Measuring safety on construction sites - the Finnish way

August 13, 2020 Timo Makkonen safety, construction

In the construction industry, safety is a topic that is constantly discussed. Safety, especially at the construction sites, is becoming more and more important for the industry players. 

As the projects grow larger in size and at the same time the schedules become tighter, it is easy to forget about and to apply the best practices related to safety.

Safety on a construction site depends on many different factors. Hence improving safety comes through various methods and is usually easier said than done. Some of the common methods to improve safety include audits, instructions, education and improving the ways of working. As you can see a majority of these means are pre-emptive by nature.

Safety reflects the values of the construction companies

Trying to proactively mitigate potential safety hazards is a quite common and usually a well working approach. The optimal scenario of course would be that through this pre-emptive work the amount of safety related incidents at sites would go down to zero. But what is then required from the workers at the sites to succeed in this? One thing of course is to understand how to properly utilize different tools and machines. Additionally, it is essential that everyone knows the agreed safety practices and complies with those. But maybe the most important driver to a zero incident site is the attitude and collaboration of the workers. For example, if someone perceives anything that has the potential to lead to a safety hazard this should be communicated to others and fixed as soon as possible. If the issues are not handled in a timely manner there is always the possibility that they can threaten the health of the workers on the site.

Not all safety hazards lead to serious accidents, but minor accidents will also cause monetary loss for companies in terms of sick leave, delays, re-allocation of work, insurance costs etc.

And in the unfortunate case of a fatal accident it is hard to estimate the monetary value of the loss.

However, safety is not just about money. It also reflects the values of the construction companies, which in turn has a big impact on how attractive potential clients and employees perceive the company.

Hence one could predict that companies taking safety seriously will perform better in the future than companies that do not. 


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The Finnish approach to measuring safety on construction sites

But how do companies in the industry follow and measure the safety on the construction sites? What are the tools and processes they employ to prevent the potential safety hazards? There are probably as many ways for doing this as there are companies. Therefore, in the rest of this blog post we will focus on something that is common for all the construction companies operating in Finland. This is the obligatory Finnish TR Safety observation method (TR-mittaus).

Finland is the front runner when it comes to safety on the construction sites. Finnish legislation forces construction sites to perform a specific safety measurement at the sites on a weekly basis. This is meant to be a pre-emptive action to both prevent potential safety hazards and to make sure that site workers get notified of anomalies at the site.

The measurement in itself is relatively simple. It comprises of different topics that are measured by giving positive points when the safety criteria is met and negative points when it is not. Let’s take one of the topics, namely fall prevention, as an example. For each correctly installed fall prevention a positive point is given and for each incorrectly installed or lacking one a negative point is given. So a person goes through the site and records all the positive and negative observations for all the safety topics.

After the measurement has been completed a final score for the measurement is calculated. This score is a percentage value showing how many positive points there were out of the total number of negative and positive points. The formula being:

score = positive points / (negative points + positive points)

In the simplicity lies also the beauty of the measurement. First of all, the measurement is quite straight forward to perform. But even more importantly by giving numeric values for different safety topics the data from the measurement becomes quantitative. This means it be further analyzed and utilized for example as a KPI. Additionally, comparing of measurements from different weeks and even different construction sites becomes feasible. Following the trend lines of different safety topics and complete measurements opens the door for faster corrective actions and improvements in different aspects of safety.

Of course, to get the full benefits of a measurement one needs to record the data somehow. The analysis and its outcome depends on the quality of the input data. This data is recorded manually at the construction sites. This means that the environment for recording the data can be quite challenging. This has two implications:

1) Recording the data is error prone

2) The tools used need to work in varying environments

These two relevant requirements have steered the development of Congrid’s mobile solution for conducting safety measurements. We have designed the solution to work in challenging environments. Through iterative development, where we take feedback from end-users into account, we have succeeded in making an intuitive and easy to use user interface. Making recording data as easy as possible is the key to successful analysis and improvements.

But meeting the Finnish regulatory requirements is just the beginning. As you can probably guess the TR Safety observation method (TR-mittaus) template provided by the government has its limitations.

For instance, what if you would like to introduce a new topic that should be measured along with the existing ones? Or what if you would like to stress the importance of one topic over the other? These are the questions we hear many of our clients asking.

A real-life example could be that the site would like to measure whether everyone is wearing an identity badge. And since it does not seem to be as important as the other topics, you would like the results to have less impact on the final score. This would mean adding a new topic to the measurement and giving it a multiplication factor of let’s say 0.5.

With our solutions, this would be easy to accomplish with just a few clicks. We have introduced a template based approach where the end-user can customize the measurement on a per project basis or throughout the company. This enables the companies to introduce additional topics on top of the required ones. The topics can also be given multiplication factors to stress the importance of one topic over another. The previous identity badge example was just a simple one example but I'm sure the safety experts in different companies already have many more ideas around this.

But remember, no matter how good the tools are, they will not make a zero safety incident site. It always comes down to the people using the tools and their attitude towards safety. We at Congrid would like to see as many zero incident sites as possible and are willing to help in that respect, but it is up to the industry to make this part of the culture. 

Originally published 10.5.2017, updated 13.8.2020.