• Lambeth Associates – Engineering-out the Risks

    25 April 2013

    International construction industry research suggests that up to 50% of all fatalities can be linked to design related issues and/or decisions made before work actually begins on site. We must therefore never underestimate the essential and highly responsible role of the design engineer  in ensuring that our construction works are built safely, particularly through the critical “temporary works stages”. Good design decisions can so often be, injury and life saving. 

    Lambeth Associates in PRC Mag April 2013 4There has been a quiet revolution taking place at the Quarry Bay offices of Lambeth Associates Ltd. through a process that weaves together communications at all levels of a construction project; the Lambeth engineering design consultancy is building an industry leading system to manage change and thereby improve site safety.

    In winning the Lighthouse Club’s Gold Award for safety leadership in the Architect-Consultant category Lambeth’s demonstrated that best-practice commitment to safety begins with efficiency and transparency. “We’re not aware of any consultant or contractor that has anything similar to some of the tools we have that allow easy communication of design changes back to the designer electronically and not through emails that can get lost,” says Lambeth director and general manager Ian Askew. Mr Askew told PRC magazine that Lambeth had created its own software and Internet-based communication tools to communicate and monitor design changes as part of a wider, integrated effort to minimise risk, the Zero Harm Plan.

    Lambeth Associates in PRC Mag April 2013 2The plan is based on four principles – learning and influencing, open engagement, communication, and removing risk – with liberal doses of common sense and lateral thinking throughout.

    “We usually ask ourselves what are the risks, what could possibly go wrong and that’s the starting point. We try and instil in all the design teams, in all the engineers, this sort of thinking,” Mr Askew said.

    It is discipline and practices such as these that led the Lighthouse Club to present a Gold Award to Lambeth. The club’s chairman of the safety committee, Mark Divers, said Lambeth had displayed an unfailing commitment to health and safety. It had brought about change through innovation, “ensuring that significantly safer alternatives are put into use” and then promoting them, Mr Divers said during the club’s safety awards night on 8 March.

    “We believe that consultants have a much greater role to play in engineering-out risk that can lead to accidents in Hong Kong and more generally around Southeast Asia and what we are trying to do is identify some key areas where we can do more, develop best practices and communicate that to the wider industry,” Mr Askew said.

    Lambeth’s engineering solutions are being put to work on high profile contracts around Hong Kong, including the estimated HK$8.9billion contract to build the West Kowloon Terminus for the Hong Kong-Guangzhou Express Rail Link and the Midfield development project at the Hong Kong International Airport. Phase 1 of the project includes the building of a new midfield concourse with 20 aircraft parking stands, a new cross-field taxiway and the extension of the existing automated people mover to the terminal.

    Lambeth Associates in PRC Mag April 2013 1At each of these high-profile sites, Lambeth’s reusable, mechanised formwork is being deployed – an innovation to reduce onsite accidents and accelerate construction. The mobile, hydraulic system removes the need for scaffolding and formwork, reducing risk to workers. “It removes the need for lots of carpenters and nearly all the risks involved with working at height because all the barriers are pre-installed. This process very safely accelerates the construction period so the exposure of the workers is lower.”

    Adapted from bridge building techniques, Lambeth’s in-house designed technology, reduces man hours required by a factor of eight and a corresponding eight-fold reduction to exposure.

    Mr Askew said there was a small cost premium in deploying the system but it had paid for itself in safety and productivity improvements. “We tend to forget not only the human cost but also the monetary implications of our decisions, which according to recent insurance figures are on average as high as HK$700,000 per Workmen’s Compensation claim, and these exclude consequential costs to a project” Mr. Askew added.

    Lambeth draws heavily on a 35-year engineering pedigree in the Asia-Pacific region to “design in” safety. It stations engineers on site with construction teams, a decision that Mr Askew said enhances productivity by getting engineering decision “right first time” through direct communication between designer and constructor, Better “on-time”decisions being the end result.“ We are trying to deliver both safe designs and dollar value across the board.”

    The company has taken its collaborative approach to construction and combined it with a willingness to demystify the roles of professionals within the organisation, with a shared objective of making it easier to build safely.

    “We put a lot of effort in to how we communicate. As an industry we tend to produce drawings that are full of information and two-dimensional sections but at Lambeth we want to move away from that. We’re trying to move towards drawings with fewer words that are easier to understand.”

    Lambeth Associates in PRC Mag April 2013 3Lambeth strives to improve communication using three-dimensional computer software to produce drawings with isometric views that give workers on site a better appreciation of perspective. It is not unusual to see traffic road signs and brightly coloured alerts on Lambeth’s designs. Their drawings include universally understood graphics to alert workers to potential safety issues or situations where risk has been minimised but cannot be eliminated.

    Mr Askew said early engagement between design consultants and construction teams was vital to improve safety performance. “We recognise that a lot of the good engineering solutions tend to come from the front line people that build,” he said. “Quite often as an industry, consultants issue designs and these are simply followed. But if we can encourage more suggestions on good ‘buildability’, early, then we’re also encapsulating all that valuable practical knowledge.”

    There is no doubting the company’s ground-up commitment to safety – an obligation the organisation is dedicated to continuing. “The safety performance of the construction industry in Hong Kong is far from world leading. The only way we can change is to challenge traditional roles of construction stakeholders. As design consultants in Hong Kong we can do much more to improve safety on construction sites.”

    While Mr Askew says the company is providing an industry-leading example, it is still learning and evolving its safety performance. “We don’t feel that safety is something, morally, that you should look to take commercial benefit from. It’s more human. If we’re doing something well that could help prevent an injury, we don’t mind if our competitors know about it. There should be no secrets in safety!”

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