Exploring the Record-Breaking Health and Safety Performance of the 2012 Olympic Games

During the 2012 Olympics, many records were broken in the pool and on the track, but there is little recognition of the other records that were broken during construction of the many venues, housing, transportation systems and park development.

At one point, the employee count in the London 2012 project peaked to 12,500. In all, 46,000 total workers worked to build the 2012 London Olympics, incurring 62 million man-hours.

London 2012 was the safest Olympic build ever, with a reported injury rate of 0.17 per 100,000 man-hours (0.34 per 100 full-time employees by the method used in the U.S.) – far below the 0.55 building industry average in the U.K. The effort lasted 4 years, and for the first time in Olympic history all projects were completed without a fatality:

  • 1996 Barcelona construction: 1 fatality
  • 2000 Sydney construction: 1 fatality
  • 2004 Greece construction: 14 fatalities
  • 2008 Beijing construction: 10 fatalities
  • 2012 London construction: 0 fatalities

(Source: London Olympics Construction Is Safest In Recent Times)

Lagging and Leading Indicators

Based on the estimated number of man-hours and the amount of the workers that would be on-site, the United Kingdom estimated that the entire project would incur three deaths and more than 500 serious injuries, with perhaps 100 or so of those dramatically changing the workers’ lives. (Source: A Lesson On Safety From The London Olympics)

This was unacceptable for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). They took aggressive steps to ensure that no fatalities would occur and that if injuries did happen, they would not be serious or impact the employees for the rest of their lives. How would they pull this off? They knew that they would still have to use traditional safety disciplines at the site to meet regulatory requirements, but would have to deploy new tactics to reach this lofty, “unattainable” goal. After all, these traditional disciplines routinely produce fatalities and serious injuries. It was going to take out-of-the-box thinking that would later produce a formula that would prove successful. For example, read this directive:

“Build us an Olympic Park. Do it all on time – there is no opportunity for slippage. Do it all on budget – there is a limited amount of money, and it has to be spent wisely. Build it with high quality – it’s all got to work. And, oh, by the way, don’t kill anybody, and don’t cause any harm.”

Pretty straight forward. A speech that many of us have heard before yet cannot accomplish.

Let’s explore this further by going back in history…

The Golden Gate Bridge

In the 1930s, the New Deal created many construction projects that would not only put a majority of our nation back to work and out of the Great Depression, it also served as a breeding ground for some of the most revolutionary advancements in employee, consumer and public safety.

During this era, bridge builders expected to lose one worker per $1 million in construction costs. Using this benchmark, it was expected that 35 workers would lose their lives during the erection of this massive suspension bridge, mostly from falls. These statistics were unacceptable to Joseph Strauss, the chief project engineer.

His site was the first for many things considered “overboard,” “not necessary,” “going above what is required,” etc.:

  • “Hard Hats Required”
  • Use of safety nets
  • Use of belt harnesses
  • Development of sand-blast, air supplied respirator
  • Glare-free goggles
  • Mandatory use of hand and face cream to protect against the wind
  • Special diets to help fight dizziness
  • Hearing protection

During the bridge erection, 11 workers lost their lives. Although this was 11 too many, for that time, this was unprecedented. Additionally, there were 19 members of the Halfway to Hell Club, a fraternity of men whose lives were saved by the safety nets.

Perhaps Mr. Strauss was onto something? Could it be that he realized that protecting the lives of his workers was of greater value compared to other project managers at that time? Did he realize that the loss of his skilled labor force would only add to further delays in the timely completion of the project? Also, he took into account the health of his employees by recognizing a diet could affect the equilibrium of workers.

So how did London do it? How did they reach this “impossible” goal?

There are a lot of things that happened behind the scenes. But there was one definite approach that had not been used in past Olympic builds. The simple answer: employee health & safety. It merged as one mission, one process, one goal.

Exploring the Record-Breaking Health and Safety Performance of the 2012 Olympic Games
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