Curado, M.T. and Dias, L.M. (1996); "Integration of Quality and Safety on Construction Companies " Proc. of the CIB W99 International Conference on Implementation of Safety and Health on Construction Sites, Balkema: Lisbon

Integration of Quality and Safety
on Construction Companies

Luís M. Alves Dias

Instituto Superior Técnico, Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal



Miguel Torres Curado

Instituto Superior Técnico, Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal


Construction companies world-wide are embracing formal systems for the management of quality and safety. The particularities of each market have resulted in different stages of development of these systems. Frequently the extent to which quality systems are implanted is related to costumers’ demands, while safety systems are apparently more propelled by regulatory pressure.

This paper emphasises some of the similarities between these two types of systems. A joint approach that can possibly be extended to other areas is advocated, by means of the wide umbrella provided by Total Quality Management (TQM).

Drawing on the experience from quality systems, but also from environmental systems, the creation of an international standard for the management of occupational health and safety is discussed.


As we move into the third millennium, the world progresses from mere growth to development, causing occupational safety and health to be mounting concerns.

Accidents causing personal, social and economical losses occur in spite of the huge number of informative and, in some countries, regulatory documents on accident prevention techniques.

A panoply of publications regarding the number, type and cost of accidents in construction sites is available for developed countries as well as for a lot of developing economies. However, accident statistics are comparable to defects data. They are symptoms, rather than causes. Causes and solutions are to be found upstream, not downstream, as in part of the construction industry the safety culture is low, both among the companies and the employees.

An accident is the result of a chain of events, in the same way a product or service defect results from a set of non-conforming factors in a production process. It needs to be approached in the same way as defects.

Companies dealt with defects through quality management techniques, materialised in Quality Control, Quality Assurance and increasingly in TQM. TQM involves a commitment by companies to a strategic path, where increases in efficiency and effectiveness are the result of intensive holistic analysis and co-operation with both costumers and other stakeholders (Sjøholt (1995)).


Any construction company in a competitive market has to translate the complexity of its costumers requirements into internal complexity. This has to be done by means of its management systems applied to its construction projects. However to maintain a competitive edge, companies will have to go beyond the care-abouts of just the costumers and pay attention to all the major stakeholders in their business environment. According to the ISO1 (1995) committee draft standard on Project Management (ISO/CD 10006), stakeholders may include:
  • Costumer, recipient of the project product;
  • Consumer, such as a user of the project end product;
  • Owner, such as the organisation originating the project;
  • Partner, such as in join-venture projects;
  • Funder, such as a financial institution;
  • Subcontractor or supplier;
  • Society, such as jurisdictional or regulatory bodies;
  • Internal stakeholder, such as a member of the project organisation.
A quality system built in a TQM perspective should address the set of requirements from the major stakeholders, in order to attain business excellence.

That is to say that when the focus is changed from mere assuring to costumers compliance with their requirements - and a wider approach is taken, comprising other stakeholders - the umbrella of TQM should cover also a number of other requirements, among which occupational safety and health is in the front row. This approach could also be extended to environmental management2, allowing for the down-sizing of redundant and expensive systems. Still, the integration of environmental systems may be hampered by the need to present to external pressure groups a high environmental profile.

Occupational Safety and Health concerns may develop adequately in the company’s management systems by the use of an extension of the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) techniques.

QFD was invented in Japan in the mid-1970s and reached Europe and America a decade later. It is a structured process that has been used to provide a means to identify the costumer’s care-abouts through all the stages of product and service development, design and implementation. QFD is achieved by cross-functional teams which collect, interpret, document and rank costumer requirements.

QFD has been used in the past as a way of understanding the “voice of the customer” (Burrows (1991)). However its application can be widened to comprehend the “voices” of all the relevant stakeholders.


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) “Safety and Health in Construction Convention, 1988, N. 167” stipulates that whenever two or more employers undertake simultaneously at one construction site the principal contractor, or other person or body with actual control over or primary responsibility for overall construction site activities, shall be responsible for co-ordinating safety and health measures.

