Chapter 15. Construction Safety Management – Construction Project Management: Theory and Practice


Construction Safety Management

Introduction, evolution of safety, accident causation theories, foundation of a major injury, health and safety act and regulations, cost of accidents, roles of safety personnel, causes of accidents, principles of safety, safety and health management system, research results in safety management


Construction industry is an integral part of infrastructure development in a nation, leading to economic growth and development. Economic growth is not possible without contribution from construction. However, construction is inherently hazardous. This is evident from the comparative statistics of fatal and non-fatal injuries that take place year after year in different industries (Figure 15.1) including construction. According to one study, construction accounts for most of the injuries next to mining industry. Hinze and Applegate (1991) cite the accident facts (1990) and report that the frequency of occurrence of disabling injuries incurred by construction workers is roughly twice the frequency rate of other industries and the death rate is roughly three times that of other industries.

The reasons behind the statistics are manifold. As pointed out earlier, construction is mostly a one-off activity and situations encountered in construction projects are unique. Construction workers, especially in our country, are mostly unskilled and uneducated (according to CIDC country report 2005–06, the unskilled workforce constitutes 73.1 per cent of the total construction workforce of about 33 million people). Further, they have to work under stiff outdoor climatic conditions. The workers are mostly employed on temporary basis and they often change their employers. Even on the same site, their services may be required for different construction activities under different charge hands and foremen. Today, construction is practised under the framework of multi-layered subcontracting system, with workers of different skill sets and age groups having varied training needs.

Despite the unique situations faced by the construction industry, statistics show that there is a significant reduction in the number of fatal and non-fatal injuries over the years (see Table 15.1 and Figure 15.2). Human life is precious and it should be the constant endeavour of all stakeholders to make the construction site a safe place to work. In addition to the human aspect, construction injuries also have legal and economic aspects associated with them, requiring all the more attention. Construction safety is of paramount importance in any construction.

The objective of this chapter is to introduce to the readers the various façades of construction safety. In the initial part of this chapter, we discuss the evolution of safety and accident causation theories. Later, some key terms associated with construction safety are defined and discussed. In the middle part, we discuss some of the commonly observed accidents at construction sites, health and safety regulations, etc. Finally, we close the chapter by discussing the safety principles, the elements of safety management, and the results of some researches carried out in construction safety.

Figure 15.1 Comparison of the frequency rates for construction and all other industries in Japan


Table 15.1 Statistics of man–hours worked and frequency rate of accidents over the years for a large Indian construction company

Year Man-hours worked (in millions) Frequency rate



























Figure 15.2 Details of man-hours worked and decline of frequency rate1 of accidents over the years


It was in the year 1867 that workers’ compensation laws were drafted for the first time to provide some measure of protection to industrial workers. This small but significant step can be marked as the birth of the modern safety movement. In the initial days, the scope of ‘safety’ was restricted to accident prevention and to analyse the cause of accident. These included removal of physical hazards and improving the industrial environment. Heinrich did considerable scientific work in the area of industrial accident prevention during this era. Later, the scope of ‘safety’ was enlarged to protect workers’ health.

Organizations such as International Labour Organization (ILO) and World Health Organization (WHO) promoted occupational health of industrial workers globally. The word ‘industrial’ was replaced with ‘occupational’ to embrace all types of employment, instead of restricting it to factories and mines. The International Labour Organization identified the need for action for reducing the risks of accidents and adopted a Convention (No. 62) concerning minimum safety standards in the building industry, as far back as in June 1937. Thereafter, the organization adopted a comprehensive Convention (No. 167) and Recommendation (No. 175) on safety and health on the construction industry in June 1988.

Propagation and promotion of safety and health in industries was not an easy task. It was seen as a costly and unproductive investment, and profit-oriented industries were reluctant to pay attention to it. Therefore, to fulfil the social obligation of protecting workers engaged in diverse occupations, various legislations were enacted and regulatory authorities appointed in different countries.

The ‘safety’ movement in India formally started when the National Safety Council was set up in 1966. The council recognized that safety is the responsibility of management and in this endeavour, the active support of workers is needed. In order to generate awareness, March 4 of every year is celebrated as National Safety Day. Lok Sabha passed a construction workers’ bill in August 1996 to regulate the work conditions on all construction sites. The bill is applicable to all employers who employ 50 or more workers on any day at one go or in relay. The bill proposed the appointment of a director general of inspection with various subordinate inspectors to check adherence to the provisions of the bill, including workers’ wages, working hours, temporary accommodation and other welfare measures. Subsequently, in 1998, the central rules on Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) also came in existence, and these are applicable to central establishments.

Various state governments are in advanced stages of framing the rules to be applicable in their respective states. Where rules are already in place, the strictness in enforcing them needs a lot of improvement. Although awareness about safety is increasing, a lot more is still needed from different stakeholders to reach up to global standards in occupational health and safety.


An accident is defined as an event that is unplanned, undesired, unexpected and uncontrolled, and one that may or may not result in damage to property or injury to person, or both, in the course of employment. ILO defines occupational accident as an unexpected and unplanned occurrence, including acts of violence, arising out of or in connection with work, which results in one or more workers incurring a personal injury, disease, or death. In this section we discuss why accidents occur. A number of theories have been developed over the years to understand and explain accident causation. We briefly discuss a few major theories.

Heinrich, one of the early researchers (his book Industrial Accident Prevention was first published in 1931), propagated the domino theory to explain the causation of accidents. According to Heinrich, accidents are the result of a chain of sequential events. He compared these events with dominoes. When one of the dominoes falls, it triggers the collapse of the next domino, and the next, and so on. The five dominoes used by Heinrich in his theory are—(1) social environment and ancestry, (2) fault of person, (3) unsafe act and/or unsafe condition, (4) accident, and (5) injury. He suggested that removing a key factor such as an unsafe act or an unsafe condition would prevent the start of the chain reaction. This five-domino model suggested that through inherited or acquired undesirable traits such as stubbornness, greed and recklessness, people become bad-tempered, inconsiderate, greedy and reckless, which may lead them to commit unsafe acts or cause the existence of mechanical or physical hazards, which in turn cause injurious accidents. The easiest domino to control, according to Heinrich, is the unsafe act and/or unsafe condition, which is the central factor of his domino theory. Heinrich studied a large number of accident cases from the insurance records and found that 88 per cent of accidents were attributable to unsafe act of persons involved, 10 per cent were due to unsafe mechanical/physical condition, and the remaining 2 per cent were a result of natural calamities. Heinrich believed that people are the fundamental reason behind any accident. He was also of the opinion that management is responsible for prevention of accidents. He advocated strict supervision, remedial training and discipline to eliminate unsafe conditions.

The domino theory presented above was quite simple in explaining accident causation and it was easy to implement as well. Using this theory, it was possible to pinpoint the person responsible for the lapses leading to accident. Although his work faced criticism because of oversimplifying the human behaviour and the statistics on the contribution of unsafe acts and unsafe conditions, Heinrich’s work still remains the foundation for many other researches undertaken subsequently. Over the years, the domino theory has been updated by many researchers. These models are known as management models or updated domino models in which the emphasis of accident causation is placed on faulty management system.

One updated model was given by Vincoli (his book Basic Guide to Accident Investigation and Loss Control’ was first published in 1994), in which he replaced the original five dominoes of Heinrich with the following:

  1. Management: Loss of control
  2. Origins: Basic causes
  3. Immediate causes: Symptoms
  4. Contact: Incident
  5. Loss: People–property

According to Vincoli, lack of control by management initiates the process that eventually results in incidents. Vincoli distinguishes between incident and accident. He defines incident as any event that has the possibility of creating a loss, and a loss event as an ‘accident’. Failure of management to fulfil its responsibility leads to basic causes from which incidents arise. The basic causes belong to personnel factors and job factors. Some examples of personnel factors are—lack of understanding or ability; improper motivation (bad attitude); and illness and mental or personal (non-work-related) problems. Examples of job factors are—inadequate work; bad design or maintenance; low-quality equipment; and normal or abnormal wear and tear. The unsafe acts and conditions are symptoms of root causes that the first and second dominoes represent. Management allowing these factors to continue unchecked leads to incidents. Incident has the possibility of creating a loss (minor, serious, or catastrophic), and a loss event is an ‘accident’.

Petersen (1971) believed that root causes of accidents often relate to the management system. He developed a non-domino-based management model in 1971, known as multiple causation model. According to Petersen, a number of causes and sub-causes combined together in random fashion are responsible for an accident, and it is not possible to attribute the causation of an accident to a single cause as suggested simplistically in the domino theory.

