GEM Engserv Pvt. Ltd is an ISO 9001:2015 certified organization, certified by TUV India in accreditation with National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB).

Who cares about safety in a country of a billion people?

This article questions the expenditure on Safety Management and whether it is worth the money at all? It also looks at how organizations that have implemented occupational health and safety have used it as a competitive advantage and how safety culture is not a one-time event but an ongoing process.

There’s a certain safety in numbers (pun intended) that we have enjoyed in our industry in this country. There are literally a billion and a few more of us around. Naturally, the value of human life, health, and wellbeing takes a back seat and becomes dispensable when supply largely outstrips demand. Or does it?

If the past three years have taught us anything, it is that people are the foundation on which businesses are built and grown. Take a closer look at organizations that have done well during this period, and it will be abundantly clear that those who retained their talent pool have managed to survive and thrive. Conversely, those that could not hold on because their relationships were transactional, are either no longer around or are struggling to keep going.

Interestingly, this fact eludes most construction professionals as we continue to take safety, health, and wellbeing for granted on our project sites. Construction Safety Management rarely gets the attention it deserves. In fact, it is seen as a cost, or an inescapable overhead, only to be implemented to order to showcase “best practices” to the investors. Our standard practices makes us wonder – does construction safety actually add any value at all? Until we do not truly understand the impact that sounds safety management (or the lack of it) has on our projects, safety will be viewed as a roadblock and implementation will be seen as a burden. Here we take a quick look at how focus towards safety management can impact our projects.

Save time

Any incident, whether a major accident or a relatively less serious near miss causes a disruption of work on the project. Consider any of the following – fall from height, injury due to falling object, electrocution, slipping – and the visual impact of these events is obvious. At the very least, workers may gather around the incident area for a while and need half an hour to get back to ‘flow’. More serious eventuality might involve complete work stoppage, a demoralized and disgruntled workforce, loss of key personnel and the risk of litigation. These are tangible outcomes, not considering that the workers who have been impacted might hold some crucial context of the project. They might also have been drivers in their area of the task. Skilled steel fixers, welders, carpenters, plumbers, and painters all carry expertise that cannot be easily replaced.

Further, given the need for a quantum leap in public as well as housing infrastructure in the country, we are bound to see a growing focus on fast-tracking construction. This focus without an equal emphasis on safety management principles leads to an immediate risk that needs to be addressed urgently.

It, therefore, becomes extremely crucial for contractor safety management principles to not be just a submittal but go beyond that and anticipate all potential workplace hazards (through HIRAC), implement safe use of the right resources (equipment and workforce), and put in place robust monitoring practices (safety audits and safety walkaround).

Lower Costs

Frequently repeated adages “A stitch in time saves nine”, “Prevention is better than cure” and others may be clichés, but clichés exist for a reason. The standard expenditure of ensuring compliance of all safety provisions as per plan falls well under 0.5% of the overall project cost. This is minuscule in contrast to the impact of each incident, even if minor. Here, we have not even begun to address the improvement in productivity that the holistic OHSAS is directed towards. A significant part of the safety manager’s roles and responsibilities extends to ensuring the health and well-being of all stakeholders on the project and not only prevention of accidents. If driven with the correct approach, OHSAS can be a tool for boosting productivity and in turn completing the project within budget. While we will not go into calculations here, project proponents claim that a robust OHSAS system (if implemented completely), pays for itself many times over.

Are minor accidents and near misses frequent on your project? If the answer is yes, chances are that they are leading to large drops in productivity and bleeding costs without you being able to pin down the reason for it. Further, more than an isolated major accident, repetitive minor incidents that go unnoticed cause a bigger impact on the budget in the long-term. As per lean principles as well, small frequent events, more than major accidents have a larger impact on the overall outcome of the project whether on project budget or schedule.

Enhance brand

One of the most intangible aspects about a business is its brand. Multiple aspects constitute the overall brand and shape the perception about an organization. All stakeholders, whether external or internal, continuously evaluate and keep a watch on the activities of entities that they are interested in. Any untoward incident, let alone an accident, makes it to the highlights through the unofficial press that is always active. Technology (the ubiquitous smartphone) has ensured that events taking place within the plot are no longer hidden from public view.

This could be a nightmare in case there are any mishaps on site. However, it is also an opportunity to pull up our socks and finally commit to this area of work which is last to be focused upon in good times and the first to be sacrificed when the going gets tough.

Preserve human capital

It is a myth (at least in the past few years) that labour is cheap and easily available in India; a trap that we have ourselves inadvertently fallen into. Even before the pandemic, labour shortages were common. The mass exodus of workers from cities has not yet completely reversed because many found better opportunities in the mainstay of India’s GDP, agriculture. Check common causes of delays and most project managers report labour shortages as the most common ones.

Workers are now becoming increasingly picky when it comes to the areas that they work in and the type of work they perform. They are also quick to pick up on whether the immediate and principal employers (both contractors and clients) care for the well-being of site folk. We are seeing a progressive decrease in mercenary attitude and workers are no longer willing to put up with deplorable working conditions for a day’s wages. Going forward, the ones who are able to foster a positive work environment and truly care for the frontline will see their fortunes turn.


They say that once the why is clear, the how becomes easy. The intent of this piece is to explore whether Safety Management is really a discipline that we should care about or something that sounds good but can be dropped at the first sign of financial distress. There are a few Indian organizations that have understood the true value of implementing occupational health and safety and use it as a competitive advantage.

These organizations incorporate Safety Management across the project lifecycle. They have frequent and serious risk reviews, implement strong systems right up to the last mile, leverage technology through digitization of their processes and honestly report lapses and incidents in the true spirit of the PDCA cycle. For such organizations, safety culture is not just a catchphrase, but the reason for their success in the industry

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