Safety and Environment in Water-Related and Other Infrastructural
Amartya Kumar Bhattacharya
(Hons.) ( Jadavpur ), MTech ( Civil ) ( IIT Kharagpur ), PhD ( Civil
) ( IIT Kharagpur ), Cert.MTERM ( AIT Bangkok ), CEng(I), FIE,
FACCE(I), FISH, FIWRS, FIPHE, FIAH, FAE, MIGS, MIGS – Kolkata
Chapter, MIGS – Chennai Chapter, MISTE, MAHI, MISCA, MIAHS, MISTAM,
MNSFMFP, MIIBE, MICI, MIEES, MCITP, MISRS, MISRMTT, MAGGS, MCSI,
MIAENG, MMBSI, MBMSM
and Managing Director,
Biplabi Ambika Chakraborty Sarani,
– 700029, West Bengal, INDIA.
construction project on water resources and infrastructure should be
aimed at its execution with due care of the health, safety and
environment and free of accidents. Although there are enough rules
and procedures on health, safety and environment (HSE), frequently
these are not adhered to in real life construction. Hence,
construction is the most hazardous of all the industries. Many
agencies disown their responsibilities of providing the basic
implements on health and safety due to lack of motivation and for
cost saving. This is a composite responsibility of all agencies
involved in construction and should be implemented as a culture and a
way of life. The paper outlines the scenario in India and other
developing countries with special reference to water resources and
infrastructure development projects keeping in view the current
status in the industrialised countries like the USA and the UK and
proposes an action plan to correct the situation.
Environment, Infrastructure, Construction, The USA, The UK Climate
has a large impact in arresting project slippage. Unless these issues
are strictly controlled during implementation, there may be large
scale accidents causing loss or permanent disability to some
construction workers. Any accident at site, fatal or otherwise, leads
to immediate stoppage of work which may last for a few days. It takes
time to get back the tempo of work resulting in loss of work directly
or indirectly. Also, any accident leads to hardship and suffering to
the families of the concerned worker. Impact on the environment and
the health of the workers and the local population are equally
important. All these are causes of project slippage which should be
arrested. It is recommended that a sound HSE standard be adopted and
implemented throughout the implementation period which would make a
substantial contribution towards arresting project slippage.
is a complex process of converting a concept into a reality. By this
process, the project takes its physical shape to deliver the desired
end-objectives. Construction is made through the involvement of a
large number of agencies of diverse disciplines, interests and having
complex interactions amongst themselves. This often leads to conflict
of responsibilities, obligations, moral and socio-economic values.
Attempts have been made to combat the problem of environmental health
and safety in construction. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has
published a number of IS Codes on site safety and health relating to
various aspects of construction. Also, in-house safety manuals and
codes of practices have been brought out by a number of
establishments in both the public and the private sector. Safety
departments with special powers and responsibilities to monitor
health and safety have also been set up. But, the sad reality is that
at real-life construction sites, especially in developing countries
like India, it is still common to find workers without basic safety
implements like, Helmets (Hard Hats), Boots (Safety Shoes) and Hand
Gloves. Narrow, unsafe and unstable walkways, stairs and ladders,
platforms without proper railings and toe-guards at construction
sites are very common. It is also found that worn-out slings and wire
ropes are being freely used at sites. The executing agencies, at
times ignore, or even disown, their responsibility in this regard.
The saddest part of the story is that the workmen and the labour
unions are either ignorant, complacent or indifferent towards the
essential requirements of environment, health and safety requirements
at site. Thus, health and safety which should be everybody’s
business is frequently found to be nobody’s business. This is a
burning issue in the Indian construction sector. What is the way
forward? Perhaps, it is possible to derive benefit from the
experience of industrialised countries like the USA and the UK.
The Perspective of the United States of America
Improving Health and Safety at Construction Sites
reported by ASCE, Civil Engineering Journal, Stanford University,
Department of Civil Engineering, in their technical report in the
1980s on Improving Construction Safety Performance in the USA stated
that work-related injuries and illnesses, including fatalities in
construction occur at a rate 54% higher than all other industries
making construction the most hazardous occupation amongst all the
industries. The estimates include both direct and indirect costs of
accidents, whether they are insured or non-insured. Indirect costs
include reduced productivity, delays in project schedules,
administrative time and damage to equipment and facilities. Owners
have the moral commitment to help reduce accidents at project sites
by offering economic incentives in addition to fulfilling other
humanitarian concerns. The owner should hire only such contractors
who have a proven record of satisfactory environment, health and
safety performance. This requires close attention during the process
of qualifying bidders. Past practice indicates that contractors are
seldom awarded contracts solely on the basis of anticipated
environment, health and safety performance. Owners only require the
contractors to operate in accordance with accepted industrial safety
contractor’s safety programme normally involves three types of
cost of accident and insurance.
cost of accident.
of establishing and implementing safety programmes.
contractor’s safety programmes really do not cost him extra money.