In order to support his argument, Petersen gave an example of a worker falling off a defective stepladder. The domino theory would attribute the cause of this accident to unsafe act/unsafe condition. The climbing of a defective ladder is an unsafe act, while the presence of a defective ladder would constitute the unsafe condition. The remedial measure would be to remove the defective ladder. However, this is treating the problem only superficially. The root cause is not yet identified and there could be a similar instance of a defective ladder present at other work sites, and similar accidents can happen in the future as well.

Using the multiple causation theory, the investigator would address issues such as—why the defective ladder was not found in normal inspections; why the supervisor allowed its use; whether the injured employee knew that he/she should not use the ladder; whether the employee was properly trained; whether the employee was reminded that the ladder was defective; and whether the supervisor examined the job first. Once all these causes and sub-causes are analysed, it would lead to an improved situation. Thus, using the multiple causation model the investigator would recommend improved inspection procedures, improved training, better definition of responsibilities, and pre-job planning by supervisors.

Accident causation was also tried to be explained using human error theories. Notable among them are the behavioural model and the human factor model. Proponents of the behavioural model believe that accidents are caused mainly due to the fault of workers. The behavioural models are based on the accident proneness of a person. It says that accidents are not randomly distributed and certain characteristics inherent in a person make him/her accident-prone. Under a similar set of circumstances, an accident-prone person is more likely to be involved in the accident than a person who is not accident-prone. The theory emanates from the analysis of accidents of a large population in which the majority of people have no accidents, small percentages have one accident, and a very small percentage (these are also referred to as ‘accident repeaters’) has multiple accidents. The explanation of the accidents of this small percentage of population is given by their innate propensity for accidents. Nevertheless, the theory could not explain the causation of a number of accidents, and some researchers believe the theory could explain accident causation in 10 per cent–15 per cent of accident cases at best. A number of theories were developed to explain the mystery of accident repeaters. Notable among these is ‘goals-freedom-alertness theory’. The theory states that safe work performance is the result of a psychologically rewarding work environment. Under the goals-freedom-alertness theory, accidents are viewed as low-quality work behaviour occurring in an unrewarding psychological climate, which does not contribute to a high level of alertness. The essence of the theory is that management should let a worker have a well-defined goal and give the worker the freedom to pursue that goal. The result will be that the worker focuses on the task that leads to that goal. The worker’s attentiveness to the job will reduce the probability of being involved in an injury. In other words, a worker who knows what to do on a job will be well focused on the task to be performed and, therefore, will be safe.

Ferrel’s theory (cited in Heinrich et al. 1980) is an important accident causation model under the ‘human factor model’ category. Ferrel developed the accident causation model based on a causal chain of human factors. He believed that accidents are caused due to human errors that result from (1) overload beyond the capacity of a human being, (2) incorrect response by the person due to incompatibility with which the human being is subjected to, and (3) performing an improper activity due to either lack of awareness or deliberately taking the risk. He emphasised the overload and incompatibility factors.

The ‘accident root-cause tracing model’ (ARCTM) developed by Abdelhamid and Everett (2000) helps in identifying the root cause of an accident in an easy manner. According to this model, accidents occur due to one or more of the three root causes—(1) failing to identify an unsafe condition that existed before an activity was started or that developed after an activity was started, (2) deciding to proceed with a work activity after the worker identifies an existing unsafe condition, and (3) deciding to act unsafe regardless of initial conditions of the work environment. In this model, a series of questions are asked, such as—how did the unsafe condition exist or develop; why did the worker decide to proceed with the work despite identifying the existing unsafe condition; does the worker know the correct procedure of doing the work; has the worker always/occasionally proceeded with the work despite identifying unsafe condition; and so on. Such systematic questioning guides the investigator to find out why the accident occurred, how the root cause of the accident developed, and how it could be eliminated.

Hinze developed the ‘distractions theory’ to explain accident causation in situations where there is an existence of (1) a recognized safety hazard or a mental distraction, and (2) a well-defined work task. She defined hazard as—(1) a physical condition with an inherent quality that can cause harm, and (2) the preoccupation with work-related or non-related issues such as approaching deadline, anticipated parties, or death in the family. The lower the distractions from a known hazard, the greater is the probability of completing a task safely. On the other hand, the higher the level of focus on the distractions posed by the hazard, the lower is the probability of achieving the task safely. Further, the theory claims that under similar hazardous and well-defined situations, the worker with the more heavy mental baggage (mental distraction) has the maximum chance not to complete the task in a safe manner.


The recognition that ‘any unintended occurrence’ is an accident is the first requirement of hazard control. It is altogether a different matter whether such accidents result in an injury or not. It can be observed that on many occasions the accidents do not cause any injury due to a number of reasons. In construction, for example, objects falling from a height may miss a person by a whisker. Such instances are also known as near misses and they are as important as accidents involving injuries.

According to a study conducted by Heinrich (1959), the ratio of ‘no injury’ to ‘minor injury’ to ‘major injury’ is 300:29:1 (refer to Figure 15.3). Underlying these minor injuries are numerous unsafe practices and unsafe conditions that, fortunately, may not result in any incident. Bird and Loftus (1982) have updated this ratio with further information on property damage accidents. According to this study, the ratio of ‘near-miss accidents’ to ‘property damaging accidents’ to ‘accidents involving minor injuries’ to ‘accidents involving serious or disabling injuries’ is 600:30:10:1 (see Figure 15.4). The moral of these ratio studies is that accident prevention must start with prevention of unsafe practices and unsafe conditions as well as of minor injuries.

Figure 15.3 Foundation of major injuries (Heinrich 1959)

Figure 15.4 Foundation of major accidents/injuries (Bird and Loftus 1982, cited in Mining Safety Handbook)

15.4.1 Unsafe Conditions

An unsafe condition is one in which the physical layout of the workplace or work location, and the status of tools, equipment and/or material are in violation of contemporary safety standards (Abdelhamid and Everett 2000). A few examples of unsafe conditions are:

  1. Defects of agencies such as rough, sharp, or slippery work, defective equipment, overloaded tools or equipment, defective ladders at site, and improperly constructed scaffolds
  2. Dress or apparel hazards such as lack of protective equipment and improper clothing
  3. Environmental hazards such as inadequate aisle space, insufficient work space, inadequate ventilation and improper illumination
  4. Placement hazards such as inadequately guarded, unguarded, unshielded, or protruding ends of reinforcing rods, protruding nails and wire ties, and unshored trenches

Some photographs showing unsafe conditions are given in Figure 15.5 and Figure 15.6. Toole (2002) identified some of the root causes of construction accidents and classified these under unsafe conditions. These conditions include lack of proper planning, deficient enforcement of safety, absence of safety equipment, unsafe methods or sequencing, unsafe site conditions such as poor housekeeping, broken ladder and structurally deficient work platform. Abdelhamid and Everett (2000) distinguish unsafe conditions in two categories depending on their occurrence in the work sequence and the person responsible to trigger them. Accordingly, we have an unsafe condition that exists before the work starts and an unsafe condition that develops after an activity has started. These two types of unsafe conditions are due to one of the following causes:

Figure 15.5 Unsafe conditions in labour hutment

Figure 15.6 Unsafe conditions—deep excavation without barricade and heavy vehicles plying very near the edge of deep excavation

  1. Management actions/inactions: For example, management may fail to provide proper or adequate personal protective equipment; fail to maintain or safeguard tools and equipment; and/or violate workplace standards by allowing slippery floors, insufficient ventilation, poor housekeeping, etc.


  2. Worker’s or co-worker’s unsafe acts: A worker or co-worker may be inexperienced or new on site, or may choose to act unsafe, all of which may lead to unsafe conditions for other workers. Examples of unsafe acts leading to unsafe conditions include removing machine safeguards, working while intoxicated, working with insufficient sleep, sabotaging equipment, disregarding housekeeping rules, unauthorized operation of equipment, and horseplay.


  3. Nonhuman-related event(s): Non-human-related events that may lead to unsafe conditions include systems, equipment, or tool failures, earthquakes, storms, etc.


  4. Unsafe condition is a natural part of the initial construction site conditions: Examples of unsafe conditions that are a natural part of the initial construction site conditions include uneven terrain, concealed ditches, and scattered metallic or non-metallic materials, etc. These unsafe conditions are usually removed during initial site preparations.

