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Inductions and SWMS – is there a better way?

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Jon Benjamin
Construction Lead
Mar 14, 2022 - 21:07 PMMax 7min read
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In a fast-paced industry whose response to process-change can be slow, how can we engage in conversations about sustainably changing the way we do things for the better? As an industry we are, understandably, focused on reducing liability and risk but perhaps at the detriment of open and engaged conversations that could lead to tangible change. If we are all striving for safer sites, we need to engage with onsite staff - site managers, tradies and subcontractors - in order to continue to move the industry forward.

The current situation – are inductions playing a part in site safety?

It is a truth universally accepted that the first thing that happens on site each morning is an induction for new workers. The day’s jumping off point is a tedious, paper-heavy exercise – a steep hurdle to mount before actual work begins. That tedium is repeated, at the same time, day-after-day, the same exercise taking up valuable time and brain power. While it’s a necessary part of site safety, everyone is keen to get stuck in and so, for workers being inducted (and those doing the induction) the repetitive process can feel like a waste of time.

Work is work; all jobs have boring bits. Everyone has to do things at work that they’d rather not do. So let’s put aside for a moment that inductions are boring and focus on whether or not they are necessary – we’d argue that they very much are, for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on site – but not in their current form. We’re asking: is there a better way?

Let’s dig a bit deeper

The current induction system is old-school, like so many of the processes in our industry, and poses problems beyond bored subbies – the current induction system’s accessibility is questionable, particularly for workers whose first language is not English. The added complication of a language barrier is often the nail in the coffin for an already arduous process – understandably, you would give up on completing the induction if the people you are inducting (through no fault of their own) are not able to take in the information. This leaves workers poorly briefed and the site a potentially more dangerous place than it could otherwise be. This problem could be easily solved with translations of digital inductions via the BuildPass app - we’re looking into it. But we also know this is a tiny part of a broader issue.

Record keeping is important and if you are a BuildPass client, we’ve digitised the induction process making filing reams of paper a thing of the past. But this doesn’t solve the overarching problem. We want to go further. How can we make the process more engaging? A gamified onsite induction process that requires each worker to complete the process via an online app, with questions that require correct answers before you can proceed to the next stage? We're open to anything, but in the first instance, we’re looking to open the conversation.

SWMS - effectively assessing risk or simply removing liability?

SWMS – or Safe Work Method Statements – are another admin-and-paper-heavy but vital site safety feature. In a nutshell, SWMS identify onsite risks and outline how these risks will be mitigated. WorkSafe will use SWMS if (and unfortunately, when) incidents occur. On most sites however, there is little understanding of what the document actually means – in fact, by nature SWMS are long and convoluted, with little chance that site workers might take the time to read and understand them in their entirety.

According to WorkSafe a new SWMS should be drafted for each job. Despite this, often SWMS are duplicated from project to project. While each site is unique, there are usually elements of SWMS that are transferable. So as not to miss important safety information, ideally SWMS are tailored to each job but in their current long form is this a realistic expectation? In a perfect construction world, what would SWMS look like? How do we find the balance between site safety and productive use of our time?

Who is responsible for building safer sites?

A safe site is in everyone’s best interests. But ultimately, whose responsibility are they? Is it enough for subbies to read the SWMS documents at the beginning of the project? If we peel back the layers of liability where are each of the players placed; does liability lie with the builder to ensure that SWMS are reviewed regularly; how much of it falls on the subcontractor? What happens to a worker who signs a SWMS that says they will 'not stand on a bucket to use it as a ladder' and then they do stand on a bucket instead of a ladder, they fall off and they fracture a bone. Perhaps the SWMS process could be driven from the ground (workers on site) up, so there is ownership rather than site workers blindly signing documents that aren’t well understood.

Can SWMS be simplified?

We imagine sites where SWMS are digitised, interactive and accessible on smart devices for easy review. When necessary regular changes are made online, key risks are highlighted and the SWMS are easily updated across multiple devices for everyone who needs to see them.If workers are accessing a scaffold that was not onsite when they were first inducted, do the SWMS cover the use of that scaffold? In their current, paper form they don’t, but if the SWMS are updated promptly then they do. Making updating SWMS as simple as possible will lead to safer sites. Would an easy to use interactive platform encourage regular reviews and solve the problem? We’d like to think so.

Tangible and sustainable change takes time, but is worth the energy and effort. We’re opening the conversation without agenda or solution – the industry needs more conversations around safety that aren’t focused on reducing liability and more focused on the safety and wellbeing of workers. We’d like to think that we can facilitate those conversations and help drive change.

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