Taking no risks Safety is at the heart of Volvo Construction Equipment. So why, when our machines are getting ever safer, do accidents still happen? As Brian O’Sullivan discovers, keeping people healthy requires a much broader outlook.

It's no good ignoring it - accidents happen. Every day, all over the world. And too many are happening in the construction industry, where thousands are injured or killed every year while working with or around machinery of all types, sizes and brands. There's no argument - we all think that improving safety on construction sites is a good idea. So why, when construction equipment is getting safer do accidents persist? The answer is that safe equipment is only part of the solution to a less accident prone-work environment.

Of course, construction does involve risks, but any job undertaken carelessly can be made dangerous, and likewise any dangerous job can be made safer, if everyone concerned devotes the proper thought and time. There will always be unexpected events, such as freak weather, but even here we can learn to anticipate danger and act accordingly.

Over its long history Volvo has established a reputation as being a pioneer of safer machines - and safety is still a core value of the company today, evidenced in Volvo Construction Equipment's corporate ethos of 'More Care. Built In'. To address the issue of improving safety in and around construction equipment, Volvo has established a Safety Council. This body is taking a three pronged approach to safety that targets improvements in the areas of the Workplace, People and Machines. Central to their efforts is increasing the awareness and importance of safety in the wider construction industry. As part of its 'Safety For You' campaign the Council has produced articles, handbooks, operator training courses and safety videos - earning it a shortlist in the European Excellence Awards 2007.

Designing in safety

At Volvo we focus on designing and building machines that are reliable and safe as possible. We constantly develop new features that improve the safety of the machines, both for the operator and for the environment. And when it comes to designing new machines, it is our philosophy to start simple and only get more complicated if necessary.

As a large proportion of accidents are attributable to people slipping or falling off machines, basic things like sturdy anti-slip steps and rails can make a big difference. Rollover and falling object protection systems, seat belts, effective lighting and eradicating blind spots also help, as does reduced vibration and noise - and a clear view of the work area. There are more complex safety systems, of course, such as overload indicators, proximity sensors, full dual circuit brakes and reversing cameras. These combine with a comfortable cab environment - none more so than Volvo's own Care Cab - that reduces operator fatigue (itself a cause of many accidents) to create a reassuring package.

Construction machinery tends to have a hard life, therefore it is important that it is well maintained. If you can design in easy servicing, ideally keeping the operator or technician on the ground rather than climbing over the machine, then you increase safety on two counts: a) Improving the chances that maintenance is carried out on schedule and b) Reducing the risk of a fall. Clear and easy-to-understand operator and service manuals also play an important part in explaining how to prepare, operate and maintain the equipment safely.

Forward thinking

But all of these machine safety features will be insufficient to significantly reduce the number of accidents and injuries unless we take a coordinated approach to safety, one involving good site layout and rules. Even this won't eradicate accidents completely, but it will reduce the likelihood of them happening.

Accidents are generally the result of a chain of events and badly performed activities. Little corners cut here and there can add up to a big accident. In fact it has been reported that up to 60% of all fatalities on sites can be attributed to choices made before work began. So before any work starts you should consider how best to coordinate the movement of people, materials and machinery. A large part of this is establishing a traffic management plan. The basic idea is to design routes that give the safest passage between places where vehicles and people operate.

Even when you have a well laid out site and well designed and maintained equipment accidents can still happen. Lifting too heavy a load, driving too fast, exceeding the safe work angle - or a host of other situations can put operators and those around them in danger.

People power

Creating a safer site is up to everyone, so there is no point in hushing up minor accidents or 'near misses'. In fact, by encouraging a culture of 'no fault/no blame' problems can be raised openly and quickly rectified. Safety training can also help, and at every machine handover Volvo stresses the importance of carefully reading the operators' manual, which contains numerous tips on how to operate the machine safely.

The best way to visibly raise the importance of safety on site is insisting that everyone wears the right protective equipment. High visibility jackets, hard hats, steel-toed boots are not only effective in themselves; they also reinforce the message that safety is everyone's responsibility and is important.

The health of the industry

Not only are accidents a tragedy for those affected and their families, they are not good advertisements for attracting talented young people into the construction industry. But by a concerted effort by everyone involved, we can positively improve construction's safety record. And it doesn't stop there, as preventing accidents is just one element of improving the general health of those around construction equipment.

As is becoming apparent, it is increasingly difficult to separate the elements of quality, safety and environmental care. Volvo takes its leadership in these three core values seriously, and is committed not just to the development of ever safer products, but also increasing the awareness and knowledge levels of how people interact with machinery and how these, in turn, interact with their work environment.