15.4.2 Unsafe Acts

An unsafe act may be an act of commission (doing something that is unsafe) or an act of omission (failing to do something that should have been done). Not every unsafe act produces an injury or a loss, but by definition it has the potential for producing an accident. A worker may commit unsafe acts regardless of the initial conditions of the work (i.e., whether the condition was safe or unsafe). A few examples of unsafe acts are the decision to proceed with work in unsafe conditions, disregarding standard safety procedures such as not wearing a hard hat or safety glasses, working while intoxicated, and working with insufficient sleep. Some more examples of unsafe acts are:

  • cleaning, oiling, adjusting, or repairing of moving electrically energized or pressurized equipment
  • failure to use available personal protective equipment (life-saving devices) such as safety helmet or hard hat, safety belt, fall arresters and safety net
  • improper use of equipment (overloading, etc.)
  • improper use of hands or body parts (gripping objects insecurely, using hands instead of hand tools, etc.)
  • taking unsafe positions or postures (under suspended loads, riding on forks of lift trucks, etc.)
  • unsafe placing, mixing, combining, etc.

Some photographs showing unsafe acts are given in figures 15.7 to 15.10. Some of the root causes of construction accidents identified by Toole (2002) under unsafe acts include:

  1. Not using safety equipment
  2. Poor attitude towards safety—for example, a tradesperson who has been trained on the proper use of ladders refuses to face the ladder when walking down it
  3. Isolated, sudden deviation from prescribed behaviour

The causes that lead to unsafe acts may include lack of knowledge or skill (unawareness of safe practices, unskilled, improper attitude such as disregard of instruction, etc.), and physical or mental deficiency (defective eyesight or hearing, fatigue, etc.). The detection and correction of unsafe acts must be given priority. It is preferable to be more careful on jobs with a history of accidents. There should not be any leniency in observing the safety rules.

Figure 15.7 Unsafe act—workers taking shelter under heavy vehicles

Figure 15.8 Unsafe act—worker in-between the reversing truck (without reverse horn) and the excavator

Figure 15.9 Worker near loosely tied excavator—sudden break applied by trailer crushed the worker

Figure 15.10 Unsafe act—workers being transported in open dumper

Some of the methods through which unsafe acts can be eliminated are:

  • Initial job instructions
  • Priority to engineering
  • Stressing the after-effects of an accident
  • Appeal to the worker’s love for his family
  • Showing disapproval of unsafe acts
  • Education

There are two major pieces of legislation governing health and safety law. These are:

  • Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Act 1996
  • Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Central Rules 1998

Allied to these are several statutory instruments governing safety. These are:

  • Factories Act 1948
  • The Delhi Building and Other Constructions Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Rules 2002
  • Indian Electricity Act 1948
  • Indian Electricity Regulations 1956
  • Motor Vehicle Act 1998

Although the Central Rules 1998 came into existence over 10 years back, the formulation and implementation of these rules at state level is yet to materialize. In order to make these rules operational, the states need to (1) establish a state advisory committee, (2) establish an expert committee, (3) establish a welfare board, (4) appoint inspectors, and (5) formulate rules applicable in the specific state.

15.5.1 Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Act 1996

The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1996, is divided into 11 chapters and contains 64 sections. The objectives of the safety and health provisions therein are—(1) to regulate the employment and conditions of service; (2) to provide for safety, health and welfare measures; and (3) to extend social security to the building and construction workers.

The provisions are applicable to even small establishments employing 10 workers in any building and other construction work, on any day of the year. An individual employing workers in relation to construction of his residence of value not more than Rs 10 lakh is not an establishment according to this act.

The term ‘building and other construction work’ has been defined to bring all such other activities under the definition of the term by notification. The act also puts the government departments and the contractors on the same footing as the employer. Any department of government employing construction workers directly without any contractor is liable for consequences of non-observance of law.

The act is applicable to every establishment that employs or had employed ten or more workers directly or through a contractor/subcontractor (undertaking to produce a given result or supplying building workers for any work of the establishment, excluding supply of goods or articles of manufacture). However, any building or construction work to which Factories Act, 1948, or Mines Act, 1952, apply is exempted from the BOCW provisions.

Chapter 7 of the act deals with safety and health measures. The important sections in this chapter are sections 38 and 39.

Section 38 deals with the safety committee and safety officers. It states that in every establishment wherein five hundred or more building workers are ordinarily employed, the employer shall constitute a safety committee consisting of such number of representatives of the employer and the building workers as may be prescribed by the state government. It is to be ensured that the number of persons representing the workers shall in no case be less than the persons representing the employer. Moreover, in every establishment the employer shall appoint a safety officer who shall possess such qualifications and perform such duties as may be prescribed.

Section 39 deals with the requirement of notice for certain accidents. For example, death and disability for 48 hours or more have to be informed by the employer to the authority. Enquiry by the authority within a month is a must in case of death to five or more persons.

The responsibility of employers is defined in Section 44 of Chapter 9. It states that an employer shall be responsible for providing constant and adequate supervision of any building or other construction work in his establishment so as to ensure compliance with the provisions of the act relating to safety, and for taking all practical steps necessary to prevent accidents.

Chapter 10 of the act deals in penalties and procedures. Section 47 is about penalty for contravention of provisions regarding safety measures. Section 48 discusses penalty for failure to give notice of the commencement of the building or other construction work, and Section 48 deals with penalty for obstructions.

15.5.2 Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Central Rules, 1998

The Central Rules are divided into five parts, and contains 30 chapters, 12 schedules and 26 forms. Part III comprises 20 chapters in which chapters VI to XXV deal with safety and health. Chapter II, Rule Number 5 deals with responsibilities and duties of employers, architects, project engineers and designers, building workers, etc. The employers have detailed responsibilities including:

  • to comply with requirements of rules
  • not to permit an employee to do anything not in accordance with the generally accepted principles of safe operating practices connected with building and other construction work
  • not to allow lifting appliances, lifting gear, lifting devices, transport equipment, vehicles, or any other device or equipment to be used by the building workers which do not comply with provision of rules
  • to maintain the latrines, urinals, washing facilities and canteen in a clean and hygienic condition
  • to ensure that adequate measures are taken to protect building workers against the harmful effects of excessive noise or vibration (Rule 34, Chapter VI)
  • to ensure that the site is provided with fire-extinguishing equipment sufficient to extinguish any probable fire (Rule 35, Chapter VI). The employer is to ensure that a sufficient number of trained persons are available to operate the fire-extinguishing equipment. The employer is also responsible to ensure that fire extinguishers are properly maintained and inspected at regular intervals of not less than one year
  • to ensure that emergency action plan is in place and is approved by the director general (Rule 36)
  • to ensure that all mechanical equipments are provided with required safety features such as guarded moving parts (Rule 37)
  • to ensure that workers do not lift or carry weight beyond prescribed limit, either by his hand or overhead (Rule 38)
  • to ensure that health and safety policy specifying the steps to be taken to ensure health and safety of workers is in place, and is duly approved by the director general (Rule 39)
  • to ensure the control of dust, gases, or fumes, and other harmful substances that may cause injuries if exposed beyond permissible concentration (Rule 40)

It is estimated that global losses on account of accidents every year are almost more than the total loss due to World Wars I and II combined. According to NSC-US estimates of 1996, occupational death and injuries cost the nation about US$121 billion. The total cost of accidents can be broken up into direct cost and indirect cost. Direct cost could be further broken up into direct cost to workers and direct cost to employers. Similarly, indirect cost can also be broken up into indirect cost to workers and indirect cost to employers.

Although there are no hard and fast rules to classify direct and indirect costs, some examples of direct cost and indirect cost are shown in Table 15.2 purely for illustration purposes. While classifying, we have assumed the definition of direct costs as those that are directly attributed to or associated with injuries. These costs are easier to quantify and can be recorded quite accurately. On the other hand, indirect costs are assumed to be those costs that are hidden and quantifying them would be very difficult as no historical records exist for them. Some people consider direct costs as only those costs that are recorded in the account books of a firm.


Table 15.2 Cost associated with an injury

Researches have been continuously carried out on the cost aspect of accidents to prove that accidents are unwanted and avoidable expenses, and that their cost is much more than is usually visible to the eye. Everett and Frank Jr (1996) found that the total cost of accidents amounted to between 7.9 per cent and 15 per cent of the total costs of construction, even without considering some intangible costs such as decreased employee morale, loss of image and greater turnover of employees.

Some researchers in the past have attempted to compute the ratio of indirect cost to direct cost. The values of these computed ratios vary. For example, Heinrich (1941) computed it to be 4:1, while Bird and Loftus (1979) computed it to be 10:1. Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO) has found that the average ratio of indirect to direct costs in Ontario construction is 5:1. On the basis of nearly 500 construction worker injuries, Hinze and Applegate (1991) found that the ratio of indirect to direct costs varied from 4.2 to 20.3 depending on the severity of the injury. The analysis also demonstrated that even the costs of minor injury could be considerable. As mentioned, there is no agreement in classifying indirect and direct costs, and hence, the ratios of indirect cost to direct cost often vary from one study to another. Nonetheless, the ratios point out that the indirect costs are quite high when compared to direct costs associated with an injury.

