration – have a demonstration effect basically for the rest of the jurisdiction. 

So we made two recommendations in that space. One was that there be a dedicated percentage applied in the selection process for tenderers for safety, so that safety got a mandatory weighting, and the second was that the government move from what we would call a ‘passive accreditation’ or monitoring of its contractors to an active monitoring of its contractors. And by that we mean instead of reacting when something went wrong on a site actually doing periodic audits as a natural process for all of its contractors. The government adopted both of those. They ended up having a 30% weighting for safety in the selection criteria and those two changes I believe were the most significant out of all 28 or so recommendations.

We've only had one year of data since that happened because we're using lag data to measure our performance and that one year we saw a 25% improvement in our safety record. Now it's hard to say that those two recommendations drove that, but I believe personally they had a very big impact on it and I don't think you can get much better than a 25% improvement in one year. You can't just hang all your hats just on one year's data. I realise that. We'll have to see what happens in future years, but I think that was a significant outcome.

David Caple: 

Ross, just in terms of your sector, you're working for one of the biggest construction companies in this region of the world. What are some of the hazards that you're dealing with and what are some of the initiatives that have been put into place to mitigate those over recent times?

Ross Trethewy: 

Well I think it's typically no surprise if you look at the statistics around what caused the fatalities and serious injury, it's typically fall from height. So we have a lot of temporary structures that we erect on construction projects. It's interaction of people and moving plant. So how you separate people from moving plant. It's falling materials and typically body stressing and biomechanical type issues for the people that are doing manual tasks. But we look very closely at temporary structures and how we might engineer or design out risks associated with those. We'll use perimeter screens for example on the sides of buildings that have very fine apertures. So in terms of falling material and fall of people we can manage those pretty closely as the structure goes up.

If you look at the interaction of people and moving plant we'll have one-way road systems into our large projects. Projects like Barangaroo have overhead walkways for workers so they actually come to work, they come through amenities, across an overhead walkway which goes over a lot of the moving plant and equipment and into the job. So we'll think about different ways of managing those.

The body stressing issue is an ongoing issue. There's a lot more focus on small cranes, forklifts, mechanical aids and so on but invariably, and we've gone to lightweight formwork systems and so on as opposed to the heavy duty things that would have been used 10 or 20 years ago, but invariably it still is an industry with a lot of manual tasks. So one needs to be mindful of that and look at ways of getting away from what I would call "administrative controls", safe work method statements and so on, and start looking at the harder controls like isolation engineering and even design if we can actually design it out. But it's a very broad area. You can imagine just the sheer amount of – we've got 2,000 workers for example on Barangaroo at the moment. So you have a lot of interfaces in terms of activities and so on and how you manage those is ongoing.

David Caple: 

So Helen in terms of the research if you like in how do you implement good design safe work practices, Ross mentioned the safe work method statements for example, do you want to make some observations from what you see is happening in the research in this space?

Helen Lingard: 

Yeah. Ross made the comment that there's a need to look at designing out, eliminating and engineering and controlling safety hazards through design solutions. We've just completed a five-year study with some partners in the United States with Virginia Tech and that study has examined across a whole range of case studies the prerequisites for achieving technology based solutions in the design stage and design decision making. And we found quite strong statistically significant evidence to suggest that the projects and the cases where people with construction process knowledge, that's the people who understand the materials and the methods and the actual process of constructing facility, when people with that knowledge are actually central to design decision making early in the life of the design, early in the project, you get better, more effective technology based controls and a much less heavy reliance on the administrative controls. So I guess this leads us to believe that that process knowledge at the decision making table very early in design is critical.

David Caple: 

So just Ross talking about the supply chain model that you're working in and who sits around that table and the way that you work in with the architects or the client or the subcontractors, how does that process actually work in reality?

Ross Trethewy: 

Certainly we would seek to involve all the key stakeholders very early on as soon as possible. In fact we will do reviews even in the concept, in the bid stage and the opportunity stage just to get a feel for what we think we're going to have to manage throughout the process if we win the bid and then it's a case of bringing the client in because the client – if we are successful, we win the bid, we bring the client in because the client may have information around latent hazards associated with the site. We might even have a client that has some sort of manual related work or laboratories or whatever within whatever we're building. So we'd want to think about those hazards and how we can help the client design those out and there would be a case of looking at typically in my view what seems to get missed by the industry over probably the last five years is temporary structures and there's a lot of temporary structures related to big projects, everything from formwork structures through to jump forms, major scaffold and so on. We try to bring those subcontractors in very early and have the discussions around what our expectations are from a safety point of view and how we might design it in a better way.