On the contrary, it saves him lot of money.
indirect costs of accidents include:
of productivity causing project slippage.
construction schedules leading to delay and project slippage.
time for investigation and reports preparation and issue.
of new personnel in replacement of the injured workers causing loss
paid to the injured workers, which is extra cost to the project.
and repair of damages leading to loss of time.
party liability claim against the owner and damages to equipment
which is extra cost to the project.
the USA, construction safety and health programmes cost about 2.5% of
direct labour costs. These include:
Salaries for safety, medical and clerical personnel.
Organising and holding regular safety meetings.
Inspection of tools and equipment, an essential aspect of
implementing safety programmes.
Orientation and training sessions.
On-the-spot site inspection, which is most essential for continuous
Personnel safety and protective equipment.
Regular environment and health programmes.
Providing miscellaneous equipment and supplies.
Who should be Responsible?
a report on Site Safety and Health in the USA published in the late
1990s, a view was expressed that liability often hinges on small
details. Engineers need to be more aware of their legal obligations
to protect themselves as they are expected to protect the lives of
those working on the project construction. About 10,000 construction
workers were reported to be dying at the project sites each year
which was more than in any other industry. In-spite of caution signs
displayed at most construction sites like:
– HARD HATS AND SAFETY BOOTS MUST BE WORN ON THIS SITE”,
accidents continue to occur. Who should be responsible for health and
safety at site - the Contractor, the Engineer, the Owner or it is a
pros and cons of the responsibility - individual or shared are as
Contractors control the site, hire and supervise workers and the
sub-contractors under them and determine the means and methods of
Contractors have construction expertise and training.
Contractors responsibility is generally accepted and included in the
standard contract documents.
Some hazardous work may require technical expertise not normally
possessed by a contractor.
Safety management in a multi-contractor job-site presents a
challenging situation because of overlapping of contract
The Engineer can design structures that are safe to build, including
temporary works, shoring, shuttering, scaffolding, etc.
The Engineer can review construction progress and document and
drawing submissions by the contractor.
Some hazardous work may require technical expertise not normally
possessed by a contractor.
The Engineer does not control the contractor’s employees and is not
generally able to mandate safety procedures.
The Engineer is not normally trained and experienced in construction
Owners have the right to control the site and to select the
contractors and the design professionals.
Many owners have no training in construction and/or in health and
safety in construction.
Traditionally, owners have delegated health and safety responsibility
to the contractor.
Each project normally has unique health and safety problems and all
parties should promote and thus, be responsible for, health, safety
and environment at the construction site.
Accountability is lost if responsibility is not assigned to a single
The UK Perspective
No-Compromise Attitude to Health, Safety and Environment (HSE)
report, published in the year 2002, in New Civil Engineer, journal of
the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) suggested a ‘no
compromise’ attitude for a successful health, safety and
environmental (HSE) programme. The approach to this attitude meant
never turning a blind eye to any of these issues.
‘no compromise’ programme involved strict adherence and
application of the following major disciplines:
meticulous planning for HSE well in advance of commencing
construction at site.
close supervision of HSE efforts and their implementation during the
in-depth training of workmen before deploying them at the job site.
offering suitable incentives to the workmen to adopt only safe
practices at site in his own interest as well as, in the interest of
his fellow workers.
continuous close monitoring and follow-up during the entire
workers demonstrating excellent safety efforts should be suitably
rewarded through award of certificates of recognition and financial
new has been added in the above aspects except that all these are
rigorously applied in the ‘no-compromise’ attitude. Such HSE
programme resulted in a leading construction company wining 50 Safety
Awards in 10 years and achieving a phenomenally low injury rate at
site. Hazards need to be removed from the very outset with the
Construction Design Management (CDM) group playing an ever increasing
role. Designers could eliminate construction hazards much more easily
and readily than the contractors. Daily site-safety briefing to the
workers should be a part of every contractor’s training programme.
Motivation techniques to promote good performance in construction,
free-of-accidents have been found to be very effective in all kinds
of construction projects including those in the water resources
sector and related infrastructural sectors.
Designing for Health, Safety and Environment
research report of ICE published in New Civil Engineer Journal in
2004 indicated that the UK construction Industry viewed Health,
Safety and Environment (HSE) very seriously. But there has still been
a great deal of confusion amongst the owner, the consultant and the
contractor as to what could be done to achieve this and who would be
responsible for taking the lead. The general view, however, appeared
to be that actions should be initiated from the design stage itself.
