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Monitoring

Active monitoring and positive feedback can help to build a stable, productive team capable of producing high-quality products and working safely.

How is monitoring different from site supervision?

There are two sorts of monitoring - health monitoring and work practice monitoring.

Supervisors, foremen and charge hands provide local leadership and manage the completion of tasks. Supervision includes setting a good example and making sure that operatives work safely - this uses the same skills as checking that the quality of work is acceptable and that production is progressing to plan.

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Active monitoring

Monitoring is a line management responsibility but it is more proactive and structured than supervision. Monitoring involves checking aspects of health and safety against plans, performance standards and specifications. These provide a yardstick against which to measure performance.

Effective health monitoring shouldn't be complex but it does need to purposeful, consistent and clear - talk to workers and their representatives and make sure that they understand how and why standards of work-related health are or will be monitored.

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How do you know that occupational health risks are properly managed?

Effective monitoring starts with a responsible person in the organisation (eg a director) asking ‘how do we know that occupational health risks are properly managed?' There's no definitive answer to this question and you will probably need to rely on various sources of information, including:

Identify the most significant risks and focus on those with the biggest ‘risk gap'. The risk gap is the difference between how a health risk is managed (the actual risk) and how it should be managed (the benchmark), while taking into account:

You will need to decide:

On the best sites, monitoring is part of every manager's job and is supplemented by health and safety officer visits where necessary. Both follow simple systems to sample, check and report on health and safety performance at regular intervals.

The objective is to encourage construction methods and work practices that protect workers. You need to develop methods of work that do not harm workers. You need to monitor these methods to make sure they are being followed. Encouragement, reward and explanation on site is more likely to achieve this than a blame culture. Respect is important.

When monitoring health risks, directors and managers (including supervisors and foremen) need to:

BS 8800:2004 Annexes D and F contain useful guidance on how to plan and implement improvements to health and safety, and monitor performance. The standard also contains an example of how to improve the use of hearing protection and monitor progress.

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Moving forward

There is usually a reason why workers don't follow agreed methods of work. It might be that time pressures are seen as more important, or that workers have a poor understanding of what they are meant to do and they are innovating to get the job done. It could be that workers do not appreciate the risks - after all, few occupational health hazards have an instant effect.

Keep asking why they aren't following the agreed work methods. You may find that solving the problem means taking a number of actions.

Example: Kerb laying

A contractor gave their groundwork subcontractor a method statement that required kerb layers to use a mechanical grab to install kerbs. The grab was hung off a 180˚ excavator. The contracts manager visited site and discovered that labourers were stringing out the kerbs by hand, which exposed them to a risk of serious back injury.

Why were operatives stringing kerbs out by hand?

Labourers did not believe there was much chance of being injured. Two labourers handled the kerbs together and each unit only weighed 67 kg. The gang also thought that it was quicker to string the kerbs out manually rather than wait for the excavator.

Why did the labourers think this?

The labourers had never been injured, seen the method statement or received a toolbox talk. Poor weather meant that kerb laying was behind schedule.

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Targets

The old saying ‘what gets measured gets done' has some currency. Measure the wrong things and the way you manage occupational health is unlikely to improve - in fact, it might get worse or give you a false sense of security.

Targets can help encourage a sense of purpose and show what has been achieved. But if you use targets they need to be relevant to occupational health, meaningful and capable of delivering your objectives.

The principles you use to target ill health are no different to those used for quality, finance etc - targets need to be Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Timed (SMART).

For example, a SMART target might be for ‘operatives to use dust suppression and a specified mask every time they use a stone-cutting saw' - to protect workers from dust that contains respirable crystalline silica. Contract managers could monitor by checking compliance during routine site visits, correcting poor practice and reporting their observations up the management chain so that performance can be analysed over time. A less meaningful target is ‘to have no cases of ill health', although this is still a worthy aim.

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Further guidance

Updated 2013-03-14