For contractors reluctant to invest in health and safety, the study conducted by Japan Industrial Safety and Health Association (JISHA) could be quite interesting. In the study, JISHA (2000) tried to find the quantitative relationship between expenses incurred on safety and their effects. The study revealed that investment in safety pays, yielding 2.7 times as much returns as the expenses incurred on safety—in other words, a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.7. CSAO is also of the opinion that although the investment in safety may cost money in the short term, it definitely pays in the long run. Joseph (1999) in his study on projects involving steel erection showed that actual profit can increase by 5 per cent to 10 per cent for an investment of 1 per cent to 3 per cent in safety, and concluded that safety costs money and can save money. Empirical researches have also shown that the higher the safety investment in a project, the lower the injury rates and the higher the profit.


According to OSHA, contractors are responsible for providing a safe place of employment to their workers. If the contractor employs subcontractors, then he has the additional responsibility of providing a hazard-free workplace to the workers of subcontractors. The owner, designers and engineers also play an important role in the safety practices prevailing at site. Some of the design decisions go a long way in ensuring the overall safety of a project. Toole (2002), based on a survey, finds that there is no uniform agreement on the site safety responsibilities that should be assumed by design engineers, contractors and subcontractors.

Section 209 of the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2002, states the requirement of a safety officer. It says that appointment of safety officer is a must for works employing 500 or more workers. For strength up to 1,000, one safety officer is a must, while two safety officers are required for workers up to 2,000. Likewise, depending on the strength of workers present at construction site, the number of safety officers required to be present is specified.

Some employers believe that by appointing the safety officer they have met the statutory requirement, and that the safety officer would be accountable to ensure the safety of workers at site. However, this is not the case entirely. The various duties of a safety officer as stipulated in the law will help clarify the confusion, and these are mentioned below:

  • To advise the building workers for effective control of injuries
  • To advise on safety aspects to carry out detailed safety studies
  • To check and evaluate effectiveness of action
  • To advise on purchasing and ensuring quality of personal protective equipment
  • To carry out safety inspections of building
  • To investigate all fatal and other selected accidents
  • To investigate the cases of occupational disease
  • To advise on maintenance of records related to accidents, etc.
  • To promote the working of the safety committee
  • To organize campaigns, contests and other such activities
  • To design and conduct training and educational programme
  • To frame safe rules and safe working practices
  • To supervise and guide safety precautions

It can be seen that the role of a safety officer is that of an advisor, similar to any other support function in an organization. Thus, it is not appropriate to hold the safety officer accountable for accidents occurring at the workplace. The onus of ensuring safety lies with the line personnel, to build in the required safety measures in all the work executed under their supervision.

Employers need to ensure that safety officers are provided with all such facilities, equipment and information that are necessary to enable them to perform their duties effectively. The law also specifies that the safety officer should not be required or permitted to do any work that is unconnected to, inconsistent with, or detrimental to the performance of the duties prescribed above.


The Times of India (July 12, 2004) citing ILO reported that worldwide some 6,000 workers die everyday from occupational accidents and diseases. The report further said that of the almost 270 million accidents recorded each year, about 350,000 result in fatalities—in other words, one in every 771 accidents results in death. About 2.2 million work-related fatalities and 60 million work-related illnesses occur annually.

Some of the causes leading to accidents, such as unsafe acts of workers and co-workers, unsafe conditions, management action/inaction, workers’ attitude and the stresses to which they are subjected, were cursorily mentioned while discussing accident causation models. Here, we summarize some commonly observed causes of accidents without using any classification. Accidents can occur at construction sites on account of:

  • Lack of planning and organization
  • Defects in technical planning
  • Fixing unsuitable time limits and targets too difficult to achieve
  • Assignment of work to incompetent contractors
  • Insufficient or defective supervision
  • Lack of cooperation among different crafts
  • Inadequate examination of equipment
  • Inadequate preparation for work
  • Inadequate instructions concerning work
  • Employment of unskilled or insufficiently trained workers
  • Inadequate supervision of work
  • Workers’ irresponsible behaviour, unauthorized action and carelessness
  • Faulty construction such as collapse of walls and other building parts
  • Lack of necessary equipment and use of unsuitable equipment
  • Structural or other defects in equipment being used
  • Lack of safety devices or measures
  • Unsuitable building materials and
  • defective processing of building materials
  • Collapse of stacks, masses of earth, etc.
  • Collapse and overturning of ladders, scaffolds, stairs, beams, etc.
  • Fall of objects, tools, pieces of work, etc.
  • Fall of persons from ladders, stairs, roofs, scaffolds, buildings, through some openings, etc.

Analysis results of about 500 accidents in a large construction company are shown in Table 15.3. It shows that falls from elevation/height constitute about 32 per cent of all fatalities. This is followed by mechanical impact (caught in/between machinery), fall of objects, vehicles and electrocutions, in that order.

Further analysis of falls from the source data of Table 15.3 reveals that falls from height are most common (close to 40 per cent of total ‘fall accident’ cases; see Figure 15.11) in projects involving height of less than 10 metres. This can be attributed to negligence, overconfidence and failure to use protective equipments at lesser heights.


Table 15.3 Causes of fatalities (based on about 500 accidents in a large construction company)

Causes of accident mentioned in Table 15.3 were categorized into the following categories:

  • unsafe act by victim
  • unsafe act by co-worker

Figure 15.11 Analysis of falls

  • unsafe condition
  • victim at fault as well as unsafe condition
  • others

The analysis results are shown in Figure 15.12. It was found that in the majority of cases (about 53 per cent), the victims themselves were at fault. The analysis further showed that victims were at fault mainly due to their incompatibility with the work they were performing, non-adherence to personnel protective equipments (PPE), and their carelessness and overconfidence (see figures 15.13 to 15.15 as well).

Improper earthing of the body of machinery, poorly maintained cables and violation of work permits during shutdowns were the major causes of electrocution. Accidents involving machinery were mainly caused due to unauthorized movement or resting behind the machinery, and also due to carrying out of maintenance when the machine was in operation, or vice versa.


Figure 15.12 Causes of accident

Figure 15.13 Victims at fault

Figure 15.14 Break-up of fall from height (unsafe conditions)

Figure 15.15 Non-adherence to PPE

Absence of guardrails and working platforms along with improper housekeeping and lack of supervision were the major unsafe conditions causing most construction falls. Since non-adherence to personal protective equipments caused nearly 90 per cent of ‘falls from height’ to be fatalities, it was further analysed. It emerged that both improper tying of safety belt and failure to use safety belt were almost equally responsible for the ‘fall from height’ accidents.

Travelling in vehicles/trailers meant for transporting of materials was the major reason for accidents involving vehicles. The other reasons were sloppy ground conditions, rash driving and poor condition of vehicles.

Accidents due to falling of objects resulted due to hazardous areas left uncordoned, improper stacking of materials, and carrying out of secondary activities in the vicinity of hazardous activity.

Based on the assumption that identifying the causes of fatalities could be helpful in developing a prevention strategy, a number of similar studies were carried out in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries. The analysis results pertaining to the United States and the United Kingdom are shown in Table 15.4 and Table 15.5, respectively. It may be mentioned that by showing the statistics here, we are not trying to compare the results for different countries. This is not possible anyway, as there is lack of common classification and the periods in which the data were collected are not uniform either. However, one thing that is common is that falls from height or elevation are one of the major causes of accidents in construction industry. The majority of accidents can be averted through common sense, some awareness and slight investment in safety gadgets.


Table 15.4 Distribution of construction accidents (USA—1985–89)

Falls from elevation


Shocks electrical


Struck by incidents


Caught in-between incidents




Table 15.5 Distribution of construction accidents (UK—1998–99)

Falls from height


Slips, trips, or falls


Struck by moving or falling objects


Injured while lifting, handling and carrying




Dan Petersen (1989) mentions ten basic principles of safety. These are:

  1. An unsafe act, an unsafe condition, and an accident are all symptoms of something wrong in the management system.
  2. We can predict that certain sets of circumstances will produce severe injuries. These circumstances can be identified and controlled.
  3. Safety should be managed like any other company function. Management should direct the safety effort by setting achievable goals and by planning, organizing and controlling to achieve them.
  4. The key to effective line-safety performance is management procedures that fix accountability.
  5. The function of safety is to locate and define the operational errors that allow accidents to occur. This function can be carried out in two ways:
    • by asking why accidents happen—searching for their root causes
    • by asking whether certain known effective controls are being utilized
  6. The causes of unsafe behaviour can be identified and classified. Some of the classifications are—overload (the improper matching of a person’s capacity with the load); traps; and the worker’s decision to error. Each cause is one that can be controlled.
  7. In most cases, unsafe behaviour is normal human behaviour; it is the result of normal people reacting to their environment. Management’s job is to change the environment that leads to unsafe behaviour.
  8. There are three major subsystems that must be dealt with in building an effective safety system:
    1. The physical
    2. The managerial
    3. The behavioural
  9. The safety system should fit the culture of the organization.
  10. There is no one right way to achieve safety in an organization; however, for a safety system to be effective, it must meet certain criterions. The system must:
    • force supervisory performance
    • involve middle management
    • have top management visibly showing their commitment
    • have employee participation
    • be flexible
    • be perceived as positive

Many of these principles are just principles without tested techniques available, while others have well-tested methods available (Petersen 1989).


