Interview: A day in the life of a safety officer

MBA CEQS student Mithil Haldankar interviews Mr. Bimbadhar Jena, Assistant Manager at Tata Housing Development

15 October 2015

Expert Talk
MBA CEQS student Mithil Haldankar interviews Mr. Bimbadhar Jena, Assistant Manager at Tata Housing Development, who has 12 years of experience working in construction safety.

Mr. Bimbadhar Jena is currently working as an Assistant Manager - EHS in Tata Housing Development Co. Ltd.’s Shubh Griha and New Haven Compact projects at Ahmedabad. He has a rich experience of 12 years of working in the safety domain of the construction industry. He shares his thoughts with us in this interview.

Q. How do you start your day at work?

I begin my day by taking a round of the entire site to ensure that all the EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) measures are in place. The construction activity begins only after my approval and hence I have to be at the site on time. I also give a small Tool Box Talk to the workmen and engineers.

Q. What exactly is a Tool Box Talk?

A Tool Box Talk is a small discussion where I talk to a small group of workmen and engineers before beginning any construction activity and try to educate them about the EHS related hazards and risks associated with that activity. The main focus is to promote the safety culture among workmen. The topics range from importance of PPE’s, ladder safety, working at height, disease prevention, firefighting, electrical hazards, etc.

Q. What are your roles and responsibilities?

I am responsible for the overall EHS monitoring of the site. I have to implement all the EHS policies and processes of my company. I have to ensure a safety induction training of all the new persons coming on site. Educating the workers and staff about safety culture is done on a daily basis. As I said earlier, any construction activity begins only after my approval, so I have to identify all the possible hazards and risks before and during the execution of any construction activity and control them. Only after all risks are mitigated, I can issue permits for work to begin. For this purpose, I have to collaborate a lot with the execution team as their support is very crucial to ensure smooth operation of work. As part of the health program, I ensure that all the workmen are provided a basic health check-up before they start working to check their fitness. I’m also responsible to make sure that the environment is not getting polluted by any of the construction activity. I also advise the management from time to time about the EHS policies and processes of the company.

Q. What are PPEs?

PPEs are Personal Protective Equipment or tools which are provided to protect parts of the body of an individual working on site. These include a helmet, safety shoes, goggles, gloves, harness etc. It is compulsory for all persons to wear the necessary PPEs while entering the site.

Q. What are the challenges faced by you in your daily professional life?

Most of the workmen in India are illiterate and don’t believe in the safety culture. When I confront them as to why they are not wearing the PPEs provided to them, they say “Chalta hai sahab, hum baki jagah bhi aise hi kaam karte hai aur aaj tak hume kuch nahi hua!” (“It’s okay, sir, we’ve worked like this in other places too and yet nothing has happened to us!”). Overcoming this mentality of the workmen is my biggest challenge every day! Sometimes it is also difficult to get the support of the execution team as they are hard pressed against deadlines to finish the work on time.
Q. So how do you get the workmen to wear the PPEs?
Well, it’s a difficult task but not impossible. Most of the times, I have to take a more personal and motivational approach with every individual. I have to do regular training and counseling to make them understand the value of their life and that these PPEs are for their own safety only. I also give small rewards every month to those workmen who follow all the safety instructions. These rewards may have little monetary value but the recognition that an individual gets is priceless and this encourages other workmen also to start following the safety norms.

Q. Any particular experience which you would like to share?

I had an unforgettable experience on 24th December, 2012. Some workers were working on the roof of a workshop replacing the polycarbonate sheets. One of the workers had removed a section of the roof and left it open. Another worker who was working there had put on earphones and was listening to music. He did not notice the open section and fell through it and had a fatal accident. The other workers tried to warn him but he was not able to listen to them. The major learning from this incident was that one should not listen to music while working on a construction site, there should be adequate supervision of workmen and warning signages must be placed at places with possible hazard.

Q. Any advice to budding engineers?

Engineers are educated while the workmen at site are mostly uneducated. It is the responsibility of the engineers to look after the safety of the workers and that of the environment around us. You’ll be under a lot of pressure to complete the construction work on time and you might be tempted to skip some safety measures to complete the task. But never forget about safety. Safety always comes first. If a building is damaged, you can build it again, but if a human being has an accident and loses a body part or if he dies, you can never bring them back!

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