RK Poddar, Senior Advisor (HSE), Simplex Infrastructures Limited
At the very basic level, it is pertinent to look at different synonyms of ‘work’, which generally, may be expressed as ‘task’, ‘activity’, ‘job’ and such other identities. To carry out an activity or to perform a task, an Act (human effort in isolation or in combination of other resources), a Substance (chemical - hazardous/ non-hazardous, isotopes, radio-active, reactive, toxic, poisonous, flammable, inert, biological and any such other physical/chemical property-laden material, or any other machinery/ mechanical aids), a Situation (a place of work either at minus or plus or zero level or in a confined/pressurized/ vacuum space within the ambient associated locations but having potential to cause physical harm or a negative impact on the place of work and the worker), and Energy (electrical, mechanical, chemical, thermal, stored, potential, kinetic, nuclear etc. in combination or in isolation), are required for completing the task and realizing the identified outcome.
Now, any activity without having a strong proactive element of safety planning as its integral constituent is undoubtedly fraught with unknown, if not adverse, consequence. This consequence primarily arises, if in the absence of a thought-through plan designed to work in co-ordination with one or any other combination of the work-inputs, the activity or related sub-activities may, in all probability, work at cross purpose to the detriment of the proposed task itself. Therefore, adequate planning preceding the commencement of an activity - other synonyms included - is indisputably a must.
How & why an Unplanned Event generally referred to as Accident/ Incident/Dangerous Occurrence etc.?
During my long association with the industry - manufacturing, process, infrastructure, construction, etc. - as a member of the safety (now a days identified as EHS/HSE) team of an organization, I have come across hundreds of accident reports from various work-locations. I also had the opportunity to investigate, enquire, analyze and the root-cause analysis (RCA) of many such unplanned events.
By mentioning ‘Unplanned Event’ in place of the usually common expression like Accident/ Incident, I am consciously trying to draw a distinction between ‘Accident’ and ‘Unplanned Event’. I will, on some other occasion, try to explain the distinction in details. However, it would be suffice to say that all unplanned events are unexpected incidents but accidents per say are not legally equivalent of an unplanned event.
While recalling my past experience, rarely, did I come across an investigation report forwarded by the project team which clearly identified the underlying causes stemming from aberrations/ deviations/ compromises made in the management system and fixed accountability at individual level, especially in the Indian scenario. Notwithstanding some exceptions in the multinational PMC-controlled entities, half-hearted attempts to do RCA could be there. In general though, retracing of failure-chain, in the context of the concerned in-field activity, usually stops at the act of omission or commission of the victim or, in some cases, points to certain deficiency in compliance with the laid down procedure immediately preceding the occurrence. It would be worthwhile to assert that an Accident/ Incident/ Dangerous occurrence is a culmination of a chain of failures that starts with the non-compliance with the defined management system, ineffective plan to implement the system and deficient working of the plan objectively till the end of the process. Also, checks and the consequent effective intervention which could help identify the deviations from the standard operating procedures and facilitate course correction before the damage is done, is seldom introduced. This kind of investigation is basically subjective and serves no purpose.
Responsibility, Authority & Accountability Matrix - a Prerequisite of Safety Planning
It is painful to realize that the so-called EHS professionals are no less to blame in this sordid drama of accident investigation which is supposed to get at the root of the problem for initiating appropriate actions. By replacing one missing earth lead or a guard and not going into ‘why the guard was missing till an accident has occurred’, is nothing short of treating the symptom and not the disease. Why the safety people hesitate in going up the ladder to analyze and identify management failure at individual and collective level in the EHS Management System (SMS), is a separate issue which may be dealt with on some other occasion. However, why this situation is prevalent can be well understood only if the significance of overall task and safety-specific planning to safely execute the task is realized.