So the key message out of this is really get the key stakeholders involved very early on in the piece and to Helen's point, you then reap the benefits of that downstream.

David Caple: 

So you mentioned once before about the 3% investment cap?

Ross Trethewy: 

Yeah. There's a bit of research around that suggests that in a traditional sort of design build type approach by the time 3% of their budget is expended 80% of the design is a done deal. So your ability to then change that design and introduce safety and other related matters is problematic. So there's a cut-off point in effect. There's a wonderful sort of chart that sort of looks something like, you know, a cross-over. But what it's saying is "You need to get in very early to reap the benefits downstream."

David Caple: 

So Mark, as the regulator where you've got a supply chain from a principal contractor through to subcontractors, where do you tend to see the greatest need for your support or intervention?

Mark McCabe: 

Well I guess Ross will be glad to hear that we don't spend a lot of time out with the bigger builders. That's for good or for bad I guess. Look in these days of limited resources we have to – like everyone else we have to put our resources where the biggest problems are. The biggest problems are in the small to medium builders to be frank and so that's where we're putting our focus. But one of the big issues that's out there is the way the supply chain works for those kind of players.

The bigger builders tend to realise that they need to build a constructive relationship with their subcontractors. They need to bring them along. They need to have trusted subcontractors. They understand all the problems that flow from not having that. The medium size builders, they have varying attitudes to that. They don't tend to help their subcontractors as much. They put expectations of them which are sometimes unrealistic. So we spend a fair bit of time trying to encourage them to work with their subcontractors.

And Ross mentioned safe work method statements. I can't let a talk about safe work method statements go by without a comment on that, which is look, a lot of the medium size builders say to their subcontractors "Give me a safe work method statement." They don't really look at it. It's a bit of paper that sits in the cupboard. That's operating to the detriment of the industry and that's causing problems I think. They have to work with their smaller subcontractors and help them understand that lengthy safe work method statements are not helping anyone and the briefer they are and the more to the point they are about the key risks, the more useful they'll be.

David Caple: 

So Helen you've done some research on this. Do you want to share some of the findings?

Helen Lingard: 

Yes. I think safe work method statements are very problematic partly because of the literacy and potential language barriers to people's comprehension of these in an industry like construction. And recently we've done some work looking at the use of participatory video which is a technique whereby workers actually script and make films depicting their ways of working safely. And in fact, what we've found from the use of these participatory videos is not only do the workers tell stories that depict better and potentially more effective ways of working safely than were documented in the safe work method statements, but also the end result is something that's far more engaging and visual and comprehensible by the workers themselves. So it's a means of communicating how to do a job. A visual, participatory worker-led video is a really good and effective mechanism to get those messages across.

The workers told us that in fact they preferred video because it was a much more effective way rather of understanding – knowing how to do something as opposed to knowing what to do and it's really it's knowing how to do something that really they need most.

David Caple: 

Thank you. We actually have got one question coming on the web from Craig. "I run a small building business in country New South Wales. Sometimes my contractors refuse to wear protective gear. What can I do?" Mark, do you want to advise Craig?

Mark McCabe: 

Well look, there's the old saying "What you accept is what you get” but I'm conscious that particularly in country New South Wales, if you knock back one subcontractor there may not be other players out there and so, it's not quite as simple as just saying "Well I won't accept that." I think you have to get that subcontractor to understand why it's important, why it's a cost – a very small cost to him to provide the protective gear, very large cost if he doesn't have it and it fails.

David Caple: 

Sure. Okay thank you. We have another question coming up as well and this one is from Caroline. "Are there conflicting interests in the design process between design aesthetics and the work health and safety considerations?" Ross, do you want to make a comment on that?

