Role of project owner in construction safety has always been a debatable subject. Most owners are a bit reluctant in actively participating in safety measures at the project. They take it as a part of a contractor’s work and leave it for him to take care of. But such should not be the case.

I don’t need to remind you how hazardous and threatening construction activities are. While you kick-start a construction project of any nature, as a project owner, you’ve to deal with potential risks for your employees, tenants, and even your property. You could also not avoid taking responsibility for the risks the contractor has to bears. As a project owner, it’s a big mistake to be complacent regarding site safety.

There is no denying that smooth-running, low stress, on-time, and the on-budget project is never possible without workable and appropriate health and safety plans. Site safety is a critical factor not only for the welfare of employees but for controlling construction costs as well.

So this read would guide you the ways site safety violation might affect your plans as an owner of a project and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of costly lawsuits and getting sued. By your active engagement during construction, you can decrease overall construction costs, shorten completion time, and improve the job quality.

The site safety derives twofold benefits for project owners. Aside from reducing the risk of diverse construction ventures, it also works as a cost-controlling measure. In general, the project owners often overlook the significant impact of site safety on reducing the overall cost of the project.

The construction industry has the highest injury rate among major U.S industries; while the death rate is even more alarming. Earnest efforts are underway to establish effective safety management programs and to improve the overall safety of the construction industry. Newly developed building codes by the Department of Building (DOB) and OSHA require owners to be extendedly involved in construction site safety.

Actual & Hidden Costs

An outnumbered of project owners are still dubious about the site safety. The question at heart is; how site safety can turn to the owner’s advantage? An accident has a direct and indirect impact on project deadlines and costs. These owners only consider the direct cost of the accident, that only includes costs incurred by items like doctors, ambulance, indemnity along with a prescription, and medication.

But such accidents have hidden costs, that are often ignored. At times, these costs can be 10 times the actual costs. Risky ventures are expected to have eminent overhead costs due to consideration of the enormous risk involved in getting a job done. Contractors are smart enough to have all the expected losses to include in the estimate to bring profit to the bottom line. Owners often ignore this by seeing risks as if only for the contractor – there to execute the job. It is a well-known fact that the cost of accidents is truly reflected in the project cost.

Cost of Implementing Site Safety

The project owners are need not worry for any little up-front cost for setting up and affirming the required safety programs at the project. Actually, the contractors are already required by law to abide by local, state as well as federal regulations.

The owners are just required to demand proper documentation and implementation of the extensive safety programs; thereby protecting the employees as well as the care of the executed works.

Address safety during project planning and design

Defining a clear goal is very vital for project managers and planners. At this stage, it may appear as if the owner and the construction contractor have conflicting goals; but the case is otherwise.  The owner has a vital role in facilitating designing for safe construction. It is rightly said that prevention is better than cure; so is the designing for safety.

By considering worker’s safety during the design phase of the project can considerably reduce construction injury rates. This is the reason why designers are now required to address safety and health risks by involving all parties – including project owner during the design and planning phase.

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A proactive owner leadership and involvement during this stage of the project is likely necessary before implementation during project execution. A risk assessment and identification during this phase could protect you from a costly setback.

As an owner, you can insist on the engineers and architects for implementing design for construction safety for reducing construction injuries and improving the health of construction workers.

Pre-qualifying constructors based on their safety record

So, the owners are mandated to award construction works to firms that are more efficient in reducing risks. For this, during bid evaluation, the contractor’s safety record should be considered. Even though the work rates of such firms could be higher, but they are likely to control the work risk, and alongside bring profitable business; thereby completing contracts on time with less rework. In a nutshell, a contractor’s approach to reducing the risks involved during the execution of work eventually eliminate risks for the project owner.

Addressing safety in the contract

OSHA safety rules bound employers to train their contract employees for all relevant safety provision and stipulations. As the contractor is likely to face penalties for violating safety rules; therefore, the owner has to draft the contract in a way to escalate the scale of consequences for safety rule violations. With stages of offense, it may start off with a verbal warning and may end with a cancellation of the contract. The contract must be clear in setting forth the responsibility of safety violation for all stakeholders.

Protecting welfare of employees and community

Besides time, cost, quality, and environment; protecting the welfare of the employees is also an important project’s performances measure. It is also a social responsibility of the employer to protect the safety of workers at the project.

The project is feasible as long as it is beneficial for the community. In most cases, the community is sensitive to projects. So construction accidents, injuries, and fatalities could deteriorate the relationship between the project and the community. There’re cases when projects are shut down by the surrounding community or stalled in the legal system because of operational problems as well as community-related problems.

 

Legal Obligation of the Owner in site safety

Legislations from DOB or OSHA has enforced legal responsibility on the project owners and employers; in promoting safe and compliant construction. DOB local law 196, passed in September 2017, mandates you as an owner to ensure 40 hours of safety training to workers and 62 hours to supervisors. Before employing any new worker; he must be given a minimum of 10 hours of safety training.

If you violate this law and DOB discovers any untrained worker on your construction site; then as a site owner, you can be penalized for $5,000. The permit holder must keep a detailed log verifying all workers on site are well-trained.

Takeaways

Regardless of the nature of work, an owner is going to undertake; creating a “win-win” with the contractor is not possible without joint-venturing an extensive safety program. Leadership is a key factor in maneuvering health and safety programs at satisfactory levels. The well-being of the owner’s clients, employees, and all the people working in and around the project are directly linked with site safety.

Risk management is a vital factor that must not be ignored during project planning and acquisition phase. A successful project, for the owner, is likely to end up on budget with profit timely and safely.

For increasing the success rate and for meeting the project goals in construction; the owner and the contractor has to join hands. This gap can be bridged by carrying out safety training for increased awareness. The owners have a legal and moral responsibility to warn contractors for any apparent hazards present on site that can affect the safe performance of the project.

With the proactive and increased involvement of project owner, the quality of work can be enhanced, the cost can be lowered, and there is improved overall productivity. The contractor would be more willing to adhere to the schedule, and there would be minimal disruption of the project progress. All the principles applied to cost, schedule, quality, and productivity are equally applicable to safety.

 

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Written by Saad Iqbal

He is a professional civil engineer with over 5+ years of work in mega construction projects. He's been on the internet community for quite some time now. He is a passionate blogger and a construction geek. You can get in touch with him via the contact us page.

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