In US regulations, the responsibility of handling occupational safety and health on site lies with the employer, that is the construction companies (OSHA3, part 1926). The regulations are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Construction companies are subject to site inspections and must conform to a set of comprehensive rules and regulations.

In Europe the framework directive for safety and health of workers also considers that the employer bears the duty to ensure safety and health of workers in every aspect related to the work. The newer specific regulations for the construction sector focus the co-ordination of safety and health issues on the costumer (Council Directive 92/57/EEC). Although aiming at establishing a chain of responsibility linking all the parties involved, this directive centres the process in a “safety and health plan” to which the construction companies and self-employed workers should comply. Such an approach directs the companies to a compliance posture instead of a proactive attitude. Besides that, the costumer is undertaking, at times reluctantly a double task of co- ordinating and inspecting for which it often has no vocation and sometimes no know- how. The rather small proportion of costumers (even public) currently including safety in their tender evaluation criteria illustrates their level of commitment.

The European legislation has an important hidden contribution to quality, by requiring the existence of a file containing relevant safety and health information to be taken into account during any subsequent works. This file provides a dose of traceability which is often absent on the construction process. Anyway, information should not suffer needless duplication, favouring the integration of safety and quality documentation.

Figure 1 illustrates the responsibilities and the flux of information according to the Construction Sites Directive (Dias and Fonseca (1996)).


Figure 1: Responsibilities and flux of information according to the Construction Sites Directive


The task of inspection while being an onus of the administration in the US and other countries, has been discarded to the costumer in Europe, where construction companies have even been relieved of co-ordination in most cases.

It is the authors’ belief that a true safety culture has little chances of emerging when companies are just adjusting their practices to external inspections, and that it has probably less chances when the design and co-ordination of those practices is left to the costumer.

Comparing this practice to the path followed by quality management4 it seems that in safety management both the US and Europe are still just reaching the Quality Control stage, and may encourage the traditional adversarial nature of the construction industry. The construction industry has accepted that quality can not be ‘inspected’ into a product, and time will show that safety can not be ‘inspected’ into an activity.

Construction companies have the direct power and capabilities to influence safety and health conditions on construction sites. Nevertheless the actual task are carried out by the employees, with design and performance requirements from the client, inputs from sub-contractors and some times in co-ordination with other contractors.

Partnering between the several stakeholders may allow the creation of a safety culture reaching beyond contractual arrangements and legal regulations and obtaining results at the behaviour level. This has been advocated by the Associated General Contractors of America (1991), and is implemented through an agreement signed by the top management of the participating organisations. The agreement provides that all signatories shall work jointly towards shared targets as well as towards their particular aims. According to Levitt and Samelson (1993) there are two reasons for expecting that partnering will decrease the incidence of accidents in the construction industry:

1. “Improvement in relation between the user, the contractor, and the subcontractor should reduce pressures and tensions on the job”;

2. “The performance objectives which form part of the partnering charter usually include a specific mention of job safety. And zero injuries could well be the agreed-upon goal.”


The conclusions of research by Wilson (1989) on organisational behaviour and safety management indicate that the preventive steps that are appropriate for the manufacturing sector are often not quite apt for organic ones. It was found that the application of legislation as an accident prevention measure is a lot more adaptable to mechanistic organisations than to the construction industry.

According to Krause (1994) behaviour based safety management and quality improvement are “essentially two sides of the same coin”. This author defends that eight principles of continuous improvement find direct application on behaviour based safety management:

A safe working behaviour must result from having the adequate means, knowledge and motivation. Obviously the last element is the least tangible, and where a number of ways can be followed. The behavioural focus of TQM may provide insights into the management of safety, by getting high levels of empowerment among employees and a goal oriented behaviour. As an instance of this empowerment, similarly to TQM all workers should have the power to stop the work, in the part or all the construction site, due to a justifiable safety concern.

The results from experiences with behavioural interventions concerning safety in the construction industry are still very limited. In the UK the experimental research presented in Duff et al. (1994) and Marsh et al. (1995) adopted a method of goal setting, performance measurement, the provision of feedback and training. These experiments provided encouraging results, although questioning the merits of training and emphasising the commitment of top management. Promising results were previously obtained in Finland (Mattila and Hyodnmaa (1988)).

