Financial Year 2022 – Occupational safety

Safety first

It’s Thursday morning in Adliswil and Beate Holz and Sebastian Gertsch, Allreal’s two workplace health and safety representatives, have turned up unannounced at one of the company’s major construction sites. At least once every month, they conduct a safety audit at a construction site. Since introducing the safety audits in 2016, there are now significantly fewer safety risks and accidents at Allreal’s construction sites.

“Our visits don’t come completely out of the blue,” explains Sebastian Gertsch. We always let the site manager in charge know the evening before. The short notice ensures they don’t have enough time to completely transform their construction site. “But it does give them enough notice to plan their day,” says Gertsch. “It’s really important that construction sites are in their working state when they’re inspected.”

Beate Holz and Sebastian Gertsch really know their stuff. They are both site managers for Allreal who take on the role of workplace health and safety representative as an extra responsibility. “We may be checking up on our colleagues, but it never causes any problems,” says Gertsch. For one thing, their day jobs make them more credible because they have to face the same challenges in their own work. And they never go about with the intention of making their colleagues look bad. Their job is to offer help and support with everything to do with health and safety in the workplace. “We provide an external perspective and make recommendations to help our colleagues and make their lives easier as site managers,” says Sebastian Gertsch. There is also the added benefit of making everyone stop and think about safety, which can only improve the situation on construction sites.

“We provide an external perspective and make recommendations to help our colleagues and make their lives easier as site managers.”

Sebastian Gertsch,
Joint Workplace Health and Safety Representative, Allreal

Number of major safety risks halved

Health and safety in the workplace is a top priority for Allreal, with a focus on the construction sites. Since the introduction of regular safety audits and consistent accident logging on construction sites, the number of major safety risks on the construction sites has halved. During the whole of the past financial year, four people suffered minor injuries during working hours at Allreal, corresponding to 2.18 incidents per 200,000 hours worked. “Our goal remains to bring that number down even further,” says Beate Holz.

“We always start our safety audits on the roof,” she explains at the start of the tour. The trained draftsperson for construction engineering and qualified site manager has been working on the Allreal site management team for over four years now. There is also a focus on safety when site managers are completing their training. “When we took on the extra responsibility as workplace health and safety representatives, we completed the basic course for safety managers to make sure we were up to date with the latest requirements,” says Holz. The role means a lot to her even though it does involve her giving up more time and taking on extra responsibility. She enjoys having the chance to step away from the microcosm of her own construction site every so often. “It’s an important and worthwhile role that I’m delighted to take on.”

The legal framework conditions for health and safety in the workplace come from multiple regulatory sources. Several ordinances – including the Construction Work Ordinance – set out how the regulations should be applied. There is also plenty of documentation to help with the implementation, some of which is provided by SUVA (Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund). There are also eight essential rules of construction, which the safety audits are centred around: secure edges, cover holes in the ground, fasten loads properly, work with scaffolding, check scaffolding daily, ensure secure access, wear protective personal equipment, secure trenches and pits.

“A lasting change can only be made if health and safety in the workplace is a non-negotiable part of the company culture.”

Beate Holz,
Joint Workplace Health and Safety Representative, Allreal

No such thing as perfectly safe

“During our audit today, we’re focusing on the scaffolding, edges and holes in the floor,” says Sebastian Gertsch. You need good observation skills and a healthy dose of pragmatism to perform safety audits. “Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as the perfect construction site with no safety issues whatsoever,” says Gertsch. There’s usually a lot going on at a construction site. Materials are delivered and need to be stored and moved around. All kinds of work are usually taking place at once and need to be completed within a set time frame. That means the danger zones are constantly changing. “Perfect safety just isn’t attainable on a construction site,” explains Gertsch. It’s more a case of staying on top of safety and fixing issues as they arise.

We can look at the work currently being performed on the third floor of this new build in Adliswil to see the challenges in action. The formwork is being prepared here for the ceiling to be concreted. Formwork panels are being laid on formwork girders. While openings in the floor are being secured, some smaller holes are still not covered. “As it stands, these holes have not been secured in line with the regulations,” explains Sebastian Gertsch. “But it’s obvious that the people working here are in the process of taking the relevant safety measures.” This is a common situation on construction sites. Things are constantly changing. And that’s why it’s so important that we don’t just rely on one person to take care of safety. It has to be a joint effort, with everyone paying attention and getting involved. “A lasting change can only be made if health and safety in the workplace is a non-negotiable part of the company culture,” explains Beate Holz.

Managers leading by example

There’s a good view of the rest of the construction site from up on the third floor. The two workplace health and safety representatives may have a critical eye, but they do manage to seek out the positives too. “The construction site is nice and tidy,” says Sebastian Gertsch. He’ll highlight this with green in the traffic light system on the report they’ll send to the relevant site manager and their superiors after the audit. “Keeping a construction site well organised is another way to improve safety. It means there are fewer things to trip over and the emergency exits are always clear and accessible. Sadly, not all construction sites manage this as well as this one. And that’s why we’ll be drawing attention to this point,” he says. Allreal relies on a simple traffic light system for the safety audit report. A red rating means work has to stop in the affected area, which must be cordoned off and only reopened once the safety issue has been resolved. Amber is used to indicate minor problems and general observations that could help improve health and safety in the workplace. And green represents positive feedback.

Once they’ve finished inspecting the scaffolding and the upper floors, the pair climb down to the basement. It doesn’t take long to feel as though you’re in a cave instead of the basement of a new build. The LED lighting doesn’t reach all the way to the rooms at the back, so it’s understandably dark over there. “That’s obviously far from ideal,” says Beate Holz. While it’s true that nobody is working in the basement at the moment, the rooms are on the emergency escape route. That means it has to be possible for people to walk through them safely.

The safety audit tour also requires the workplace health and safety representatives to inspect the power distributors on site. This type of equipment requires regular maintenance – and that’s exactly what it gets on this construction site. “At the end of the day, there are major and minor points to be checked so that we can provide a safe working environment,” says Beate Holz. If there’s any chance of a culture of safety taking hold, the supervisors and site managers have to set a good example. “If the people in charge don’t take their responsibilities seriously, it’s incredibly difficult to get anyone else on board.”

After the tour has come to an end, it’s time for a brief discussion: What points came up? What needs improvement and what should be flagged up in the report? The workplace health and safety representatives took photographic evidence of any issues they came across. “On the whole, we’re happy with this construction site,” says Sebastian Gertsch. They may have spotted a few areas for improvement, but they’re still writing a glowing report for this construction site. “Absolutely,” agrees Beate Holz. It’s clear to see that the subcontractors are on board with the requirements for health and safety in the workplace here too. “Safety is right at the heart of all that we do on these construction sites,” says Beate Holz. “All that really matters is that we all make it home in one piece at the end of the day.”