Petersen in his principles of safety management mentions that safety should be managed like any other company function. Thus, in order to manage the project schedule, a construction company plans the manpower and other resources; these plans are monitored and, depending on the deviation, control measures are applied. In a similar manner, the management should direct the safety effort by having a proper safety and health management system in place. The key functions of the safety management systems are—planning for safety; organizing for safety; issuing directions for safety; and coordinating and controlling various safety issues. Planning for safety may include developing a safety and health policy, evaluating the policy from time to time, setting goals for safety and creating a budget for safety-related expenditures. Organizing for safety includes activities such as development of a safety organization structure, defining the roles and responsibilities, delegating authorities, and education and training for safety. Developing a proper communication system, standard operating procedures and a safety manual are parts of the directing function. Constitution of a safety committee can be considered under the coordinating function, while under the controlling function we define the mechanism for accident reporting, investigation, record keeping, and so on. Some of the important components of a safety management system are discussed next.

15.10.1 Safety Policy and Organization

It may be recalled that the third principle of Dan Petersen mentions that ‘safety should be managed like any other company function’. This implies that safety is a line responsibility. For the line management to accept this responsibility, the top management should clearly explain and stress the same by issuing a document in the form of guidelines, i.e., a safety policy. In the other part of the same principle, it is said that ‘management should direct achievable goals by planning, organizing and controlling’.

A safety policy is management’s first step in implementing the above-said principle. A written safety policy removes any confusion regarding the objectives, directives and distribution of responsibilities in this regard. Construction companies formulate safety policy to show management’s commitment to provide a safe and healthy work environment to all its employees. These are prominently displayed in different languages so that every worker is familiar about the existing policy.

As per Rule 39 of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Central Rules, 1998, it is mandatory to have a written statement of policy in respect of safety and health of building workers if the number of employees is fifty or more. As per this rule, the safety policy should contain:

  1. the intentions and commitments of the establishment regarding health, safety and environmental protection of building workers;
  2. the arrangements made to carry out the policy referred to in clause (a) specifying the responsibility at different levels of hierarchy;
  3. the responsibilities of the principal employer, contractor, subcontractor, transporter, or other agencies involved in the building or other construction work;
  4. the techniques and methods for assessment of risk to safety, health and environmental and remedial measures therefore; and
  5. the arrangements for training of building workers, trainers, supervisors, or other persons engaged in the construction work.

The rule also mentions that the establishment shall revise the policy in case there is an expansion or modification in the scope of work carried out by the organization, or if a new building or other construction work, substances, articles, or techniques are introduced having implication on the health and safety of building workers.

Thus, it can be seen that safety policy is a document that, if properly prepared and implemented, can play a vital role in enhancing construction safety in an organization.

15.10.2 Safety Budget

In order to generate safety awareness and to provide different safety gadgets to workers and employees, construction companies plan for a safety budget. Some organizations have a separate safety budget for each of the project sites. From this budget, the purchase of PPE and other safety gadgets are made. However, investment in safety is yet to be realized as a necessary expenditure. It is commonly observed that project managers of sites with low margin tend to cut down on their safety budget. In order to safeguard against such practices adopted by some project managers, experts suggest delinking of safety budget from site margin. They suggest that expenditure in safety be taken under general overhead, and the safety budget be made at head office. The head office must supply the required safety gadgets to different project sites irrespective of the margins being realized at these sites.

15.10.3 Safety Organization

The organization of safety on the construction site is determined by the size of worksite, the system of employment, and the way in which the project is being organized. Safety and health records should be kept which facilitate the identification and resolution of safety and health problems on the site. In construction projects where subcontractors are used, the contract should clarify the responsibilities, duties and safety measures that are expected of the subcontractors’ workforce. These measures may include the provision and use of specific safety equipments, the methods of carrying out specific tasks safely, and the inspection and appropriate use of tools. The person in-charge at the site should also ensure that materials, equipments and tools meet minimum safety standards. Training should be conducted at all levels including for managers, supervisors and workers; subcontractors and their workers may also need to be trained in site-safety procedures because teams of specialist workers may mutually affect each other’s safety.

There should also be a system so that site management has prompt information about unsafe practices and defective equipment. Safety and health duties should be specifically assigned to certain persons. Some examples of duties are listed below:

  • Provision, construction and maintenance of safety facilities such as access roadways, pedestrian route, barricade and overhead protection
  • Construction and installation of safety signs
  • Safety provisions peculiar to each trade
  • Testing of lifting machinery such as cranes, goods hoists and lifting gears
  • Inspection and rectification of access facilities such as scaffolds and battens
  • Inspection and cleaning of welfare facilities such as toilets, clothing, accommodation and canteen
  • Transmission of relevant parts of the safety plan to each work group
  • Emergency and evacuation plans

One of the important functions of safety management system is safety organization. Section 40-B of Factories Act, 1948, also requires that every factory wherein 1,000 or more workers are ordinarily employed should have qualified safety officer(s).

Obviously, since the line has primary safety responsibility, the safety officer is, and must be, a staff function and is not directly responsible for safety results. His job responsibilities involve activities that help the line achieve safety standards. The safety officer has no authority over the line. He may have a great deal of influence but this is quite different from authority. In order to make the safety officer influential, it is important that he reports directly to the top executive and is given proper status. The safety professional in any organization obtains results by using either of two methods—1) makes recommendations to line executive, who issues an order, or 2) obtain acceptance of his suggestion voluntarily from line supervisors without taking the chain of command route. More often than not, the purposes of the safety officer are accomplished by the second method.

15.10.4 Education and Training

Unsafe action is one of the main contributing factors for most of the industrial accidents. While the action of any individual at any given time is controlled by various factors, the individual’s knowledge and skill also play an important role. It is important to expose the workers, supervisors and line managers to various educational and training programmes that impart sufficient knowledge and help them to improve their skills in their work. Such training programmes should not be a one-time affair and the experienced employees should also be given refresher training. Change of jobs, whether it is to a different department or to a different employer, means adjustment for the individual, and he or she should be provided with a well-structured appreciation programme. In all such training programmes, pertinent safety information should be given adequate coverage and particular emphasis should be given on the company’s policy towards safety.

Induction Programmes

Induction programmes for new recruits focus on basic safety requirements of the project and significant features of the construction work relating to safety. New recruits are given relevant safety literature, booklets, etc., that lay emphasis on the importance of safety at the workplace. How to avoid accidents, how to contribute to project goals related to safety performance, illustration of safe work methods for relevant construction activities, how to keep the workplace tidy and injury-free, how to use personnel protective equipments, and so on, are some of the topics covered in an induction programme. Besides, induction programmes inform new workers about the main hazards and risks involved in the construction activity of the project, the emergency procedures, the safety rules and regulations to be followed at work site, etc. Companies make it mandatory that all workers and employees attend the safety induction course prior to starting their work.

Toolbox Talks

Considered to be one of the most effective ways to eliminate accidents, toolbox talks (TBT) are a short meeting of the individual work groups assigned for a particular task before its physical commencement. The meeting is held each morning very near to the workplace and is attended by the staff of general contractor and subcontractor (if the work is sublet by the general contractor), supervisor, foreman and workers. Some of the issues discussed at a TBT are the work plan and procedures for the day, the identification of possible hazards, the PPE, the safety tools and equipment to be used, and the visual checks on the health of each worker.

15.10.5 Safety Plan

Modern construction requires a safety plan to be prepared before the actual commencement of construction activity. The safety plan gives the method statement in detail to be adopted for the particular construction activity. It includes the description of the activity to be accomplished, the time available for the activity, the details of hazards, if any, present to the workforce, and the allocation of resources for managing safety aspects. The contractor is supposed to prepare the safety plan and submit it to the owner, who approves it if it is found appropriate.

15.10.6 Safety Manual

Most construction companies these days establish and maintain a comprehensive set of safety rules and regulations in order to achieve better safety performance of the projects executed by them. Safety manuals contain a wide range of details such as—safe ways to operate and maintain the construction equipment, safe ways to store and handle construction materials, procedures to report hazards in construction activities to the concerned person, and cleanliness and housekeeping to be observed at workplace. The new recruits (workers and subcontractors) in the companies are encouraged to be familiar with the provisions of the safety manual.

