Mega projects are hampered by challenges, but safety can get them back on track

James Barlow is the CEO of BZI steela leading steel construction company that makes construction projects safe and efficient.

What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘build mega project’?

You could think of huge structures such as commercial buildings, airport terminals and distribution centers – and that would be correct. According to one definition, mega projects “Are large-scale, complex enterprises that typically cost more than $1 billion, take many years to build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people.” As an extreme example, the world’s largest megaproject is the International Space Station, which has been in operation and under construction since 1998 and is estimated to cost more than $150 billion.

Due to the recent pandemic, many major megaprojects are experiencing significant delays due to ongoing supply chain issues, a lack of skilled labor and cost concerns. According to McKinsey and Co, 98% of current mega projects experience cost overruns and delays of up to 20 months. In addition, supply chain issues are now coupled with rising inflation, making the overall price of securing the right equipment and construction in America much more expensive than it has been in years past.

And there is a labor shortage. The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) noted that construction is facing a labor shortage of more than 650,000 workers this year. In addition, with an average retirement age of 61, a fifth of the industry could retire within the next six years.

But I believe safety is the most pressing issue to ensure mega projects are completed on time. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction has the third highest job death rate in the US, making it less attractive than other careers. That is why the construction industry must make safety a top priority for every project – safety should not be sacrificed for efficiency.

So, how do we prioritize safety on mega construction projects when there is constant pressure to complete projects quickly and with a lack of skilled labor?

I firmly believe that it is critical to embrace new technologies that make the construction industry safer. But this is only possible with a dedicated research and development (R&D) department and budget. According to McKinsey, the construction industry spends money less than 1% of its income on R&D. This is compared to the automotive industry, which spends 3.5%, and the aerospace industry, which spends 4.5%. Even more worrying is that many construction companies do not have any budget for R&D: 56.8% of those surveyed in the MCAA-focused building technology report give in to such a thing.

In addition to expanding the R&D function, new technological developments make safety in mega projects of the utmost importance. Examples include digitizing safety processes on a mobile app that collects all data in real time and enables remote management of construction sites; construction wearables that warn when a worker is exposed to hazardous chemicals or is not physically fit to work; and even drones that can safely monitor and inspect workplaces from the air while keeping workers safe on the ground. Investing in these developments may seem expensive and overwhelming at first, but it can pay off in the end.

Most importantly, teams are adequately trained on the latest safety developments to handle these large-scale and timely projects. Based on personal experience, I highly recommend in-depth and ongoing workplace safety training. Consider using OSHA-authorized instructors and offering hands-on instruction. Making safety a top priority in your culture can lead to better job site safety compliance and increase team member performance and overall satisfaction.

Despite the challenges, a revolution is coming for construction. noted McKinsey that 60% of construction managers believe there will be significant technology shifts in the industry over the next five years, bridging the gap between project completion times and safety concerns. This could make construction jobs more attractive to younger generations who are already tech-savvy. Safety does not have to be sacrificed for efficiency; the two work hand in hand.

Now is the time to take action. By investing in promising technologies, hiring the right teams to manage these advances and prioritizing safety, I believe mega projects will get back on track and we can be at the forefront of the revolution that is brewing in our industry is.


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