Ross Trethewy: 

Sure. Look there is no doubt that traditionally designers tend to focus on the finished product and talk about the Building Code of Australia which is a wonderful document from a compliance point of view for a design but it doesn't pick up on work health and safety issues. But I think over the past five years the design industry if I can call it that has been pretty front and centre in terms of safety and design and understand that it's not just about the finished product and the end user and perhaps maintenance. It's also about the constructability of it and more and more I find designers are getting involved in the constructability of the product.

David Caple: 

Okay. Thanks Caroline. Helen, can I just come back to your point about your research about the micro business and the medium sized business and the challenges in the subcontracting side in particular in balancing the business and the expectations of all the parties.

Helen Lingard: 

Yes. We did some research recently looking at the experiences of work and particularly we were looking in this research at work/life balance across companies of different sizes. And the research was quite clear that in micro businesses, businesses of between one and five workers, the experiences were actually okay and in the larger businesses of 20 plus they were also comparable with other industries. But in construction firms companies between five and 20 workers really, really struggle and the very high levels of work/life interference were apparent in companies of that size.

When we went and actually interviewed the business owners and people who were working in businesses in that size range they told us that the intense pressures that they felt in terms of implementing health and safety systems and trying to grow but grow in a way that was sustainable and compliant with the legislation were real challenges for them. And at the same time some of those organisations that were working as subcontractors to the larger building firms were being squeezed and felt that they were under intense commercial pressures to reduce costs and to the detriment sometimes of their health and safety and wellbeing. So I think that data really tells us something about companies in that small end of the industry group but not necessarily in the micro businesses. The businesses that are between five and 20 people really struggle.

David Caple: 

And Mark just is that what you observe even in the housing construction sector as well as the commercial constructing side?

Mark McCabe: 

Yeah look that absolutely correlates with our observation so that the builder that's one to five employees the boss would keep pretty much all the information to run his company in his head. When you get up to 20 plus they're starting to deal with complex projects, probably multiple projects at the same time. They need some pretty good systems in place. Well the transition between those two states is where the tension builds I think and where things can start to go wrong. And some companies make it through that transition and some don't, obviously, but they're the ones that we see that are struggling and they're the ones that need a lot of help I think.

David Caple: 

And how do you help them Ross say if they're working in a bigger project for you in terms of supporting their systems and processes?

Ross Trethewy: 

We do get subcontractors that transition from say residential into commercial and vice versa but typically we would run engagement sessions with subcontractors early on in the piece to give them an understanding of what we require and whether there's any assistance that we can provide in terms of proformas and other things that might help them sort of get over the line. We've got a set of global minimum requirements that we aspire to and we take subcontractors through those as well. They're probably legislation with a tweak if I could call it that, about how we might manage things and it's always good to take them through that education process so there's an expectation of what's required at the end. But having said that sometimes you do have to give them quite a leg up to get where we need them to be.

David Caple: 

I suppose implicit in a lot of this support is that you've got competent supervisors there to provide that day-to-day guidance and I'm just interested in each of your opinion about the role of effective supervision and what does that mean in the construction sector? Is it a technical role? Is it a HR role? What do we mean by "supervision" to ensure we have a safe outcome?

Ross Trethewy: 

Well there's multiple levels of supervision right through from the project management, construction management down to people on the ground, but in my view the hard supervision is people on the ground managing day-to-day work activities and you need them to have a bit of everything. They need to probably be able to relate to people and talk to people and get the best out of people and that can sometimes be a struggle for some people that have come up through the ranks in a supervisory role but they are in charge of a lot of different issues – be it quality, safety, production and so on and it's a very – depending on the area that they have to supervise, at the very best arguably you would argue that they're randomly supervising different activities in different areas over the course of a day and it's a hard job.

David Caple: 

Mark.

Mark McCabe: 

The people who become supervisors tend to be the people that have been around the longest, that have got the most experience. It doesn't necessarily mean they've got the skill set to be a supervisor and I think we've got to spend some time building those skill sets, the communication skills, how to coach people to get the best result out of them. When you've got an inexperienced supervisor they will often retreat to command and control – just dishing out the orders. That will work for some people but it doesn't work for a lot of people and I think it's a neglected group that we have to do more for, not just in this industry but right across.

David Caple: 

Helen.

