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Face to Face: ‘Safety matters to us’

Facilities Management

Although the industry is largely apathetic to the safety issue, India’s leading construction firm L&T is setting an example by providing safe working environment to its workforce. KV Rangaswamy, L&T’s whole time director & president – construction, shares his company’s safety initiatives with Syed Ameen Kader

How much importance do you give to the issue of health and safety of workers?

Safety, quality, timely completion and cost effectiveness are the mantras for our success. We believe that it is our obligation to provide a safe working environment for the employees. It forms a vital aspect of our corporate social responsibility initiatives. We follow industry best practices in safety comparable to any international standards.

What’s your company policy on safety?

We are committed to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all our employees. We ensure that our operations are carried out in a manner that protects the environment and community in general.

We believe that all accidents are preventable and no task is so important that risk of injury to people or damage to the environment could be justified.

Our safety policy asks for promoting a positive culture based on improving HSE (Health, safety & environment) performance. It emphasises on indentifying and eliminating hazards and pollution that could cause accidents or environmental harm. We provide training and resources for employees to maintain the HSE systems. L&T employs contractors who aspire to adopt the same safety standards in their works.

Can you share little bit about your safety history and achievements?

We established a separate department for safety way back in early 1980s, well before any one in the Indian construction industry would have thought off, and well before any legislation was enacted. In 1999, our HSE management functions were certified to ISO 9001 standards.

Now the B&F operating company is certified for OHSAS 18001 (Health & Safety Management System) and ISO 14001 (Environment Management System) too. Several of our sites have achieved prestigious international awards from the Royal Society of Prevention of Accidents-UK, British Safety Council and American Society of Concrete Contractors.

What do you think about India’s approach towards safety in comparison to rest of the world? Where we stand?

As far as organised sector like factories and mines are concerned, India’s approach towards safety is comparable to many forward looking developing countries.

But in the case of construction industry, a lot needs to be done. Even today we don’t have a central agency to collate authenticated data of accidents in construction and the other service sectors. Though the act on construction safety was enacted way back in 1996, only a few states have made the rules for enforcing the act.

As the construction industry is largely unorganised and do not follow various safety directives in the absence of stringent law, how this task could be fulfilled?

Construction industry bodies such as Construction Industry Development Council and Builders’ Association of India are already in the process of inculcating safety awareness among the various stake holders. In this scenario only awareness among the stakeholders such as small contractors, customers, engineers and workmen will help in improving the situation.

Will the stringent law and safety audit solve the problem? Or this should come from within the industry? The onus lies with whom?

While stringent law enforcement and audit will surely help in improving the situation, it alone cannot solve the problem. We need to have contribution from all stakeholders like the  govt, principal employee and industry to improve the situation. The Industry should rise up to the occasion and recognise health and safety management as an important element for business sustainability.

Principal employers also play a major role in the safety. They should treat safety, health and environment management at construction sites as any other business investment and integrate it with all other functions.

The govt on its part first should ensure that the construction safety act is enforced properly throughout the country. Another task could be the establishment of more recognised institutes in India to develop qualified safety professionals. It also needs to spearhead the vocational training in India for improving the skill level of workmen.

The govt should set example for health and safety in the projects which are executed by them.

What are your suggestions for improving the safety standards in India?

I think good standards of safety and health in a construction project start with the decisions made by the client; this determines the whole safety health climate of the project. The govt should take proactive steps to ensure strict adherence by employers to safety standards.

There is a shortage of recognised institutions to train safety professionals in India. For example for the whole of south India covering four major states, only one recognised govt institute is available.

The student intake is also only 40 per year which is grossly in-adequate to meet the needs of the entire gamut of industries. Of this, hardly five students are for the construction industry – showing the inadequate levels looking the labour intensity of the industry. As you see, only common institute is available to meet the needs of all.

Lastly, health and safety awareness should be a part of education system at the school level, vocational training and other technical qualifications.

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