Looking around the globe, there are several countries whose safety programs have positively changed the risk factor in construction. One such country we can look to is Australia. Albeit a smaller population and workforce, Australia has become a leader in construction safety.
The Australian construction industry is one built upon a strict regime of regulation and compliance and this is most prominent when it comes to safety on the job site. A system of laws and active enforcement by regulatory bodies such as WorkSafe has made the industry safer and more aware of the risks that are embodied in the sector.
In Australia, top down regulation by government and enforcement agencies has driven change and now contractors need to abide by strict rules to ensure compliance.
Requirements set forth seeking to enhance the level of safety include:
- AS/NZS 4801:2001 Australian standard has recently been superseded by ISO 45001, both are focused on risk management rather than OHSAS 18001.
- Principal contractors need to prepare health and safety coordination plans for any construction project valued over $350,000.
- Contractors and Sub-contractors all need to prepare Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) for high-risk work
- Employees need to receive OHS induction training before undertaking construction work
- Employees to be trained about site-specific risks and control measures before starting work on a construction site.
Therefore, in Australia safety is no longer an afterthought, it’s embedded within the industry as a key component of site operations and management. Subsequently, Australia now has a reputation as one of the safest construction sectors in the world and by consequence has one of the lowest death rates in the developed world.
In 2018 Australia recorded 24 deaths or 2 per 100,000 full time workers. The only equivalent was the UK which recorded 30 deaths or 1.31 per 100,000 workers. In similar countries, but where Government enforced safety regulation is not as well established, the fatality rate was much higher. New Zealand recorded 13 deaths or 5.65 per 100,000. The USA had 1008 fatalities or 12.2 percent.
The inherent differences between Australia and the United States do lie within the standards and regulations of each country (listen to this podcast to hear more). In Australia, unions are more vocal and have the ability to monitor and even shut down a site if the site is not meeting required safety standards. In addition, WorkSafe employs 95 inspectors in Victoria, Australia alone, but are planning to add another 30 over next 3 years for a population of 6M (with estimated 400+ inspectors across all states for a population of 24 Million), compared to OSHA who have 875 inspectors nationwide, one compliance officer for every 9,286 workplaces.
Australia has a more proactive approach to safety as well. Australian companies are required to report near misses (something that is not required in the US) and in the event of a death on a jobsite, company leaders can face mandatory jail time. This helps in underlining the importance of preventative strategies versus the punitive approach we see in the US of fines set once an incident has occurred.
Australia has shifted to following the ISO 45001 standard versus OSHAS 18001 standard in the U.S.. With that comes some key differences:
Structure: The structure of ISO 45001 is based on Annex SL, which is the framework used in other ISO management system standards, making implementation easier and more efficient.
Management Commitment: ISO 45001 requires the incorporation of health and safety into the overall management system of the organization, requiring management to take a stronger leadership role in OH&S.
Worker Involvement: ISO 45001 requires employee training and education to identify risks and help create a successful safety program, allowing broader employee participation.
Risk v. Hazard: ISO 45001 follows a preventative process, requiring hazard risks to be evaluated and remedied before they cause accidents and injuries, unlike OHSAS 18001, which focused only on hazard control.
Regulatory differences are not easily overcome in the U.S., but we can look beyond enforced regulations to instill best practices within each organization, taking cues from Australian companies whose operations have undergone changes to support safer sites.
As many safety professionals across the globe have echoed, “there is no competition in safety.” When we gather experts globally to share their expertise, we can take cues and learn best practices to ensure safer processes, methods, and operations locally.