This approach can be of difficult implementation in countries where there is a significant part of the construction work-force which is floating, not only between projects and companies but coming and going to other sectors.


Using it or not we have all grown used to the existence of standards containing models for quality management (mainly ISO 9001/2). This year sees the publication of a similar standard containing specifications for environmental management systems (ISO 140015) .

In this line of thinking, the question arises: what about a standard for safety management systems?

At present, some work overlapping with an eventual standard for safety management is in progress.

A draft standard covering general management principles was introduced in Canada (Canadian Standards Association and Deloitte & Touch (1993)). This draft considers that “such general principles would guide the manager with one set of management system principles which would provide one common management model for use in many different management sub-systems”. The Canadian document aims to “provide to management of organisations a simple set of management principles which can be used to support the management of any function, for any objectives, in any size of organisation, and at any level of an organisation”.

In 1994 the ISO Technical Commission 67 (on materials, equipment and offshore structures for petroleum and natural gas industries) identified the need to provide guidance by way of an international standard in establishing an overall management system which addresses the key elements required to ensure the safety of personnel and the protection of the environment This resulted in the presentation of a new work item proposal.

The ISO 9001/2 standards, focusing on conformity to specifications, have played a role in the spread of quality assurance and moreover in third party certification. TQM having a less prescribing character than quality assurance is not as easily specified as quality assurance, although an attempt was made in the UK with the publication of BS 7850.

In environmental management, the application of the ISO 14001 standard can be anticipated through the existing experience with BS 7750. This standard has been used, in the UK and elsewhere, also in an environmental assurance perspective, usually aiming at third party certification. Once again, like TQM, environmental excellence can hardly be translated in the prescribing scope of a standard.

The authors believe that a standard for safety management systems could have some value as far as ‘safety assurance’ is concerned. Excellence in safety management would however be out of reach for such a document.

While organisations with high levels of ability and willingness may endeavour in attaining excellence in occupational safety and health without the need for a prefab road-map, other organisations (aiming lower) may benefit from a guided and structured approach to safety management.

As with quality and safety management the risk exists that in some organisations such a standard will become nothing more than a marketing gadget (Curado and Dias (1996)), by way of third party certification schemes, with little or no real results. Anyway, the trend for quality assurance was mostly costumer driven, on the other hand for safety assurance the main driver is at present regulatory, not pressing so much for a change in marketing strategies.


In construction companies safety management can be included in the sphere of quality management, if a TQM approach is adopted, comprising requirements from all the relevant stakeholders, not only the costumers. Specific project requirements, as well as regulatory impositions, may in some cases preclude the realisation of the full potential of such integration.

The evaluation of safety performance is also an open field. Assessing safety in terms of accidents and losses does not reflect in a positive way the achievement of safety management. Behavioural approaches may be as relevant in implementing effective and efficient safety measures, but also contribute to more sophisticated forms of performance measurement.

The ultimate barrier to excellence in safety is not regulatory or technical, but cultural. The control orientation adopted in several countries regulations has not yielded dramatic improvements in the safety records of their construction sites. The technology in the construction industry has been stable for a number of years, and knowledge is widely available. It is at the motivation level that more research and development work seems worth doing.


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Curado, M. T. and Dias, L. M. (1996). Qualidade nas Empresas de Construção, Marketing ou Realidade ? (Quality in Construction Companies. Marketing or Reality?) Revista Portuguesa de Gestão.

Dias, L. A. and Fonseca, M. (1996). Plano de Segurança e de Saúde na Construção (The Health and Safety Plan in the Construction Industry). Lisbon: IST/IDICT.

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1 International Organisation for Standardisation.

2Vide Coble and Kibert (1995) and Barrett and Curado (1996) for further considerations on the relationship between safety and environmental management.

3 Occupational Safety and Health Act.

4 Quality Control -> Quality Assurance -> Total Quality Management.

5 It has a British precursor in BS 7750.