Helen Lingard: 

I absolutely agree with Mark. I think the industry has traditionally had a very top-down way of managing health and safety and the directives have come from above to the workforce. I actually don't think we use the workforce enough. They're a very, very rich source of knowledge about how to do things better, how to do things differently, how to redesign and improve work processes and I think that top-down command and control approach is very limited in terms of the improvements it will ultimately realise. I think we need to look at engaging the workforce and good supervision is a critical part of being able to do that.

David Caple: 

And the other player knowing that many of our friends who are watching online are in the health and safety profession, the role of the health and safety professional in the construction industry and how do you see those talents and skills used effectively around the table. Ross in your company, you're I suppose a senior person in that role but do you see that as a leadership role, a participatory role, a technical role?

Ross Trethewy: 

My role is a bit of all of those things but it's basically to provide mentoring and technical advice when needed and to investigate and do other things as things arise. But typically the EHS or the OHS or WHS – whatever we want to call them – coordinators and managers are there for technical advice and mentoring of the project teams ultimately. They're not the – you're really relying very heavily on your supervisors and as Mark and Helen have indicated, the capability of those supervisors is critical. They're your eyes and ears on the ground, not your EHS coordinators or managers.

David Caple: 

Sure. Okay let's go back to some more web questions that have been tweeted in. So this one's from Michael. "How can designers influence building owners in understanding and implementing good work health and safety design?" So how can designers influence the building owners? Helen, do you want to make a comment on that in the context of the research of the roles of these various stakeholders?

Helen Lingard: 

Yeah. Look it's a challenging one because in fact when you think about the designer in construction design work is very complex. It's socially complex and it's technologically complex and it's very, very hard to identify who the designer is because design is in fact undertaken in a very complex network of activity. So one of the case studies that we've recently covered in our recent research actually showed quite clearly that people who we wouldn't actually ordinarily think of as the designer can in fact significantly influence the design in such a way that it impacts on work health and safety.

Let me just give you the example. It was actually a food manufacturing organisation that was building a food processing facility and all the safety and design reviews were undertaken, the construction was underway and everything was going well until midway through the construction process the customer of that particular client organisation which was a large retail organisation changed the requirement for food packaging. Now that flowed through and it actually made a major change to the actual design of the project midway which played out to have significant consequences for the work health and safety of the people who were building it.

I guess the point I'm making is that this is a really good example of how stakeholders in construction who we wouldn't even ordinarily think of as designers do in fact have an influence and a significant impact on the design role. That particular client organisation in that particular case study probably needed to engage with all of the stakeholders at an appropriate time to actually better anticipate some of those challenges that arose later in that project and indeed maybe the designers as professionals could take a role by explaining to clients how potentially some of their other stakeholders who may be external to the project may actually have an impact. Engaging all of the stakeholders which I think Ross mentioned earlier at an appropriate time in project decision making is a way of overcoming some of these challenges that could play out and impact health and safety.

So in answer to the question I think the designers perhaps need to play a greater role in engaging clients in a broader stakeholder management activity early in a project.

David Caple: 

Thanks Helen. We have another question that's just been tweeted through from Brad. "Recent research has been published that shows a mixed understanding of safety in design across the various stakeholders in the supply chain, with architects identified as the group most in need of assistance to enable improved understanding. Does the panel have a view on how this group can be better engaged to understand their obligations and thus improve their response to their legal obligations?" So the architects. Do you want to have a comment on that?

Mark McCabe: 

Yeah. Look I think one of the things that's going on in the industry that is not always recognised from outside is that architects for example and other designers are not always engaged right through the building process. So there's an increasing trend certainly in the mid-range to smaller buildings, that the architect or designer will come in right at the beginning of the process, they'll do their design and then they'll be put aside and the builder will take that paperwork and interpret it without the opportunity to engage with the designer. That's where a lot of our problems are flowing from I think. The conversation that needs to happen is just not even possible because the designer's stepped aside from the process.

David Caple: 

Yep.

Mark McCabe: 

Now my guess is that's been driven by cost. It's developers trying to keep the cost down. Architects are expensive. But I think it is a fundamental flaw in what's going on in the industry at the moment.

David Caple: 

And I'm just interested Helen, if you look at the research and the lifecycle of what the architect designs, looking at not just the construction but the maintenance, the demolition, the whole use of the building space, are we capturing that in the people that are around the table at the design stage?

