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In today’s rapidly changing landscape, construction organizations are under growing pressure to deliver projects on time and budget. As a result, health, safety and well-being (HSW) programs are sometimes denied the priority they require. The outcome: company HSW cultures that barely meet satisfactory standards resulting in site mishaps, delays, cost overruns or worse.

Globally, there are around 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related diseases each year, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The cost of this damage accounts for almost 4% of the world’s GDP, or $3.2 trillion.

The impact of the construction industry’s aging workforce, intensifying material costs, pressures to address sustainability and slow digitalization are all being felt by organizations. With international emergencies and pandemics like COVID-19 and global warming reshaping the way the construction industry operates, it’s never been more important to strengthen organizational resilience and support workers’ health, safety and well-being.

In a bid to protect their workers from today’s evolving risks and hazards, and to enhance their operational agility, companies and organizations worldwide are taking steps to create a safer, more people-centric construction industry. Leading organizations have begun to do this by aligning their HSW initiatives with their wider business strategies. This approach is helping them safeguard and prioritize their workers—and unlock promising new commercial opportunities.

To align HSW initiatives with broader strategic business initiatives, there are some key steps and core principles that organizations should take to create a culture that drives resilience, trust, competitiveness and, ultimately, better business.

Three Core Principles

Three core principles to connect evolving HSW initiatives with wider business strategies include the following.

  1. A culture of change: A mindset of prevention and proactiveness paired with a standards-based approach to HSW that can boost organizational resilience and competitiveness.
  2. Prioritizing people: Putting the well-being and equality of workers first to improve workforce productivity, agility and brand trust.
  3. Strategic digitalization: Investing in the right technology to protect workers and deliver long-term commercial success.

What’s holding construction professionals back from adopting a more enlightened HSW culture? Many factors, which may differ by region or company. The most stubborn obstacles include:

  • Lack of regulation or enforcement of HSW policies;
  • Missing managerial and leadership commitment or employee engagement;
  • Cost of implementing new HSW procedures; and
  • Low awareness or education about HSW standards.

To overcome these barriers, the global construction industry will need to change its perspective and philosophy around HSW. To fuel this shift, professionals across the organization—from human resources and operations to finance and information technology—need to look at investment in HSW as a tool that can create opportunities for success. This proactive mindset will allow leaders from different departments to implement preventive risk management strategies that bring added value.

Culture Change Based on Standards

BSI, in tandem with the United Nations (UN), ILO and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), creates universal guidelines and standards that countries and organizations can follow to strengthen their HSW policies.

ISO 45001 is the world’s first international standard dedicated to health and safety management at work. It promotes a more holistic and decentralized approach to occupational health and safety by advocating a preventive approach to workers’ physical, mental and cognitive health, as well as safety.

These new types of performance goals include recorded numbers of accidents and incidents, lost time frequency rates, and noise and vibration levels. Such a move to standards will ensure the global construction industry is working toward the same goals, while helping individual organizations boost resilience and unlock new business.

Regardless of its global region, every organization must create HSW programs that go beyond basic requirements to deliver the standards that workers deserve. To do this, growing numbers of construction, HSW, and regulatory professionals are collaborating to create standardization and modernization for safer, healthier, and more ethical workspaces. It’s critical to communicate and engage with your team to show them what these standards and goals look like on a daily basis.

Prioritizing People

In recent years, evidence of the grave impact that demanding, “high-performance” working conditions have had on construction workers’ mental health has emerged. This globalized silent epidemic has resulted in absenteeism, depression, anxiety, suicide, lost productivity, stress and burnout—all side effects from work-related risk factors.

Furthermore, gender inequality in the construction industry, often borne out in its approach to HSW for female workers, is preventing women from joining, contributing and thriving in the sector. For an industry suffering from a skills shortage, it’s a challenge that organizations will need to address.

In sum, forward-thinking companies are prioritizing people and using HSW as a competitive advantage.

Strategic Digitalization

We are beginning to see how technology and the use of data can help improve not only worker efficiency and performance, but also health, safety and well-being for them. However, for many organizations, HSW and digital transformation are often seen as two isolated, unrelated strategies. Investment in new technology designed for project delivery is often prioritized over HSW initiatives, and investment capital is usually reported on and measured with greater attention than human capital.

But change is on the horizon. Leading organizations have started to connect the dots, seeing how corporate performance and successful bidding aren’t always a result of their technological innovation. Instead, they can be led by workers’ engagement, productivity and well-being. Companies that have begun to integrate HSW and digital transformation strategies are opening doors to new opportunities while streamlining investments, maximizing commercial benefits and improving worker safety and satisfaction. It all usually begins with the collection and standardization of data.

Because data has the power to fuel smarter decision making, more efficient processes and safer working environments, leveraging it is often referred to as “prevention through design.” Building Information Modeling (BIM) is one example taking precedence as a best practice. BIM is a powerful process that enables construction data to be structured and shared through a common data environment, helping organizations cut costs, reduce risk and increase operational resilience, thus enhancing business performance.

Conclusion

For leadership teams committed to raising standards in their organizations and looking for new commercial opportunities, investing in technology that supports an HSW program is one of the most effective strategies you can implement. However, in many regions, getting buy-in from senior management for HSW investment is a challenge—particularly for organizations that don’t have regulation or compliance measures to guide them.

To gain this support, contractors should use leading data indicators to show how the new strategy will help the organization look forward, rather than back, for direction on HSW. This proactive mindset, wedded with a holistic approach toward worker well-being and organizational efficiency, will help contractors unlock new business, deliver more mature HSW practices and, ultimately, secure their place in the new world of construction.

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