London 2012: Raising the bar for construction

Lawrence Waterman OBE
Head of Health and Safety at Olympic Delivery Authority
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Post date: Wednesday, 11th July 2012

Seven long years in the anticipation, the Olympics are now upon us. Lawrence Waterman OBE, H&S chief of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) talks to Alex Griffiths.

There only remained some last-minute snagging at the Olympic Park to be done when we spoke: "I noticed one of the traffic islands off the loop at the back of the main site where the top soil needs returfing,” said Waterman. A minute detail some would say, considering his remit – and the grand scale of what is Europe’s largest construction project ever.

"It’s one of our proudest achievements that the culture established with our major contractors and delivery partner [the consortium made up of CH2M HILL, Laing O’Rourke and Mace] has flourished even as the worker numbers have fallen and projects have been closing out. To achieve our longest period – in time and working hours – without a reportable accident during this final period testifies to the commitment of our workforce to achieve the safest, healthiest Games possible.

"With snagging and testing complete we just had to focus on supporting LOCOG [London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games] in their preparation, largely consisting of facilities management work. You could call it polishing the silverware."

And Waterman’s own challenge was not wrapped up in addressing bad habits, so often inherent in some parts of the industry: "Believe it or not, we did not encounter scoffing from anyone, but a great deal of openness – from all of the contractors we found their best people grasping the opportunity. They came in and agreed to get on board and raise the bar across the entire industry; even contractors without a history of behavioural insights saw a chance to raise the bar, do it for their country and see it through."

Building control was a key element of the health and safety strategy, and co-ordinating and uniting the five distinct borough Building Control departments that covered the Olympic Park was one of Waterman’s earliest tasks.

He explained: "The JLAB [Joint Local Authority Building Control] team, under Tim Gillooly at Newham Building Control, was the very first team appointed by LOCOG, which brought together Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Waltham Forest plus Greenwich.

"We had a Section 106 agreement signed by these boroughs, so continuity was ensured across a whole range of projects. It made the most sense to prioritise the co-ordination of regulation for all of the event space."

He added: "It took a relationship forged over many years, which meant that there was already a deep understanding of the function of buildings, and helped us and the Safety Advisory Group in looking at all aspects. The way we approached it meant we could integrate elements of suitability and compliance to make it all join up.

"There were peaks of activity, obviously, when designs were received, finalized and checked. We were dealing with very large buildings, all with individual stages involving piling, drainage and so on – hygiene was also a critical element in terms of handovers, post-construction, with the likes of McDonald’s, so JLAB helped us avoid many problems."

Of his own future and a British Safety Council (BSC) trustee role Waterman confided: "What’s exciting about BSC is that it is one of the major organisations promoting excellence in Health and Safety coupled with a sensible focus on what really matters. BSC gives me one route to share what I’ve learned on London 2012 with others."

Waterman said the legacy transformation of the Olympic Park into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is not the only project he’s involved in: "I'll be completing my role as advisor to the ODA and I’m also starting a new venture – Park Health & Safety Services has been formed by a group of us who have been working on London 2012 – we’re already helping other organisations to achieve excellence in offshore wind power, major construction, and other programmes. So I won’t be twiddling my thumbs!"

Read the full interview with Lawrence Waterman in the latest issue of BC&DS.

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