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London Olympics Construction Is Safest in Recent Times

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Photo courtesy of Alistair Gibb
Alistair Gibb, professor of complex project management at Loughborough University in England, talked about safety at the London Olympics at a Construction Industry Institute meeting in Baltimore.
Photo courtesy of Alistair Gibb
The mission statement of the London Olympics construction program included a commitment to safety.
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As the Olympic torch arrived to light the cauldron at Olympic Stadium on July 27, it was greeted by an honor guard of 500 hardhat-wearing construction workers, many of whom had helped to build Olympic Park on a derelict industrial site in East London.

Those workers participated in the safest Olympics construction program in recent memory, said Alistair G. Gibb, professor of complex project management at Loughborough University in England.

Gibb spoke to more than 600 attendees at the Construction Industry Institute conference in Baltimore on July 23.

Gibb showed a photo of the words “Olympics are painted in workers’ blood,” written by disgruntled construction workers on a concrete wall at an Olympic venue. He said official statistics show two fatalities during the 1996 Barcelona Olympics construction, one fatality during the 2000 Sydney Olympics construction, 14 killed during the 2004 Greece Olympics construction and 10 killed during construction for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But in addition to completing work on budget and ahead of schedule, the London Olympics construction program had no fatalities. Further, the overall accident frequency record was substantially below the U.K average.

“Imagine the challenge” given to Sebastian Coe, a former Olympic gold medalist in track and chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, Gibb said. “Build us an Olympic Park. Do it all on time—there is no opportunity for slippage. Do it all on budget—there is a limited amount of money, and it has to be spent wisely. Build it with high quality—it’s all got to work. And oh, by the way, don’t kill anybody, and don’t cause any harm.”

The physical construction challenge was enormous, Gibb said. There are five major venues, 10 new railway lines, 100 hectares of parkland, waterways around the parks, new infrastructure and residential high-rises. He said 46,000 people worked 77 million hours with a peak workforce of 14,500.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) awarded 1,300 direct contracts, according to Gibb, and it estimates that 75,000 companies were involved in the work.

ODA set a very specific mission: “to deliver venues, facilities and infrastructure on time, fit for purpose and in a way that maximizes the delivery of a sustainable legacy within the available budget. Cost, time, safety, equality and inclusion, environment, quality, functionality and legacy were the headlines. From the beginning, the protection of the health and safety of everyone involved was paramount.”

One reason ODA could deliver on this mission, Gibb said, was because of the early involvement of senior management, the Safety Health Environment Leadership team, or SHEL. The team applied lessons learned from previous megaprojects, such as the Channel Tunnel and Heathrow Terminal Five.

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