Helen Lingard: 

I think Mark makes a really important point which is that there is sometimes a disconnect between the design of the product, the facility to be constructed and the design of the process by which it is to be constructed. I think the observation I'd make from our case studies is that the design community – the professional designers – seem much more comfortable designing for safety in the end use and operation of a facility than they are in designing for the construction of that facility. I think this is where there is great – need for greater communication between the people who design the product and the people who design the process and indeed those things arguably need to happen concurrently so that we design products that can be constructed without undue risk to health and safety.

David Caple: 

Okay, good. Did you want to make a comment?

Ross Trethewy: 

I think it comes back to the point earlier that's already been picked up, that there's been traditionally a focus on the end user product and Building Codes of Australia and not focused around how you're going to construct it. But I think, you know, there's the opportunity to interact with architects at a degree stage and throughout their university life and so on. So there is opportunity to reinforce work health and safety and duties and so on throughout their career in continuing education as well.

David Caple: 

Okay. We have another question that's been tweeted through from Guest. "Is there an avenue for a worker to bring a poorly designed workspace or environment to WorkSafe's attention and can this be done anonymously?" 

(Laughter) 

Would you like to respond to Guest?

Mark McCabe: 

Well you can definitely bring it to our attention, and you can definitely do it anonymously. We have no difficulty with anonymous reports to us. We get them quite often. It's a big percentage of our work and even in some cases where we know who the person is we will go to some pains not to reveal what the source of our information is. But I take from the way that question was worded that someone wants to tell us about a building that's already built that was poorly designed. It's a bit late then to undo it. So I now wear an additional hat of the building regulator, the building quality regulator, and we see this quite a lot where it's very hard to undo it once it's underground and behind walls and we need to actually be out there as these things are being built, picking it up at that point.

What happens when you get to the end of the process is everyone throws a lot of lawyers at the problem because it's just too expensive to undo it at that point.

David Caple: 

Do you want to comment on the segue with the quality debate and the way the integration of quality, the productivity through your modularised – can't say that word – modularised construction method?

Ross Trethewy: 

Sure. Look I think more and more we see modular products and prefabricated products coming into the industry and a prime example is just at Barangaroo at the moment. We've got three storey service risers which we actually bring in on a truck. They're roughly 12 metres long, three metres by three metres and we pick that up with a crane and lower it down the service riser shaft and that eliminates a whole lot of work within shafts and so on, out from scaffolds, temporary working platforms and so on to erect pipes and platforms and other things within the shaft. But the obvious other benefits to something like that and that's just one example are the quality side of it. 

So all that pipework, all the fittings and so on, all that's been done in a mechanised factory with very good quality control and you haven't got people sort of working in dangerous environments to install it and it's just a simple case of stacking one on top of another on top of another and the different fittings and that's just an interesting example of where the industry is going in terms of modularisation and prefabrication. Facades and other things are typically all modular or prefabricated these days and lifted in by cranes. There's no glazing whatsoever that goes on. Unless something is broken it's typically all done in a factory environment with good quality control, with obvious cost benefits downstream plus safety benefits.

David Caple: 

Did you want to comment, Helen?

Helen Lingard: 

Just to say that talking about the engagement of the architect costing money and that communication between the architect and the builder throughout the life of the design and into the construction stage requires – and getting the right stakeholders to the table does require an investment and this is where clients have a role to play. But I think Ross's comment about the fact that ultimately good design, that's a good design that's also safe and healthy to build also produces benefits in terms of production efficiency and quality and some of those prefabricated solutions really yield benefits across the board. So it may well be that those early costs reap benefits down the line.

David Caple: 

Sure. You were going to say something Mark?

Mark McCabe: 

Well I guess my comment is those products are fantastic and they are the way of the future and there's lots of benefits including safety benefits in the hands of a good builder. In the hands of an inexperienced builder they can sometimes be very blasé about them and misuse them and so we just have to be wary of that – that they do still have inherent dangers if they're not used properly. The stories I could tell you about the use of tilt-up panels would curl your toes.

David Caple: 

Yes. We'll save that for another day.

Mark McCabe: 

Yes.

