ALEC CEO Kez Taylor speaks with Lorraine Bangera about making health and safety a culture rather than an imposing rule, and how his team excels in every project
Recognised for its health and safety, Al Jaber Legt Engineering and Contracting (ALEC) stands out as a top contractor when it comes to health and safety. Last year, ALEC’s threshold Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) was set at 0.030. The company not only remained well below this threshold but has more than halved the LTIFR for 2013. Its LTIFR history demonstrates a 90% reduction in LTI’s between 2006 and 2014.
Kez Taylor, CEO of ALEC, says that this has been possible because the team has integrated health and safety in its daily rhythm.
He explains that the first think you got to understand about implementing good health and safety measures within a construction company is that it is a culture and not a list of things to do.
Taylor emphasises: “You have to develop a culture of safety within the business. And what we have realised is that you cannot do that by policing.”
According to Taylor, the most prosperous approach is to create and maintain a culture.
“I think we have been very successful with this technique. Our statistics has been excellent in terms of less incidents on site.”
Compared to competitors, Taylor says that ALEC has “excellent standards” especially when talking about health and safety, because every team member is motivated to buy into it. “And I mean everyone,” he says, “Your construction workers, your subcontractors, your employees. Everyone!”
His opinion on safety is that it is not a rule book to be followed by employees to meet a specified requirement. “It has to be something everyone understands. They have to be safety conscious in the way they behave and operate.”
Benefits of a healthy team
The CEO says that benefits of maintaining good health and safety within a construction company are so many. From having a healthy staff to being recognised as a good company to work for, it gives a construction company an additional credit.
Healthy and safe staff mean loyal and productive staff as well. Taylor admits that in his time working for ALEC he has observed that there is a link between productivity, safety and a clean environment. Though it is hard to measure, it could be noticed through mere observation.
He explains that when working in a clean, orderly and safe environment, workers are able to dedicate their time towards the job at hand and in turn be more productive.
Regional standards under the limelight
Health and safety has been a topical issue with critical reports published on a near monthly basis and fatality rates under close scrutiny from international NGOs, who have been urging local governments to take a more proactive role in their duty of care towards employees.
In 2011, more than 1000 artists called for a Guggenheim Boycott over migrant worker exploitation at the Guggenheim Museum site in UAE. The act pressured Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) and Guggenheim Foundation to improve working conditions for labourers.
Two years ago, a report by UK-based The Guardian suggested that 450 Indian workers died in Qatar within a year’s span, most of them were thought to be working in the construction sector.
The regional construction industry has been deemed notorious, with a lot of pressure on governments to make things better. Last year, UAE-based The National reported that the number of workers killed by falls in Abu Dhabi reduced by a third according to the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi.
In Taylor’s 14 years in the regional construction industry, he has witnessed a positive change in attitudes towards health and safety, but that the onus to reduce fatalities lies with each and every contractor.
Though several measures are in place to avoid fatalities and accidents on ALEC’s sites, the CEO ensures that his teams are trained to prevent incidents and eliminate fatalities.
He says that an accident on a site could have an extreme effect on the morale of everyone on the project. “If there is an accident on the site, you will notice the productivity will plunge. People lose confidence and it takes a while to bring it back.”
As the GCC region takes an active role to make things better for its construction workforce, Taylor says that things have definitely improved with it comes to health and safety measures, explaining: “Back in the day, you could see construction workers eating their lunch high up in high-rise construction site with no barricades. It was seen as a token act of bravery and not doing it would lead to being mocked by your peers. That has definitely changed!”
Thriving for excellence
ALEC has predominantly been a construction business. In the past few years, it has diversified into related businesses for MEP, fit-out, precast, and more.
“Our portfolio is a lot broader than it used to be,” says Taylor. “But we are still predominantly a construction business focussed on airports, retail, hotels, themed developments, and high-rise buildings. ”
Taylor has been with the company from the very beginning, and in fact was transferred to the UAE from his first company in South Africa. He used to work for a construction company called Grinaker, with appointments in South Africa, Mauritius, Zambia, some of the Indian Ocean islands, before making his way to the UAE in 2001.
Taylor moved to the UAE with his team from Grinaker to open a contracting firm, now ALEC, with a strategic vantage over operations. While it’s a running joke among Taylor and his colleagues that he’s never had more than one job interview, his dedication to the industry is likely to mean he never has to. “ALEC stands out because of its vision; we want to be excellent at whatever we do, we want to deliver on time, and we want to make sure our projects are successful.”
Call for alignment
The key to delivering successful projects is if everyone works well together.
Taylor observes: “A project consists of many different bodies, you have the consultants, designers, the contractors, the subcontractors, and often they are not aligned with the common objective that they are trying to achieve. In my opinion every one of those people needs to align to concentrate on a common goal. We need to continue to focus on making a clear alignment within the system.”
While the GCC construction industry is still in its infancy, it is the simplicity of management structures which Taylor credits as integral to clear lines of command. Testament to his point, the 102-storey Empire State building in Manhattan, was constructed in the 1920s in just one year and 45 days with small teams, which were clearly aligned. The structure stood as the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years after its completion in 1931. There were 3400 workers involved in the construction with official records showing a fatality rate of five workers on site.
In this day and age, when there are so many parties involved in a construction, a way to work well with all teams could be having a lot of companies under one umbrella, such as ALEC and its related businesses which have the scope to work collaboratively across the disciplines, or autonomously.
It could be challenging to find the right balance when working in construction. However, Taylor says that construction is construction, and it is the same in any part of the world.
“What is more important is to figure out how to get it right now,” he observes. “This would be benefits for everyone in the construction industry later.”
“One of the major problems in trying to align everyone toward the common objective is that everyone gets defensive so quickly, go into their corners and defend their team. Losing focus of the entire goal. The only way to change that, is to create an environment where team members are empowered to trust each other and work together.”