Learning to adapt health and safety initiatives from mega projects: an Olympic case study

Finding new ways to improve health and safety management in construction continues to generate much interest. Despite a reduction in deaths, injuries and ill health in recent years, UK construction still has high rates of fatal and major injuries compared to other industries. One of the key concerns is the difficulty of organisational learning in construction manifested as reactive responses to health and safety issues. The Olympic Delivery Authority launched a learning legacy programme in conjunction with industry, government and academia to capture important lessons learnt in a number of areas, including health and safety. Communication has long been considered an important factor in the implementation of health and safety initiatives. Previous research has typically focused on programmes run by single organisations. The London 2012 Olympic Park construction project offered a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of safety initiatives and communication across a range of organisations working side by side. It also offered an exciting opportunity to track health and safety messages as they are communicated to the workforce. The main aim of this research project was to evaluate the range of health and safety initiatives used at the Olympic Park in terms of messages communicated to workers, workers’ awareness, attitude and behaviour, and the transfer of knowledge within and outside the Park. A semistructured inventory was used to survey the workforce (managers, supervisors and workers) using interviews and focus groups on seven Park sites. A follow-up survey was conducted after three months, at which time interviews and focus groups were also held at non-Olympic comparison sites. Data were also collected through the observation of meetings and document review. The data were analysed using template analysis in line with the communication–human information processing (C–HIP) model. The transfer of knowledge into and out of the Olympic Park, and the impact of the communication processes on workers, were key issues identified from the analysis. The results were used to produce industry recommendations that are applicable beyond the realm of a mega project. Important recommendations include, but are not limited to, the important role of the client, the need for planning and the focus on workers’ comprehension and safety behaviour. The most important recommendation was that methods used at the Olympic Park should be used on more traditional projects.