David Caple: 

Just in the audience in the auditorium do we have any questions, that if you just want to indicate we'll organise a microphone. But while you're thinking about that we'll just go to another question that's been tweeted in by the remote group from Jenny. She's "Interested to know if architects are required to learn good work design principles at university or in their training?" Helen you're at RMIT. Do you know an answer to this?

Helen Lingard: 

Not in the School of Architecture.

(Laughter)

Look my sense is that what gets taught at universities is often driven by accreditation bodies and I think there is a real role for not just the architects but all the construction professional accreditation bodies whether they be surveyors, project managers, construction management groups, the Australian Institute of Building, to actually demand and expect that health and safety be an element – a significant element of education – tertiary education for construction professionals. And not being an architect myself I can't speak for the architecture requirements around this but I think it's not just the architects. I think it should be every construction profession should be pushing for a health and safety component.

David Caple: 

Do you know anything about this question?

Ross Trethewy:

Well I have internal architects within Lendlease and they're certainly well aware of responsibilities and so on and they've actually established like a professional credit type system within their business unit to gain credits around work health and safety and continue education and learning. 

David Caple: 

Okay. All right. Now we have one question from a member of the auditorium here. If you could just stand up and introduce yourself by first name?

Audience Member: 

Vanessa. My question is just I'm interested in what some of the emerging work health and safety issues are in construction.

David Caple: 

Okay. Some of the emerging health and safety issues facing construction. What are you seeing Mark because I'm sure you see a broader picture?

Mark McCabe: 

Well I wouldn't say they're emerging so much as that we've got the same old top three issues which bedevil the industry, which are falls from heights, mobile plant and equipment and electrical, and they still predominate every year. I guess one of the not so much an emerging issue once again, it's here with us is this issue of safe work method statements and how they can be a force for good or for bad depending how they're used and I think it's something we are going to have to deal with as an industry. I actually think they were poorly constructed in the legislation dare I say, and we need to do something to address that issue.

David Caple: 

Okay. Ross?

Ross Trethewy: 

Look I think there's a couple for me in terms of what Mark's already commented on most definitely. Health and wellbeing is something that's coming to the fore. I think there's a realisation of the sorts of hours that the industry works and weekends and so on. Some projects go different hours as well. So there's certainly an understanding there. I think procurement of product from overseas is a big risk and that's something that's emerging more and more from countries like China. I think it's incumbent on the industry to really be very attuned to what's going on in that space and ensure that there's compliance to the relevant standards here which are pretty rigorous. So they're a couple that just in addition to Mark that are just sort of front and centre of mind.

David Caple:

Sure. Thanks. Helen, do you want to add? 

Helen Lingard: 

Yeah. I think you're absolutely right. I think work hours are really, really important and I think we're seeing increasingly in the international research as well as research that we're doing here in Australia the relationship between hours of work and job quality. Job insecurity and some of those issues around the way that work is organised are having significant impacts on health and wellbeing but also ultimately on safety as well through fatigue and some of the outcomes associated with workers being chronically fatigued. I think these are real challenges for the industry moving forward.

David Caple: 

We have another – sorry Ross.

Ross Trethewy: 

Just to pick up on that I guess the statistics wouldn't point to that though because something like fatigue is not always uncovered as a root cause when you start to look back through incidents. But definitely it's in the midst of a significant issue in my view.

David Caple: 

Great. Thanks Vanessa. Another question here from the audience.

Audience Member: 

My name's Jamie. I'm just wondering how can businesses take into account work health and safety performance in their choice of suppliers?

David Caple: 

How can businesses take…

Audience Member: 

Take into account the work health and safety performance in the choice of suppliers?

David Caple: 

Okay. Do you want to comment on that because you've been actively involved?

Mark McCabe: 

Yeah. Well as I said the ACT Government about two - three years back now decided to put a mandatory weighting on safety in its selection criteria for tenders. They put a 30% weighting on it. So that sent a pretty strong signal to the suppliers about what the government was expecting to see and it gave companies a leg up if they were putting extra effort into safety over their competitors because that was one of the complaints that was around before this happened that "Why would I spend extra money on safety? Someone else is not going to spend that money and they're going to beat me for the tender." So that's one way is take that plunge and look a lot of people are very fearful of that. They kept saying "Well what about price?" Price governed everything before that happened. So you can change it.

