Recently I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon. The movie was the tragic story of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon which exploded in 2010, killing 11, spilling oil into the ocean which cost billions of dollars in compensation and mopping-up costs. Now I realize that much of the movie was pseudo historical and maybe wasn’t entirely factual. But, what got me thinking was how often our decisions are made on the spur of the moment, some decisions are driven by cost and time concerns, while some are made without the correct knowledge or experience. We also make decisions based on information which we made fit (and suit) our beliefs and ideals while discarding information which doesn’t suit us. (Maybe that sounds similar to politics and politicians – but that’s how many operate!) Sometimes we are browbeaten into accepting another person’s decisions, maybe a more senior person, or someone that is more forceful than us. Then of course, on occasion, we are just too tired to make a rational decision, or so tired that we make errors. But, sometimes, even not making a decision can have devastating consequences.
Yet, these decisions can often impact lives and cost millions. But, we hardly give that a thought, often more preoccupied with other matters, sometimes placing schedule and profit ahead of everything else. After all, disaster won’t happen to us!
Construction is an inherently dangerous occupation. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015 over 900 people died in the US in construction related accidents. Unfortunately, thousands more were seriously injured, some permanently disabled. But these figures don’t include those who were killed traveling to and from construction projects, and nor do they include occupants of the completed facility who are injured or killed by defective work, or unsafe workplaces. I wonder how many of those fatalities and injuries were a result of poor decisions?
But project safety isn’t just about what contractors do, it often starts with designers, and ends with owners. Often their decisions also have a profound impact on the project.
Designers have a responsibility to ensure they make the correct decisions, decisions which are based on the correct facts and not on wrong assumptions. Their decisions will impact the integrity of their designs which:
- Must be error free so that the design won’t fail. Sometimes these defects only become apparent when an extreme event, such as an earthquake or tornado occurs.
- Be able to take the maximum loading which could be expected. There have been many reports of balconies collapsing or handrails giving way when crowds gathered.
- Shouldn’t incorporate hazardous materials, or flammable materials, or materials that will give off toxic vapors when burned.
- Should be safe and shouldn’t result in trip hazards, unprotected edges, and slippery surfaces.
- Must comply with all codes and safety regulations.
- Shouldn’t be compromised by owners making changes, nor by contractors delivering poor quality work.
Owners are sometimes responsible for injuries and fatalities because their decisions also impact the project because::
- They demand impossibly tight construction schedules, squeeze contractors so that they take risks to make a profit, and then select contractors purely based on price, not a contractor that has a reputation for producing a safe project of good quality.
- They don’t insist on the implementation of proper quality control and good safety practices during construction.
- They use the facility for purposes which it wasn’t intended for, such as converting warehouses to nightclubs.
- They make unapproved alterations to the building, which may include demolishing parts of the structure that are integral to the building’s safety and stability.
- They don’t maintain the facility correctly.
- They allow waste to accumulate which can be a fire hazard, block fire exits and overload structures.
Contractors’ poor decisions not only risk killing and injuring people during construction, but they could also endanger the lives of future occupants of the facility by constructing a project of poor quality, or one that contains hazardous materials. Contractors should:
- Ensure they employ people who have the required experience, skills and knowledge.
- Have a policy of safety first.
- Not taking short cuts – no matter how tight the schedule or the budget.
- Put in place a suitable quality management system.
- Make sure that all checks are diligently done by experienced and knowledgeable people.
- Ensure that the materials they use comply with the codes and specifications.
- Make considered and timely decisions based on the known facts, and taking into account the consequences of the decision.
- Be mindful of the impacts of fatigue on everyone.
- If in doubt ask for expert advice.
We often have to make rushed decisions on our projects. Frequently we are tempted to take short cuts. Construction isn’t a job where you can look away and hope things will work out. We need to remember that our decisions can have a profound impact on the lives of others. Our decisions not only impact the construction work today and tomorrow, but they can have long lasting consequences that are only seen in many years in the future.
Do you ever stop to consider how many lives are depending on your decisions and how you do your job? What are the consequences if you make a mistake?
What’s your experience when someone made a poor decision which has cost money or impacted lives?
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