15.10.7 Safety Committee

The safety committee is made with the primary objective of bringing together people with particular responsibilities for safety, so that they can formally address issues and take appropriate actions with regard to the work-site safety management objectives. It is desirable to conduct safety meetings frequently. Needless to say, such safety committees can be effective only when the duties and responsibilities of committee members are clearly spelt out. The committee is entrusted with the following responsibilities:

  • To confirm if the management of safety and health is being properly carried out by all the parties concerned
  • To ensure that the construction work is being performed safety and smoothly, complying with safety rules and regulations
  • To conduct safety inspection of the entire site prior to the safety committee meeting
  • To coordinate and control congested or hazardous working conditions of the subcontractors
  • To resolve safety issues submitted by any subcontractor
  • To increase subcontractors’ safety knowledge and safety awareness
  • To enforce safety training programmes
  • To participate and organize safety promotional activities
  • To promote and maintain housekeeping and waste disposal at the highest standards
  • To review safety statistics of previous month and to review safety practices laid down by management

As mentioned under health and safety regulations under BOCW (RE & CS) Central Rules, 1998, the requirement of safety committee is laid out for building and construction works wherein 500 or more workers are ordinarily employed. According to Section 208 of the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2002, safety committee is a must for building construction works employing more than 500 workers. The committee must have an equal number of representatives of employer and building workers. The main functions of such committees are given elsewhere in this text.

15.10.8 Incentive Programmes

Construction companies develop different procedures to recognize and acknowledge good safety performance by individual workers, teams and subcontractors. Companies have different means to show appreciation of the good work done by individuals, teams and subcontractors.

15.10.9 Accident Reporting, Investigation and Record Keeping

It is one of the important parts of a safety management system to report and investigate accidents. It is also one of the requirements under Section 88 of Factories Act, 1948, that the occurrence of reportable accidents and certain dangerous occurrences be notified to the inspector of factories.

Accident reporting and investigation should invariably start from the foreman/supervisor and line managers concerned. The safety officer should be involved in investigation of serious and fatal accidents. In all cases, the accident investigation should aim at tracing contributing factors to determine their underlining causes, instead of only being a fault-finding exercise.

Apart from reporting accidents to the inspector of factories, which is a legal requirement, it is equally or rather more important that the chief executive of the organization is kept well-informed about the accident records and their investigation reports. This can be done by sending him a monthly report, which should necessarily include:

  1. frequency rate of accidents;
  2. severity rate of accidents;
  3. total time lost due to accidents;
  4. cost of accidents;
  5. findings; and
  6. actions recommended to avoid recurrence.

These details should be provided not only for the company as a whole, but also for each individual plant or department. Such presentations are more likely to convince the supervisors or line managers of the desirability of devoting attention more actively to the prevention of accidents than had been done in the past.

Apart from reporting and recording major accidents, it is extremely important that accidents of minor nature be recorded as well. The accident that results in a minor injury (or non-injury) today, may cause serious injury or even death of a worker tomorrow.

15.10.10 Incident Investigation and Analysis

Accident investigation is conducted primarily to determine direct cause(s) for the accident and to determine what other causes contributed to the direct cause. It is also aimed at preventing similar accidents from occurring in the future by properly documenting different facts pertaining to the accident, including information on cost aspects associated with the accident. Thus, in essence, it is aimed at fact-finding and not fault-finding. The investigation should be carried out for every accident, incident and near-misses.

More often than not, accidents are caused due to multiple causes such as operator error, faulty design of the system, mechanical failure, procedures, inadequate training, and environment. In many cases, the tendency of the investigator is to pinpoint a single cause such as ‘operator error’ and so on as the cause of an accident. This may not help the purpose of conducting an accident investigation.

Some other reasons cited for not meeting the objectives of accident investigations are—investigation is done by an inexperienced and uninformed investigator; reluctance of an investigator to accept the facts; interpreting the facts wrongly; and forming biased opinion. Sometimes, delay in investigating accidents and poor interviewing techniques may also lead to failure. Also, if adequate time is not spent in investigation, and facts are not segregated from opinion expressed by witnesses, the accident investigation may fail to achieve its objective.

The investigation may be performed by the immediate supervisor, the head of department, the safety officer, or even the top management people individually or in a team. An accident can also be investigated by any expert third-party or a cross-functional team formed from within the organization.

In order to assist the investigation process, it is desirable that the investigator keeps himself equipped with a tool kit consisting of—camera(s), including films; lighting/torch; tape recorder/personal Dictaphone; mobile telephone/communication; thermometer; tape measure; clipboard/pens; coloured chalk; tape black/yellow/quarantine marked; PPE; protective gloves/latex; absorbent cloths/tissues; and resealable plastic bags. The kit helps in gathering and recording information.

The responsibilities of the investigating team include—assuming control of the accident scene; preventing further injury/damage/loss; preserving evidence; recording facts; preventing interference with environmental evidence; isolating and interviewing genuine witnesses/staff/persons in the vicinity of accident; checking relevant documentation; communicating and liaisoning with other team members and management; coordinating ongoing investigation information; preparing complete accident investigation report; determining causes of accidents and suggesting preventive measures; and dealing with the media.

The three important tasks to be performed in the accident investigation process are:

Gathering Information

The facts could be in the form of physical evidence such as reports, equipment details, documents and procedural manuals, or in the form of eyewitness account. The background information related to the project site is also useful. It is advisable to secure the accident site. The interviews of people connected with the accident are also a useful source of information and it is required that the investigating team be good at interviewing.

For physical evidence, some of the points that must be noted are—position of injured workers; equipments being used; materials being used; safety devices in use; position of appropriate guards; position of controls of machinery; damage to equipment; housekeeping of area; weather conditions; and lighting and noise levels.

Eyewitness accounts are primary sources of firsthand information related to the accident and it is desirable to interview any eyewitness as early as possible. It is to be noted that the investigator should not get carried away by perceptions and opinions of eyewitnesses, and it is essential to filter out the facts from the perceptions and opinions of eyewitnesses. The statements, if any, taken from the eye witnesses should preferably be in the written form and in a language in which the witness is comfortable.

The interviews of eyewitnesses reveal useful information and it is desirable to ask open-ended questions. The witnesses are kept at ease at the time of interviewing. Some of the do’s suggested for interviewing are—explaining the purpose of the interview; letting the witness talk and listen; confirming that the statement obtained is correct; maintaining eye contact with the interviewee; and making short notes during the interview. Some don’ts are—intimidating the witness; interrupting; prompting; asking directional questions; showing one’s own emotions; and making notes while witness is talking.

There are certain typical questions asked during the interview. Some examples are—Where were you at the time of the accident? What were you doing at the time? What did you see and hear? What were the environmental conditions such as weather, lights and noise? What was the injured doing at the time of accident? In your opinion, what caused the accident? How can such accidents be prevented in future?

The evidences are to be recorded in a structured form, such as an investigation form developed by the construction organization. It is imperative that relevant portions of this form be filled up. For example, some sections of the form may be required to be filled up by medical personnel, some by supervisor(s), some by manager(s), and some by the safety officer.

While recording evidence related to equipment, points such as model/make, serial number and age of the equipment are noted. The intended and actual use of the equipment is noted. The maintenance record of the equipment and any modification made in the equipment since its first installation are also noted.

The evidences on documents and procedures dealing with risk assessment; technical instructions; permits to work; method statements; records of training; and records of previous problems/accidents are collected. All documentation must be made accessible to the investigating team. The evidences used must be recorded carefully, cross-referenced and signed by their originators.

The evidence of surroundings of the accident is also recorded. For this, the area/deal with any injured person(s) is isolated first and the position of injured person(s) is recorded based on witness account, after which some schematic sketch is prepared. The prevailing environment condition is noted, as are the time and date of the accident. The details of the injured person such as his/her name, date of birth, employment and training details, and number of years of experience are recorded as well.

The four key areas for which evidence must be recorded are—witness of the accident, equipments, documents and procedural manuals, and the injured person himself. The five-factor model for investigation suggests recording the details of (1) task; (2) manual; (3) environment; (4) personnel; and (5) management.

Some of the questions that must be addressed for the task in which the accident took place are—was a safe work procedure followed; were conditions changed to unsafe during the course of execution of the task; were appropriate tools used for performing the task; were safety devices working properly; and so on. If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, the causes of their absence are further explored.