David Caple: 

Do you want to comment on your 12 company program?

Mark McCabe: 

Well yeah. Look the other thing that we've started to do is we have a program going called the Safety Partnership Program. We spent a fair bit of time after we had those three fatalities telling the industry how terrible it was. Unsurprisingly that didn't work too well, it didn't go down too well and we've now shifted that discussion to "What are we going to do to actually improve?" So we're now starting to sit down with major companies and say "Let's work together on this problem." We're not just a regulator that will come and bash you if you get it wrong. We're actually partners with you. We need to be prepared to change as well as part of that dialogue but let's work together about how we can improve it.

Now suppliers or clients can do that with their suppliers as well. Rather than just say "This is our expectation” perhaps start saying to them "Let's work together on how we improve your safety."

David Caple: 

Okay. Thanks for that. We have another tweet question coming through from Tom. "A lot of fatal falls in construction are not from great heights (less than four metres). How can work design tackle this problem?" and I think we talked earlier about the domestic housing sector is possibly where we see this rather than the 30 storey commercial tower. But do you want to comment Ross on…

Ross Trethewy: 

Yeah. Well interestingly a couple of things that spring to mind there are things like as simple as unloading trucks and large loads which will be under the four metres but there's been a number of fatalities in relation to truck drivers unloading. Some of the design nous now is to pre-sling loads. So the load is already slung. We don't have someone up on the back of a high load on a truck to actually sling it so the crane can lift it off. 

Other examples are trestle type scaffold systems that go along beside trucks. You can stand on and access the load so that you've got some containment and you can't fall. But things like ladders come into the fore there of the under four metres. There is quite a bit of use of elevated work platforms now as opposed to ladders and in fact I'm trying to think of when I last saw a stepladder on a project but they're still out there. But there's elevated work platforms definitely well and truly entrenched in the industry. So I think there is an understanding around that under four metres as well and the industry has moved to grab hold of some of those areas and put control measures in place which are pretty effective.

David Caple: 

Helen did you want to comment on the under four metre question?

Helen Lingard: 

No. I think I'm – yeah.

David Caple: 

Okay.

Mark McCabe: 

Look I would comment. I don't think we need to learn how to design it out. I think we know exactly how to design it out. I think what we have to do is learn how to get people to comply with that. That comes back to that supervision question that we talked about earlier. Supervisors on sites walking past behaviour that just shouldn't be accepted. It comes back to a whole range of things about how we actually get compliance. We have all the systems to achieve that.

David Caple: 

Okay. Just have to do it. One more question from our audience for Mark. "Should safe work method statements or work method statements be only for 18 high risk construction activities and should SWMS be used in design?"

Mark McCabe: 

I think I understand where the question is going with that but my answer is still the same. Yes it should only be for the 18 in my view. Look we have to take a risk based approach to management of health and safety. Those 18 more than cover all of the high risks. You could probably pick four or five which would cover 80% of the risks. So look you still have to manage the risks outside of those 18 but I would be reluctant – we're struggling to deal with it effectively with those 18. I would be reluctant to push it beyond that.

David Caple: 

Okay. Thanks. We have another one that's been tweeted in. Thank you for everybody who's tweeting. Victoria – "Mark mentioned that the main WHS issues are with small and medium sized enterprises. Is there research on this specific sector of the construction industry in particular?" Helen did you want to comment on that?

Helen Lingard: 

We've done a very little bit of work in small business construction firms. The work that we did several years ago was looking at understandings of risk control and trying to encourage small businesses to consider risk control as being something that should be a higher level activity so the more technology based controls and moving away from an over-reliance on the administrative controls. That work was very limited and I'll have to say structurally in Australia the way that research is funded it makes it very, very hard to access the small and medium size organisations because we often work in partnership with the large organisations. So there's a real problem and a real need for doing targeted research at the SME sector but unfortunately the way that the funding tends to operate is that we more usually work with mainly the top tier organisations and I think that's a real limitation.

David Caple: 

Did you want to comment on that?

