The market for the construction of large infrastructures, highways, dams, subways, is now completely globalized. The main contractors are multinationals, present in different geographical areas, and they employ personnel from every nation, at different levels. The same can be said for the service companies that gravitate in this market: designers, consultants, and engineers, belong to a large transnational community, so much so that it is not difficult, over the years, for these people to meet again for work in different parts of the world, in new projects and roles. Under the name “working abroad”, however, you can still find more different scenarios, situations that require a reasoned approach and quite different solutions, in terms of health and safety in the workplace.
Eastern Europe, the Middle East and, in general, developing countries, are among the most common destinations. Underestimating issues relating to safety and the environment, perhaps believing that these areas have not yet developed a sensitivity to these issues comparable to that of other countries, can be an error of assessment that will be paid dearly. In fact, it happens that these initiatives are financed by big international development banks, such as IFC, World Bank, EBRD, ADB, which is generally referred to by the collective name of Lenders, or promoted by international companies extremely sensitive to these issues, which have developed very stringent rules of conduct relating to the environment, safety and relations with the local communities.
For example, the European Bank for Development and Reconstruction, better known as EBRD (BERS for neo-Latin countries), gathers 66 countries from the five continents and finances projects exclusively in those countries of central Europe and East and Central Asia, who are making the transition from a one-party system and a centralized economy to a system based on a market economy, multi-party democracy and pluralism, thus promoting the necessary development of the private sector. The fundamental requirements for accessing funding are listed in articulated documents defined Performance Requirements (PRs) which express the principles to which the actions must be subject and concern:
- The assessment and management of environmental and social impacts and related issues.
- The working conditions.
- The efficiency of the use of resources and the prevention and control of pollution.
- Health and safety.
- Land acquisition, involuntary resettlement, and economic changes.
- The conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable management of living natural resources.
- Relations with indigenous peoples.
- Cultural heritage.
- Financial intermediaries.
- The disclosure of information and the participation of interested parties.
A simple reading of the EBRD’s list of Performance Requirements, without going into more detail on how they are developed, makes it clear that the intentions of these organizations that finance a good number of infrastructure projects around the world, are essentially political. Lenders are indeed interested in the implementation of the project they finance, but mainly as a means of an intervention that does not have results limited to the infrastructure itself built. The project, with the construction site where the work is organized, the repercussions on businesses and communities and even on local political organizations, are the tool aimed at a broader political objective, of international politics: to keep the ten performances under strict control, especially during the construction of the work, aims to maintain an atmosphere of consensus towards the project, to ensure that the investment unfolds its full potential.
It can be safely said that one of their main objectives, is to obtain and maintain the consent of all interested parties, starting from the populations directly concerned, up to the audience of the administrators and politicians involved, passing through the local entrepreneurial fabric to finish to the local and international public opinion. Therefore, regardless of what legislation requires and how it is actually applied, a condition that varies according to particular local and national sensitivities, for the development banks the activation and continuous updating of an evaluation of the effects of the project, which starts from local environmental, ecological and social considerations, to extend to the more general consequences on the professional and economic communities, proportionate to the scale of the project, up to where the influence of the promoted activities can be extended.
Most of the activities requested by Lenders fall on the organization promoting the project, which is the one who requests their support, the Client. Lenders have guidelines and documents that explain in depth and with a wealth of examples the degree and depth of the studies they believe should accompany the development of a project to be financed, right from its first steps.
A diligent Contractor, however, must absolutely consider the repercussions on his processes, of such a determined attitude, repercussions that can be:
- The request for research and analysis or services that normally go beyond construction activities.
- An increased rigidity of the decision-making processes on changes, or in-depth design projects that in some way may have consequences on the areas of interest of the Lenders.
- The request to explicitly document particular decisions and processes.
Author: Antonio Pedna
Independent QHSE Manager & Adviser | Master of Architecture and Construction Engineering | TechIOSH
I am a specialist in QHSE in large construction sites with over 20 years of experience in the building business.
Based between Izmir, Turkey and Milan, Italy, I work in the world of large infrastructure projects in Italy, Africa and Middle East, a highly competitive environment, where the attention to technical detail, organization, management and reporting is taken to extremes.
I’m chartered Architect, Master of Architecture and Construction Engineering, Technical Member IOSH (TechIOSH), I achieved the NEBOSH International General Certificate in Health and Safety (NEBOSH IGC) and I’m qualified Safety Manager and Safety Coordinator (RSPP, CSP/CSE according to the Italian regulations) and qualified lead/third part auditor for management systems.
Antonio is a member of the HSE People Panel covering ‘A View from Overseas’