Project Management

What We Often Get Wrong About Safety on Construction Projects

Paul is the principal of Bird Advisory in Perth, Western Australia.

It’s said that good safety contributes to healthy projects. It’s also noted that healthy projects tend to have good safety. It’s integrated: It’s good on good jobs.

There are some common notions about safety that are cause for pause. You will often hear it spoken about as a separate thing, like it’s “done” by a safety department. Or it’s a specialty with arcane knowledge that has to be brought in from an academy somewhere. Or it’s cast as a priority, something that you might be able to trade off with other objectives.

It shouldn’t be any of these things; it ought to be right in the guts of what we do.

There Isn’t a Trade-off
We’re all familiar with the ”iron triangle” of project management, where the project understands its trade-offs in cost, schedule and quality (crudely: “better, faster, cheaper—pick any two”). This is very real, and quantifying these trade-offs can greatly assist with alignment and decision-making.

But what about safety? Can it be traded off with the other objectives? Can you buy safety?

It isn’t obvious that you can. While it’s true that incremental safety enhancements may cost some time and money, we also know that injuries hurt the project (as well as our people). It’s certainly not a zero-sum game.

In fact, at least …

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