The report came out with the following broad findings:
Designers could do more to safeguard against health and safety risks
More information should be made available to the designers to design
More inputs from the contractor made designs safer to construct.
The CDM regulations have helped to improve safety in construction.
Most accidents in construction were due to poor management on-site.
More inputs from the client/owner also made designs safer to execute.
If the HSE team could place more site inspectors, safety in
construction would improve.
Young engineers were not taught enough about health and safety in
their engineering curriculum.
The professional institutions like the Institution of Civil Engineers
(ICE), Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), Institution of
Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) were expected to do a lot more to
improve tackling the problem of construction safety.
The Scenario in India
the fact that various codes, manuals, appliances and recommendations
have been available in India over the last few years the status of
health, safety and environment (HSE) at construction sites have been
far below the desired level which occasionally lead to serious
accidents. The key questions that needed to be addressed were:
Where has the Indian construction industry failed?
What were the constraints in providing the desired level of HSE at
the Indian construction sites?
Who have been responsible for ensuring good HSE at the India project
What could be done to correct the present situation in the Indian
The Key Factors
study of the analysis of causes of accidents pinpointed the following
factors as the major reasons of accidents at construction sites:
The planner did not include the cost of implementing HSE requirements
in the project estimate.
The consultants/designers had overlooked some of the HSE aspects in
The contractor did not include in his tender estimate the cost of HSE
The contractor was not clearly told about his HSE obligations.
The contract was silent or vague about the HSE obligations of the
Owner and the Contractor.
The site supervisor was ignorant and/or had no authority to enforce
the implementation of HSE requirements.
The workers were trained and skilled about the use of safety gears
but did not use them properly either to show their smartness or they
felt uncomfortable to work with implements like helmets, safety
boots, gloves, safety harnesses, etc.
Strict adherence to HSE requirements led to a loss of productivity
and was overlooked intentionally due to pressure of time to fulfil a
fixed time schedule.
Female workers were neither trained in HSE nor did they use safety
implements due to local customs and practices.
Child workers were illegally deployed at job sites as they were
available at a much cheaper daily wages and could be hired and fired
any day. This is an obvious consequence of the dismal level of
poverty prevailing amongst a fairly large section of the Indian
root cause of all the above factors was the failure of one or the
other agency in regard to providing reasonable HSE parameters at
Indian construction sites.
Recommended Health and Safety Practices
should be done to ensure good HSE at our construction sites? The
responsibility does not belong to any one agency or a department but
on all those who matter in the complex game of construction. The work
should be shared individually and collectively.
Role of the Designer/Planner
following points are considered important for a satisfactory HSE
status during the planning, design and implementation of
water-related and other infrastructural development projects:
Providing adequate protection to prevent possible damage to adjoining
Taking into account interference with existing facilities and
services on-ground, over-ground and underground and providing for
diversions so as to cause minimal disruption to traffic and public
Ensuring effective drainage and sewerage avoiding water-logging
during construction thus preventing spread of water-borne diseases.
Preparing time-and-cost estimates, with due consideration to the fact
that fulfilment of HSE requirements could cost substantial amounts of
time as well as money.
Providing for special safety outfits, not normally expected to be
supplied by the contractors.
Providing for built-in safety features, temporary or permanent,
keeping in view statutory regulations and practical aspects of
Monitoring the construction so as to ensure execution of work in
conformity with design and drawings and recommending intermediate
changes to ensure that the required HSE standards are maintained.
Role of the Owner
Owner has the moral responsibility of maintaining the desired HSE
standards and causing the least inconvenience to the general public.
The following actions are considered essential:
Maintaining good HSE standards at site as a matter of policy by
employing specially trained personnel with adequate authority and
observing a dress code avoiding outfits like dhoti and loose footwear
commonly used by many workers at Indian construction sites.
Providing necessary training to all concerned.
Ensuring built-in HSE features in the design.
Implementing safety briefing daily [that is, DOs and DON’Ts] before
commencement of work and conducting frequent safety audits.
Clearly spelling out HSE requirements and contractors
responsibilities in this regard in the tender document and
incorporating these in the contract agreement.
Founding special awards for contractors for completing the job with
excellent HSE record, free of accidents.
Making a good HSE record an essential condition for pre-qualifying
Organising safety quizzes and on-the-spot safety checks to increase
awareness amongst the workers and the supervisors.
Planning each job jointly with the contractor to ensure the
maintenance of the desired standard of HSE.
Developing a positive and helping attitude towards the contractor.
