The management of HSE documentation in construction companies

Document management is a critical aspect in HSE systems in all kind of companies and especially in construction ones. Even more so, if they follow a management system, certified according to BS OHSAS 18001:2007, the new ISO 45001:2018 or ISO 14001:2015. Construction companies have the peculiarity that often their organization is temporary, linked to the needs of individual projects, and they have a weak supervision of corporate processes. This means that, even the big players, design the documentation management systems of their projects more according to the skills of the individual managers who have the good fortune to recruit, rather than because of well-considered corporate decisions. In the long run, this is proving to be a factor of weakness of these organizations, especially when they find themselves competing in the international market, where other organizations have made radical choices in this regard some years already.

Which documents?

The management of documentation relating to safety and the environment in a construction company can be declined in various aspects; the main one concerns the ordinary management of documents functional to the definition of the company management system, their distribution, storage and withdrawal, in particular, of:

  • policies;
  • manuals;
  • procedures

Then there are the records of the activities defined by company policies and procedures, such as:

  • risk assessment;
  • training;
  • health surveillance;
  • monitoring and measurements in the workplace;
  • accident and injury investigation;
  • internal reporting.

Policies and procedures can concern production, with the provision of instruments to organize and control key activities such as, for example:

  • use, management and maintenance of machines and equipment;
  • work permits;
  • hot works;
  • work at height;
  • work in confined spaces.
  • atmospheric emissions and discharges;
  • waste management;
  • noise;
  • storage and use of hazardous materials.

Letters and communications of various kinds are also to be considered. For contracted activities, it is almost normal practice for the client to ask to be informed about plans and business processes, sometimes going so far as to subordinate the contractor’s operations to his approval of these. Furthermore, in these cases, the sharing of on-site monitoring data, letters and periodic reporting is a common practice.

Organization of the company and organization of the project

A company of this kind organizes its activity by projects, which means that the management of the documentation, its distribution, the collection of records and the reporting must have a first synthesis at this level, but must also be coordinated in more areas, department, territorial and corporate units.

Normally this type of activity is managed through the formal preparation of a set of more or less in-depth information, the actual application of which and the relative administration of records and reports is carried out with different degrees of informality which, it must be said, entail as many degrees of inefficiency. In recent years, however, the development of particular software platforms for sharing information and an increased need for competitiveness of companies, if not the specific requests of particularly professional clients, has led many of these to think about the adoption of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) platforms, identifying the management of information related to the development of the project as a strategic factor for the success of the project.

A company that intends to equip itself with a tool of this kind, starting from the assumption that it has already implemented a management system, should first of all check the degree of formality with which this is applied: although PLM platforms have dramatically evolved in recent years in terms of simplicity and user-friendliness, their use still involves a certain level of discipline in the company. For an organization that manages its processes widely in an unofficial way, switching to a setting of all processes in this way can be too big a mouthful, which will simply be ignored by operators, who are faced with the need to radically change their way to work, they will continue to behave as they always had.

Therefore, it is better to privilege an introduction step by step, and then the circumstances will help to define the priorities: if it is a conveniently planned improvement measure, you can start from the highest level or strategic processes, and then expand the system to the rest of organization. It may happen that the need to adopt a system of this kind comes from external solicitations: a customer or a partner. In this case it will be necessary to make a virtue of necessity, and our plans will be dictated from the outside.

A phased approach

In any case, it would be advisable for the introduction of a PLM system, even limited to only some business processes, not to prescind from a broader evaluation and planning. This should serve to avoid the adoption of solutions without the possibility of development, closed in on themselves.

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.