Friday, December 7, 2012

Health and Safety: have any lessons been learnt?

According to news reports following the death of three construction workers in yesterday's Auckland storms a Department of Labour spokeswoman said the department were not involved as it appeared to be an ''act of God''. 

It is of course probable that the deaths may have been unavoidable in the circumstances but that hardly excuses the need for an investigation to determine if this was the case and whether precautions might be taken to avoid such tragedies in future.  Construction is a relatively high risk activity and large construction projects need to take account of a number of eventualities. One of these is unusual or freak weather events.  The storm which occurred yesterday was unusual in its intensity, including generating tornadoes, but  extreme weather events are not that uncommon and they certainly are not acts of god in the sense that they are extremely rare and unpredictable. One would expect therefore that construction projects would take the occurrence of such events into account in terms of site safety management and have in place procedures to monitor for such events, to shut sites down if necessary and to take other measures as appropriate. Indeed the possibility of adverse weather related safety hazards must be one of the most significant risk areas for large construction sites given the volume of material and machinary that may become hazardous if storms strike.

A proactive approach to health and safety requires an investigation as to whether proper procedures and processes were in place and whether proper precautions might have avoided the deaths.  Fault may not be found, but finding fault should not be the primary purpose of accident investigation: the most important function is to identify what went wrong and to determine if  future accidents might be avoided.

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