Role of the Contractor
regard to HSE, the contractor has the second major role, next only to
the owner. The contractor’s responsibilities should include, but
should not be limited to, the following:
Clearly understanding the scope and obligations under HSE and
including necessary cost in the quotation.
Faithfully and honestly implementing the HSE requirements as spelt
out in the contract.
Taking a positive and humanitarian attitude on HSE and resolving any
dispute arising thereof.
Ensuring strict compliance of HSE aspects by habit rather than by
Employing right personnel with adequate training and experience.
Ensuring that all essential changes at site are thoroughly checked by
the designer and also ensuring that the site modifications are duly
approved from HSE viewpoint.
Avoiding fumes, foul gas, noise and vibration. In short, not causing
air, water and sound pollution.
Role of the Workmen
workers role should be the third major as they have the real
responsibility in implementing HSE. A dress code should be observed.
The workers may demand essential safety outfit for a particular job
and even refuse to work if the same are not provided. The workmen
should definitely not indulge in the following habits which are
occasionally found amongst construction workers.
Acting in haste. Patience should be exercised to the desired level.
Being tense, angry, excited and over–confident.
Gambling with their own lives and with the lives of others.
Inattentiveness and absent-mindedness.
Role of the Workers’ Union
good HSE standard at site is an important aspect of workers’
the unions have to put pressure on the owner and the contractor to
fulfil their obligations of providing the basic environment for good
health and safety, they must impress upon the workers to make HSE a
habit and a way of life.
workers’ unions should give regular training and briefing to the
workers on HSE aspects and avoid accidents at all cost in the first
place rather than claiming a big compensation after an unfortunate
accident has already taken place.
labour unions have a big role to play in spreading the well known
First; Safety Is Everybody’s Business.
Role of the Supervisor
supervisors’ role might be broadly categorised as:
Collecting and compiling the details of HSE requirements in
Ascertaining the responsibilities of various agencies in regard to
maintaining good HSE standard.
Ensuring the availability of various methods and tools for
implementing proper HSE.
Impressing upon the authorities to help in effective implementation
Training the workers and daily briefing for developing a good HSE
Role of the Statutory Bodies
statutory bodies, institutions and organisations in India which are
related to HSE right from the outset and obtaining the necessary
guidelines from them well in advance. Some of the
organisations/authorities involved could be:
Inspector of Factories.
Department of Explosives.
Department of the Environment/Pollution Control Board.
Bhaba Atomic Research Centre for storage, use and disposal of
Fire Brigade, etc.
Health and Safety for Water-Related and Other Infrastructural
standard of HSE is important in all construction projects including
those in water and infrastructure. Most of these projects involve
deep and wide excavation in pits and trenches which apart from the
workmen is a source of danger for the local population. Sides of
excavation and trenches should be provided with proper protection to
prevent side slippage and damage to structures existing nearby. In
case of excavation in rocky areas involving blasting, adequate
warning and protective measures have to be taken. It is important to
note that these projects are executed in areas which are wide open
and at times close to human habitation. Suitable safety measures have
to be taken in close coordination with local authorities. All the
involved parties should understand that due care has to be taken not
only of the workmen but also of the project-affected people.
and preservation of the environment is an important consideration.
The project site should be well drained and waterlogging of the area
should be avoided. Since water and infrastructure projects normally
do not have a well demarcated project area, interference with the
daily life of the common people living in the area is common. In
drawing construction water from local sources, care should be taken
to avoid undue hardship to the locals. Care should also be taken to
see that setting-up of these projects improves the local environment.
In all respects, water and infrastructure projects should demonstrate
substantial benefit in terms of improving the standard of living of
the people in general.
of water and infrastructure projects, and in fact all types of
construction, has a significant impact on the environment. Managing
the environment in the backdrop of ongoing construction activities is
not always an easy task. Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are
relevant to all organisations operating in the construction sector
irrespective of their line of specialisation and size. The EMS should
match the needs, aspirations and culture of the concerned
organisation to ensure obtaining tangible results. The British
Standards Institution (BSI) has introduced in the recent past a
British Standard (BS) on developing an environment management
standard through a straightforward step-by-step approach and named it
Easy Access Management System (EAMS) which can be developed in six
phases with intermediate operational audit after each phase. With the
environment becoming an all-important issue, such standards may have
to be adopted in Indian construction sites in the years ahead.