Relevance of Planning in the Management of Safety
Ideally and legally, especially in the construction industry - green or white - including the construction phase of a manufacturing entity, the element of Safety Planning should commence at Design which should run through Engineering & Execution and end up at Pre-commissioning and Commissioning; finally handing over the reins to operation and maintenance team to carry on the process like a baton race. In all the phases of the process, an assiduous and integrated compliance with the 7W Process of Work appears relevant. Though, as a common practice, one would invariably come across the fact that safety personnel are summoned only when the in-field and critical activity included, has proceeded and reached a stage where some make-shift safety arrangement becomes unavoidable or is necessitated on the insistence of the client or their PMC. Thus, in most of the cases, safety follows the progress rather than preceding the commencement of activity including design, engineering, and execution phases.
Therefore, it is incumbent to recall some relevant legal provisions requiring Planning to be an integral element of all the phases of work – it ought to be clarified that the 7W Process recommended for reference mostly relates to the execution phase. In the illustration below, I have elaborately dealt with the ‘7W Process of Work’ detailing the entire cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) in a simplified form so as to comprehend the significance of overall work planning and safety-specific planning related thereto.
Section 6 of the ‘Building and Other Construction Workers (regulation of employment and conditions of service) Act, 1996’ requires Architect, Designer & Project Engineer to give due consideration to safety aspect right from design to maintenance as well as upkeep phases. Also, Rule 39(iv) regarding Health & Safety Policy would make it absolutely clear that hazard identification, risk assessment, and control measures, are to be taken as integral part of a method statement. Consequently, Hazard Identification & Risk Assessment (HIRA), Safety Task Assignment (STA), Job Safety Analysis (JSA), Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), Permit-To-Work (PTW) and such other techniques cannot meaningfully work in the absence of a strong element of Planning. Without Planning, I don’t see any scope for fulfilling ‘Due Diligence’ requirement which alone can legally absolve the employer under Section 53 of the Building and Other Construction Workers (regulation of employment and conditions of service) Act of any perceived offence.
What is the relevance of Due Diligence in Safety Planning?
Diligence is synonymous with a careful and persistent effort. Due, in case of health and safety, implies proactive integration of all required safety and health measures to be planned and executed in respect of all acts, situations, substances or sources of energy with careful and persistent effort.
Therefore, Due Diligence, in the context of a workplace, owned and controlled by an employer or his representative (Section 6 identifies him as the Architect, Designer, and Project Engineer) duty-binds the Architect, Designer and Project Engineer, on behalf of the Employer or the Employer himself, to make a careful and persistent effort to ensure safety and health of the building and construction workers in his establishment. Further, Rule 39 (iv) as part of Safety & Health Policy requires ‘techniques and methods for assessment of risk to safety, health and environmental and remedial measures, therefore, to be identified and assessed for taking appropriate control measures for ensuring workers’ health and safety as well as protection of environment.
In order to reemphasize the relevance of Planning, it would be appropriate to reiterate that Due Diligence is mandated before an unplanned event occurs and not after.
Contrary to the general prevalent practice vis-à-vis the legal position so clearly mandated, I cannot visualize a situation where a comprehensive Safety Planning can follow commencement of an activity. Look into any HSE Planning/ Manual, so confidently worked out and circulated, you will find that the Manual remains as an expression of intent but fails to translate into a document which would be a forerunner of activity planning and its execution.
How does the Employer or his representative meet the requirements of Due Diligence?
An illustrative list of actions that an employer or his representative (Project Engineer) can take, is summed up as under:
- Develop specific policies, practices, and procedures for hazardous activities in the workplace.
- Provide adequate orientation and training to the concerned workforce including management representatives.
- Ensure that competent supervisory staff monitors hazardous work and communicate risks to workers.
- Audit the workplace for foreseeable health and safety risks and protect workers accordingly.
- Ensure compliance through rules and discipline.
- Never assume that the worker will know enough about the risks involved in any given task.
- All the elements of a “Due Diligence Program” must be in effect before any accident or injury occurs.
- If the employer or his representative has questions about Due Diligence, he should seek legal advice and Safety guidance from the project safety team so as to ensure that all appropriate Due Diligence requirements are in place.
Mr. R K Poddar is presently working with Simplex Infrastructures Limited (SIL) as Senior Advisor (HSE). The views expressed in this article are purely his professional and personal views which, in no way, represent his views in his official capacity.