Questions related to materials include—was there an equipment failure; what caused it to fail; was the machine properly designed; what hazardous substances were involved; and was the required PPE used. Environment-related questions that need attention are—what was the weather condition; is housekeeping a problem; was it too hot or too cold; was noise a problem; was there adequate light; were gases, fumes and dust present; and so on.

Some questions relating to personnel involved with the injury are—were the workers experienced; were they trained; were they physically fit; and were they tired. Some issues related to management that needs to be addressed are—were the safety rules communicated; were the work procedures available and enforced; was the supervision adequate; was the safety plan in place; and were the workers trained to do the work.

Analysis of Data

This involves developing the sequence of events and identifying the causes that led to the accident. What happened; why it happened; how it happened; and how can it be prevented are some of the issues that are considered. Essentially, this part of the accident investigation is concerned with finding the answers to the sequence of events leading to the accident, the identification of causes and failures that led to the accident, and the corrective measures that need to be taken to avoid recurrence of such accidents. The identification of causes leading to the accident must not only show the direct cause, but also point out the indirect causes such as system weaknesses that produced the surface causes for the accident.

Recommending Corrective Action

This involves suggesting and recommending improvements to avoid the recurrence of such accidents in future, as well as preparing a comprehensive accident investigation report.

In a typical situation, the corrective measures suggested at the end of an investigation process relate to strengthening the engineering control measures (such as elimination, substitution, isolation and physical protection) or the management control measures (such as development of safe procedures, supervision and training), and to the strict usage of personal protective equipments. Depending on the situation and the lapses, the measures suggested could either be in isolation or in combination of the above-suggested measures.

The investigation should provide a coherent and structured description of the events leading up to the accident. While preparing the report, the objectives of the report and their intended user should be kept in mind. It must be simple in language and avoid ambiguous sentences. Adjectives should be used minimally. The conclusions should be brief and adhere to the point. Finally, the report should contain a rational view of ‘what should be done’ as remedial measures to avoid the recurrence of such accidents.

In brief, a successful accident investigation process should incorporate—a causal model representing a ‘system-based approach’; inputs of key, relevant individuals; procedures/protocols to structure and support the investigation; identification of both immediate and underlying causes; recommendations that address the latter; and development of an accessible database.

15.10.11 Accident Statistics and Indices

Accident statistics are maintained primarily for—(1) designing preventive measures and making people safety-conscious; (2) enabling inter- and intra-company comparisons in different time periods; and (3) understanding whether a particular preventive measure adopted by management has resulted in improvement. Based on the principle of ‘what gets measured, gets improved’, a number of safety indices/indicators have been proposed. Given below are the definition and explanation of some of the indicators taken from IS:3786.

Frequency Rate

The accident frequency rate is expressed in terms of the number of deaths and injuries in occupational accidents per one million work-hours in the aggregate. The frequency rate is obtained by dividing the number of lost-time injuries and the number of reportable lost-time injuries (multiplied by one million according to IS:3786; OSHA suggests multiplication by 200,000) in occupational accidents that occurred during the survey period, by the total number of man-hours for all workers who were exposed to risks in the same period. Thus, we have:

It may be noted that Indian Standards distinguish between lost-time injury and reportable lost-time injury. Lost-time injury is the one in which the injury require only a little bit of medical attention and the worker returns to his work quickly. A reportable lost-time injury is one that may result in worker absenteeism for more than 48 hours (a clear two days after accident has occurred, leaving the day of accident) and is supposed to be reported by statute to the appropriate authority. The reportable injury may be fatal or non-fatal, with different degrees of injuries. In order to get the frequency rate of fatal injuries alone, the above formula can be modified in the following manner:

FC is also referred to as fatality rate. ILO suggests computation of frequency rate for fatal and non-fatal injuries separately. It further suggests that the denominator should ideally be the number of hours actually worked by workers in the reference group. If this is not possible, it may be calculated on the basis of normal hours of work, taking into account entitlements to periods of paid absence from work, such as paid vacations, paid sick leaves and public holidays. IS Code suggests that man-hours should include managerial, supervisory, professional, technical, clerical and other workers including contractors’ labour.

Severity Rate

The severity rate of new cases of occupational injury is defined in the following manner:

In all the above formulae, the reference period such as the month, the quarter, or the year must be clearly identified.

In order to simplify the above computations, IS:3786 has characterized the man-days lost due to fatality and different types of disablement. For example, if the accident has resulted in the death of a worker, the corresponding lost time is equivalent to 6,000 man-days. Code specifies that lost time corresponding to loss of one thumb is considered equivalent to 1,800 man-days; loss of one eye is considered equivalent to lost time of 2,400 man–days; and so on. The lost time prescribed corresponding to fatality and other types of disablement varies across countries. For example, Japanese code considers lost time in fatality as equivalent to 7,500 man-days.

Incidence Rate

It is defined as the ratio of the number of injuries to the number of persons during the period under review. It is expressed as the number of injuries per 1,000 persons employed. Like the frequency rate, the incidence rate may be calculated both for lost-time injuries and reportable lost-time injuries as given below:

According to ILO guidelines, incidence rate may be calculated separately for fatal and non-fatal injuries. The number of workers in the reference group should be the average for the reference period. In calculating the average, account should be taken of the hours normally worked by those persons.

Other Indices

Recent researches in the safety field has indicated that the parameters mentioned above cannot in isolation accurately capture the safety perormance of a contractor and, accordingly, researchers have suggested other measures such as EMR (experience modification rate), loss ratio, and workmen’s compensation claim frequency.

EMR is employer-specific and takes into account the claim history of the employer, and the frequency and the severity of injuries associated with the employer. It gives proper weightage to minor injuries and major injuries in such a way that excessive occurrence of minor injuries penalizes the employer as well as not more severe alteration of EMR with occurrence of major injuries.

Loss ratio is the ratio of cost of claims to premium paid to the insuring agency. Loss ratio of more than one indicates that the cost of claims is more than the premiums paid to the insuring agency. Insurance company paid more in claims than it received as premiums from the contracting company.

15.10.12 Safety Inspection

Periodic inspections are extremely important to ensure that the activities in a project are performed according to management’s intentions. The inspection should be carried out by line supervisors and managers, usually in consultation with the safety officer. The inspection should be aimed to control potential hazards if noticed during inspection. Normally, the personnel carrying out inspection have a checklist and the compliance or non-compliance corresponding to each point in the checklist is noted. Findings of the inspection should be made known to those responsible for taking corrective action.

15.10.13 Safety Audit

A safety audit is a systematic measurement and evaluation of the way in which an organization manages its health and safety programme against a series of specific and attainable standards. Fundamentally, a safety audit subjects each aspect of an organization’s activities to a critical examination with the objective of minimizing injury and loss. The entire programme should be audited internally and externally (at some specified period by a third party) to determine its overall strengths and weaknesses. This step should be followed by recommendations of achievable targets to be met in subsequent audits. Safety auditing is, therefore, an ongoing process underpinning effective health and safety management (Ahmed 2000, Journal of Management in Engineering, November–December 2000). The management system ensures that such audits are carried out at agreed frequency and that corrective actions are taken.

15.10.14 Workers’ Health and First-aid Facilities

Healthy workers are the biggest asset for any industrial unit. Management system should take due care of workers’ health. At all such places in a factory where there is a risk of toxic chemical exposure or poisoning or any other occupational disease, the workers should be subjected to periodical medical examination. This will help management to take timely corrective measures and will save them from the botherations of protracted litigations, payment of compensations and other penalties. This will also induce a sense of confidence in workers and make them feel that their health is being really taken care of. This is also one of the requirements under sections 87 and 41(c) of the Factories Act, 1948. The management system should also ensure that an adequate number of first-aid boxes are maintained in good condition and replenished periodically to ensure that these always contain all the necessary items.

Effective safety management system is most essential to ensure safety in any organization. The best technical safety systems such as machine guarding, fire safety, chemical safety and waste disposal may be of little or no yield in the absence of a well-established safety management system.


Analysis of accidents conducted over a long period of time has suggested certain crucial aspects, as explained here.

New workers are more vulnerable to injuries at project sites. There is evidence that frequency of injuries comes down if the workers are given formal orientation before they are inducted into construction activities at a project site. In the orientation, workers should be introduced to the key persons such as project manager, safety manager, concerned foreman, charge hand and fellow crewmembers. They should also be briefed about the job layout, the hazardous areas, the objectives of the project, the key dates in the project, and the do’s and don’ts at the project site. There must be a regular feedback mechanism to check whether the worker needs orientation again.

Also, a high rate of employee turnover is found to have an adverse impact on the frequency of injuries. That is, if a company is able to retain its workforce for project after project, it has better safety records. Workers working with familiar colleagues have fewer chances to be involved in an accident.

