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Construction companies can benefit from Olympic health and safety successes – research shows

Innovative communication techniques that helped to prevent worker deaths during the Olympic build could be harnessed to benefit other construction projects – a research study has found.

Safe and healthy behaviour was encouraged across the Olympic Park, leading to an unprecedented zero fatalities during the construction phase of the Games. And from the research, released today (Wednesday 25 July), the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is highlighting five areas of the London 2012 build project, which companies in the sector could use to help reduce injury and ill-health in their own workforces.

IOSH and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) jointly commissioned Loughborough University to investigate how safety techniques were communicated, along with their impact on multiple contractors during the Olympic build. Looking at how positive worker attitudes and behaviour in health and safety were fostered by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), researchers assessed knowledge transfer in, out of, and around the Park.

Researchers collected information from interviews with managers and supervisors, focus groups with workers and document analysis of campaigns. They found that workers really appreciated feedback and liked that site managers were accessible, listened to concerns and, where possible, acted on them.

IOSH executive director of policy Dr Luise Vassie said: "The ODA’s exemplary health and safety record speaks for itself. The techniques used were often low cost and had cross-company impact, showing that a good health and safety record isn’t out of any company’s grasp.

"Last year there were 50 fatalities and 2,298 reported major injuries in this sector, so IOSH would strongly encourage managers of small, medium and multi-contractor projects to take a good look at how these results were achieved and implement some of those principles into their own health and safety strategies."

The study was carried out by a team from the School of Business and Economics and the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University.

Leader of the research team, Dr Alistair Cheyne, said: "Strong leadership, accessible supervisors, worker engagement and reviewing practice are common tools for managers in any sector and can be easily adopted by other organisations. The successful implementation of these tools on Olympic Park was due in no small part to the planning and organising provided by ODA, and the willingness of contractors and sub-contractors to engage with the Park-wide processes. Perhaps the biggest success was the way in which organisations, big and small, showed how easy it was to work so closely together to tackle health and safety issues."

From the findings, IOSH highlights five key areas which can be used in construction companies and projects of all sizes. These are:

Lead from the top. The ODA set standards and also visibly engaged with the workforce to direct, motivate and change behaviour by focusing on its long-term goals.
Develop competent supervisors. The positive impact of technically knowledgeable supervisors upon health and safety was understood, as well as softer communication skills to influence understanding and behaviour.
Foster an open, positive safety culture. Safety was a dominating factor of the culture. If workers are engaged and feel managers care for their wellbeing, they’re more likely to get involved with the health and safety process.
Reward good behaviour. Incentives and rewards helped to promote and encourage safe behaviour. In many cases positive feedback was the real reward, as it boosted morale.
Review and learn. Any problems were constantly reviewed and communicated across the organisation. Most crucially, they were learnt from to improve health and safety.
Stephen Williams, HSE director of operational strategy and London 2012 Games, said: "This is one of several research projects funded by HSE to create a learning legacy from the Olympic construction project. Evidence that change in workers’ safety behaviour has been sustained since they left the Olympic Park is a very encouraging sign that transfer of the good practice to other construction projects is already happening. HSE is taking the lessons learned out to construction companies of all sizes and challenging them to prioritise health and safety and aim for a standard of excellence."

Dr Vassie added: "Part of the investment the UK has placed in hosting the Olympics is in the legacy it leaves behind. We hope it will play a part for years to come, by inspiring improvements in health and safety standards that reduce injury and ill-health in one of our most hazardous industries."

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