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Health and Safety

What can Qatar 2022 teach us about health and safety in construction?

After the excitement of England reaching the Euros final in 2021, many of us are looking forward to this year’s World Cup, to be hosted in Qatar in November. 


However, given Qatar’s troubling human rights record, it’s perhaps no surprise the event has been mired in controversy. Last year, a report from The Guardian claimed upwards of 6,500 migrant workers have died whilst working on construction of the country’s seven new World Cup stadiums and their associated projects, which include a new airport, hotels, and public transport systems.


The official Qatar 2022 website points towards measures it’s taking to improve the health and safety of its construction workers, which includes improved training and medical screenings. However, the alleged deaths connected to World Cup preparations demonstrate that measures aren't going anywhere near far enough.


The need for an improved health and safety system


This reported death rate is symptomatic of a wider issue amongst large-scale construction projects, and it’s not exclusive to Qatar. Recent research from insurance specialists I’m Insured discovered that construction was the most dangerous industry in the UK, accounting for one in six workplace deaths. Some of the most common accidents involve falling from heights, exhaustion, unstable ground, or collapse of heavy materials. 

many construction firms lack a solid infrastructure for health and safety reporting, and the complexity and physicality of building work amplifies this risk tenfold. 

Most of these accidents could be prevented through simple checks and good communication. However, many construction firms lack a solid infrastructure for health and safety reporting, and the complexity and physicality of building work amplifies this risk tenfold. 

 For example, broken safety glasses could easily be reported with an app-based system that allowed the operative to instantly log PPE issues. However, many companies instead rely on the employee remembering to raise equipment defects ad hoc, significantly lowering the likelihood of reports being made. The larger the company, the more these issues multiply.

 As health and safety measures have become more stringent, so too have the administrative processes surrounding them become more long-winded. To support clear and straightforward compliance, we need to move away from these processes and look for a simple solution.

 By taking compliance digital, companies can tap into a cohesive network of tools for workers. This would provide an easy way for workers to report incidents, near-misses and concerns. Additionally, a central compliance hub could foster a community where important health and safety information can be quickly viewed, including staff qualifications, Toolbox Talks and equipment certifications. 

Health and safety is a particularly opportune area to digitise due to the breadth of information required and its growing complexity. This system could greatly improve reporting and response times, improving working conditions in construction and ultimately saving lives.

What would a digital solution look like? 

 illeso is an example of a digital compliance solution, a health and safety platform designed exclusively for the construction industry.

 Its cross-device digital application means health and safety can be viewed and logged via phone, iPad or laptop, with all documents stored securely in the cloud. This not only provides a far greater level of security than physical documents stored in the back office, but also enables access of documentation on-demand.

Application-based health and safety admin can greatly simplify the compliance process for construction companies. illeso can send notifications of upcoming or outstanding health and safety forms - such as plant maintenance certification reminders - to ensure nothing ever gets missed by administrators. The result is increased compliance and a safer environment.

Centralising all compliance information in the cloud also enables easy and swift analysis of health and safety data. This can then be used to improve safety on site. For example, if site managers notice a slew of accidents centralised in a particular area, they can investigate the terrain or apparatus in this area to find its underlying cause, or increase hazard messaging around this area. Health and safety data can also be used by procurement teams to help identify the safest plant or equipment purchases.

An open culture is needed

To create a health and safety system that works successfully and is truly fair and collaborative, every job role and seniority must engage with it. Compliance applications offer benefits around the whole construction community. Health and safety has conventionally been delivered top-down, with regulations being set by HSE, imposed by managers, and reinforced through Toolbox Talks. While established, this legacy method does nothing to empower workers to take responsibility for their own health and safety. 

Applications can help redress this by enabling a two-way conversation between managers and operatives, replacing public Toolbox Talks with documentation workers can absorb in their own time, with options to privately question working practices or make suggestions for improvements. Access to health and safety data can also help operatives see why such procedures are important, which practices are most likely to result in accidents, and how unsafe behaviours might affect others around them. 

All of this helps create a more mature working environment, where employees are encouraged to feed into and be responsible for their working community.

The situation in Qatar is complex, and exacerbated by endemic issues around the country’s problematic migrant employment system. However, it’s important to reflect that in such a dangerous profession as construction, it’s the UK’s health and safety processes that prevent similar death counts from occurring here. With this in mind, it’s the responsibility of everyone within the construction industry to do their part to implement bulletproof health and safety processes.