The chances of accidents are reduced if the top management involves itself in safety-related reviews of project sites. The involvement could be in the form of site visits or it could even be telephonic contacts. If workers perceive that top management is concerned about the safety performance on a project, it helps in reduction of accidents.

If the evaluation criteria include overall performance including safety, and does not concentrate on meeting cost and schedule objectives alone, the frequency of accidents reduces. If the top management is involved in reviewing the accident statistics, it has a favourable impact on the frequency of injuries.

It is noteworthy that if the margin on a project is less and the project has been won amidst stiff competition, chances are that the accident frequency will go up. It has been found that projects in which there were four or less bidders have shown less frequency of injuries when compared to projects where there were more than four bidders. The reason is that companies having won the bid on low margin try to cut corners to maximize their gains, and the first casualty in such cases is the safety budget for the project. One possible correction as suggested by Hinze is to consider safety in the category of general overheads and to delink it from the project cost. By doing so, the project manager would not be compromising on safety appliances such as safety helmet, safety belt and other basic safety accessories even for projects having low margin.

It has been found that the accident rates for contractors that keep records of accidents by projects are substantially lower than those for companies that do not keep these records.



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  1. State whether True or False:
    1. Accidents are defined as an event that is planned, desired, expected and controlled, and without any loss in property, time, money and other assets.
    2. Five dominoes used by Heinrich are—social environment and ancestry, fault of person, unsafe act/condition, accident and injury.
    3. ‘Goals freedom alertness theory’ states that safe work performance is the result of a psychologically rewarding work environment.
    4. Accident root cause tracing model’ proposes three root causes of accidents—failure to identify an unsafe condition, deciding to proceed with a work activity after worker identifies an existing unsafe condition, and deciding to act unsafe regardless of initial work conditions.
    5. An unsafe act may be an act of commission (doing something that is unsafe) or an act of omission (failing to do something that should be done).
    6. Costs of accidents involve—direct costs for worker and employer and indirect costs for employer and worker.
  2. Match the following according to Vincoli’s modified dominoes:


    a. Management

    (i) Basic causes

    b. Origins

    (ii) Symptoms

    c. Immediate causes

    (iii) Incident

    d. Contact

    (iv) People–Property

    e. Loss

    (v) Loss of control


  3. Match the following:


    A Frequency rate

    1 [No. of lost-time injuries × 1,000]/avg. no. of persons employed

    B Severity rate

    2 [No. of lost-time injury × 1,000,000]/man-hours worked

    C Incidence rate

    3 [Man-days lost due to lost-time injury × 1,000,000]/man-hours worked


  4. Arrange the following causes of fatalities according to their statistical occurrences (in increasing order)
    1. Fall from height
    2. Accident involving vehicles
    3. Fire
    4. Drowning
    5. Collapse of excavation
    6. Electrocution
    7. Mechanical impact
    8. Fall/Hit by object
  5. Unsafe conditions are mainly because of:
    1. Management actions/inactions
    2. Worker’s or co-worker’s unsafe acts
    3. Nonhuman-related events
    4. Unsafe condition
    5. All of above
  6. What are the safety philosophy and principles of accident prevention?
  7. Give a detailed account of accident investigation and its prevention.
  8. What are safety-related problems in the Indian construction industry? What are the various hazards associated with the construction industry as regards safety?
  9. What is safety? How do you ensure safety at construction sites?
  10. What are the elements of a safety policy? Discuss some safety policies studied by you.
  11. Define the roles and responsibilities of a safety officer deputed on a tunnelling site in a remote location. What measures can be taken by the safety officer to ensure safety at site? Give examples you know of or are familiar with.
  12. Bring out the difference between an accident, an incident and a near-miss, and give examples of the same. How are these issues correlated?
  13. What are the legal requirements regarding safety as applicable to construction sites and the construction industry?
  14. How are safety provisions covered in contract document? Who is finally responsible for safety at project site?
  15. What is a permit? Why is it required? Does having permit ensure adherence to all safety rules and regulations? Elaborate.
  16. What are safety audits? Why is safety audit necessary? Explain the types of audits that can be done on site as well as on the organization.
  17. With a flowchart, explain Heinrich’s injury causation model.
  18. Give a detailed account on accident investigation and its prevention.
  19. Discuss the occupational health issues in construction industry.
  20. Why is safety gaining such importance in the present-day construction scenario?
  21. Accidents can be said to be caused through a combination of unsafe acts and conditions. Carefully read the following situations and identify the principal cause of the accident. Give your answer as given below:
    1. In cases the accident is caused by unsafe act(s)
    2. In cases the accident is caused by unsafe condition
    3. In cases the accident is caused by a combination of (a) and (b)
    4. In cases where the accident can be only attributed to reasons beyond the control of the site
  1. A trench 1 m wide and 3 m deep is excavated and the walls are secured with appropriately driven steel sheets. Workers walking on the heap of earth removed from the trench slip and fall into the trench, causing one of them to have a fractured hand.
  2. A worker is carrying out a painting job on a 10m high wall using a ladder. A person assigned to wash the floor of the room, without realizing that another worker was on the job, threw water on the floor, causing the ladder to slip, and causing injury to the painter.
  3. A long trailer carrying reinforcement bars was standing near the stores waiting for instruction from the stores officer regarding the place of unloading. The stores officer directed the trailer driver to unload the reinforcement in the reinforcement yard. While reversing the trailer, it hit a stores worker who was standing behind the trailer and in the process received major head injury. (He was not wearing safety helmet thinking nothing would fall in the stores area.)
  4. A worker is carrying reinforcing bars of diameter 20 mm, measuring between 3 m and 4 m, on his bicycle. The bars were projecting about 1.5 m–2 m on both sides longitudinally (pointed in the direction of bicycle wheels). While taking a turn at roundabout, it hit two pedestrians causing scratches to both of them.
  5. An RCC slab had an opening of size 600 mm x 600 mm to carry fire-fighting pipelines from one floor to another floor. A worker going for lunch at about 1.00 p.m. fell through the opening from the second floor to the basement. The result was a fatal accident.
  6. Lift shaft openings at each floor were left out in an eight-storey building. Lift people were busy installing the lift in it. At closing hours of day shift (about 8.30 p.m.), lift workers forgot to put the barriers at the shaft location of fifth floor. During the night, a worker who had joined just two days back fell from this opening and lost his life.
  7. A halogen lamp was kept on the floor (workers tend to work near halogen lamp during acute winter due to the warmth in its vicinity) near the deshuttered materials that had just been removed from the slab of the pre-heater building of a cement plant. The deshuttering material mostly consisted of plywood soaked with diesel and grease (used as deshuttering agents), and timber. At around 4.00 a.m., a major fire broke out damaging about 20 running metres of the pre-heater building.
  8. A contractor while planning for a major RCC slab had procured a large quantity of cement. Cement bags were stacked one over the other and at some places 20–25 bags were stacked at one place. During the concreting operation, these cement bags were being shifted. At one point of time, cement bags started falling from the top and two workers got trapped underneath. It resulted in major injury to one of the workers.
  9. Contractor has just finished concreting of a major RCC slab (it was cast just three days back). Another major RCC slab was planned in the next four days in its vicinity. Carpentry gang was working on this new slab formwork. This gang found some shortage of props of 4.1 m height. One of the carpenters of this gang sent his helpers to bring these props. The helpers went and started removing the props from underneath the newly cast RCC slab, resulting in the collapse of the entire slab progressively and causing major injuries to the helpers.
  10. Construction work on a silo was going on at 70 m height. Reinforcement tying was in progress at this height during the night. A security guard while doing routine safety rounds at ground level on the site passed through the construction area. A piece of reinforcement bar fell from top causing serious head injury to the security guard.
  11. A construction worker wearing a dhoti and a shawl was working at a sand-washing plant (it removes silt from sand mechanically and has a number of moving parts) during the night. During the morning hours (about 3.00 a.m.), he was resting under the conveyor belt. Somehow his dhoti and shawl got trapped in the conveyor belt and he was pushed to the main screening area. The worker lost his life.
  12. Work on construction of a natural draught cooling tower (its diameter at base is about 100 m and height is about 120 m) was at full swing. The site had a skyrack (used for vertical transportation of construction workers and supervisors) for going to height. One day, eight workers were travelling (well within the limit) in it going to start the work in the night shift. Suddenly, the skyrack developed some fault at 15 m height and had a free fall. Four workers sustained minor injuries, three received major injuries, and one died on way to hospital.
  13. There was leakage from the undercarriage. To identify the location of leakage, the operator opened the engine cover and started to look for the leakage point in the radiator. The machine was in running condition. The operator inserted his right hand and got struck with the moving fan blade. He received cut injury on his right-hand finger requiring specialist medical treatment.