Mark McCabe: 

Perhaps there's something else that's implicit in that question and that is when we talk about the construction industry we tend to segregate it into civil, commercial and residential. But I think the breakup into small, medium and large employer is probably equally if not more important and maybe that's where our dialogue and our conversation should be going in the future.

David Caple: 

Ross what do you think about that?

Ross Trethewy: 

Well I read it as there's difficulty in drilling down as one has looked at statistics in quite a bit of depth. The ANZSIC codes (Australia and New Zealand Industry Classification Codes) don't actually allow you to drill down into domestic. So you'll have civil construction, probably commercial construction and then subcontractors or contractors. It's very difficult to then dissect out domestic construction. It's been my experience. So that may be where it's going. So you've got one side of the fence blames the commercial construction industry for all the injuries and the other side blames the domestic side but it's very difficult to drill into the stats the last time I looked.

David Caple: 

Okay and the last question that’s been tweeted in from Mark. "As a lot of buildings are being retro fitted these days is WorkSafe taking an active role in engaging with redevelopment plans to ensure safety concerns are met?"

Mark McCabe: 

I'd like to say of course but I'd have to be honest and say no. It's not an area that we've been actively involved in and it is an emerging trend and it's probably something that we do need to get more involved in.

David Caple: 

Would either of you like to comment on retro fitting buildings?

Ross Trethewy: 

Well I think I look at that question and think "age of building" and then I start to think about asbestos and other hazardous materials. So you know, adequate investigation has got to go on in any structure that you're going to retro fit to understand what you're dealing with that it's in situ before you start to do any sort of retro fit.

David Caple: 

Okay. Well thank you Mark and thank you for all the people that have tweeted questions in and to our studio audience as well for your questions. As I indicated, after this session the panel will be available online after about five minutes to let them have a breather, to continue the discussion. So feel free to continue on the website. 

But just to finish the session I'd like to ask each of you just a bit of a crystal ball question of where do you feel this industry is going and what do you see as either the major opportunities or challenges to address those fatalities and injuries that Mark alluded to in his opening address? I think each of you have done an excellent job in summarising many issues in this seminar but maybe there's one or two you want to reinforce or something that you haven't already mentioned. So we'll just start at the end Ross, and maybe we'll work our way through.

Ross Trethewy: 

So in my view there's a couple of probably key take-aways. The statistics are pretty clear that this is a problem area and those statistics range from anything from one third of incidents right through to two thirds. So if we're somewhere in 25% we can make great inroads into injuries. The other thing would be involve the right stakeholders from a safety and design point of view. If you don't have the right stakeholders in the room it will not work and probably the third thing is to remember 3% of the budget is expended, 80% of the design is done. So you have to do it very early.

David Caple: 

Okay. Thanks Ross. Helen?

Helen Lingard: 

Yeah, I concur with Ross in saying that thinking about health and safety as early as possible in the project lifecycle and making sure that all the stakeholders whose interest and influence could be relevant to the health and safety performance of the facility should be engaged at a time that's appropriate and early in the process particularly the people who have the in-depth construction knowledge. They should be engaged in early design decision making. 

But I'd also just like to make a comment on metrics and the way we measure success in this space because we've been looking in our research a little bit at leading and lagging performance indicators and I think in fact the design stage is an area where we're not measuring our success as effectively as we possibly could be. So we may count management activities in terms of the actual process of doing design safety reviews or we might record those as leading indicators of health and safety but we don't actually know what the outcomes of those design safety reviews are and we perhaps need to start looking at the quality with which we're doing safety and design in terms of technological controls and the implementation of technological measures and we might start counting that as one of our leading indicators.

David Caple: 

Good point. Mark.

Mark McCabe: 

My comment comes back to one of the emerging trends and one I forgot to mention in relation to that question earlier and that is a focus on safety culture. I think when you're looking – which I think is appropriate. But I think when you're looking at safety culture you have to think about the supply chain as well and where you are in that supply chain and what's going to be the culture of the companies you're going to interact with in that supply chain, either above or below you. You can't just operate as an island.

David Caple: 

Good point. All right. On that note, we'll draw this session to a close and I'd ask the studio audience to join with me and just thank our panel members for a very interesting discussion. 

So thank you.

(Audience Applause) § (Music Playing) § 

[End of Transcript]


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