Impact on the Environment
on water and infrastructure normally lead to considerable impact on
the environment directly or indirectly, on a long-term or short-term
basis. Also, during implementation of these projects, the
construction activities are likely to affect the environment of the
project site. It is imperative that the environmental impact of the
project should be carefully assessed and adequate protective measures
provided before giving a ‘go-ahead’ signal to the project. So, a
proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an essential
requirement in the initial planning stage.
is a broad-spectrum subject that means different things to different
sections of people. In reality, the word ‘environment’ includes
not only the air, noise, water, plants and animals but also other
natural and man-modified features which constitute the totality of
our surroundings. Hence, the term environment means the entire
complex of physical, social, cultural, economic and aesthetic factors
that affect individuals and communities and ultimately determine
their form, character, relationship and survival criteria.
word ‘impact’ means any change, positive or negative, from a
desirability point of view. An EIA, therefore, signifies a study of
the probable changes in various socio-economic and bio-physical
characteristics of the environment that may result from the
implementation of the proposed project on water resources and
infrastructure development. EIA is the documentation of an
environmental audit which includes identification, interpretation,
prediction and mitigation of impacts caused by the proposed project.
Global Climate Change and Energy Economy
it comes to greenhouse gases and global climate change, the Atlanta
Journal Constitution, a daily newspaper of Atlanta, Georgia, USA, on
29 June, 2006, reported that Americans represent 5% of the world’s
population but contribute 45% of the world’s emission of carbon
dioxide, the main pollutant that causes global warming. The figures
are based on a report of the non-profit group Environmental Defense,
USA. The report said that Americans owned 30% of the world’s
vehicles, drove farther each year than the international average and
burnt more fuel per mile than the world average.
per capita income in USA is about 50 times more than that in India.
The per capita energy consumption in USA is more than 11,000 KWH per
year as compared to about only 350 KWH in India. USA, with only 5% of
world population, consumes about 30% of the total energy consumed in
the world. As against this, India, with about 20% of the world’s
population, has been consuming only about 1% of the total energy
consumed in the world. To stall the impending danger of global
climate change, an efficient energy conservation mechanism and a
better energy management system are essential requirements.
of carbon dioxide with increasing consumption of fossil fuel may be
blamed for global warming. Deforestation may be responsible for the
increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
believe that there may be 3 deg C to 5 deg C rise on the earth’s
surface by the end of the present century, when due to melting of
polar ice-caps, the sea level may rise and some low-lying areas on
islands and sea coasts may be submerged under the sea. A
conservation-conscious planning and management of our activities
would help in avoiding environmental air and water pollution and
perhaps save the planet from a possible disaster. Engineers and
planners should look for pollution-free energy sources like
‘clean-coal’ technology, solar power, wind energy, bio-mass
energy, tidal energy and geo-thermal energy, etc. Conservation of
energy on a sustained basis would also be of great advantage in
minimising pollution and fight the hazard of climate change.
Environmental Considerations for Water-Related and Other
projects have considerable impact on the environment as most of them
are spread over large areas. Also, such projects are executed in
wide, open areas without any physical demarcation of the project
area. Creation of a dam leads to inundation of large areas submerging
farms, villages, towns, forests, etc. The first impact is the relief
and rehabilitation of the affected people. In India, which is very
densely populated, this causes a chain reaction. Large reservoirs
created due to raising of major dams, apart from disturbing the flora
and fauna of the region, sometimes endanger the lives of rare
varieties of plant and animal species. The problem is complex but
should be considered carefully from an overall national angle on a
long term basis. The ethics behind the whole project effort should
the betterment of the overall environment. The people should be
convinced that, in spite of the temporary hardships that they are
likely to face during the implementation phase of the project, the
project will, in the long run, be of immense benefit to the affected
sites and fewer accidents should be a clear objective for all
involved in construction activities. Safe sites are efficient sites
and hence are more profitable. The following actions could be
suggested to materialise the achievement of safer working in
education and training for all those who are involved in
legislation like introducing a Construction Act comparable to the
Indian Factories Act which has been in operation for many decades.
international co-operation keeping in view that more of
internationally funded projects are already coming up in India,
particularly in the water and infrastructure sector.
health, safety and environmental (HSE) standards in the construction
sector should be a culture and a way of life for the benefit and
well-being of all concerned. This paper gives a few essential
guidelines. Many other individuals/organisations may be required to
play diverse roles to achieve an effective HSE standard, particularly
in water resources and infrastructure projects. Construction is a
team game requiring co-operation and co-ordination amongst a large
number of agencies. Each member in the team must contribute his part
to the desired level. Mutual co-operation, trust and understanding is
vital to achieving a good HSE standard and an accident-free
construction. With all heads and hands put together and working in
perfect harmony, it is quite possible to achieve this important
objective in India and other developing countries.
ASCE-Civil Engineering, Monthly Bulletin of American Society of Civil
ICE-Civil Engineering, Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers
MultiSpectra Consultants, 2020.