Each year, many construction workers are involved in occupational accidents that lead to serious injuries or even death. Others develop health issues like musculoskeletal disorders, dermatitis, or asbestosis. And the dangers don’t affect only the people working on construction site. Construction activities that are not properly controlled can also injure or kill members of the public.
Health and safety in the construction industry have been steadily improving in the past few decades, but there’s no room for complacency. Because of the numerous risks and hazards inherent to a construction site – working from heights, operating dangerous machinery, handling heavy loads and hazardous materials – construction work is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, making risk assessments and safety procedures essential in this industry.
Construction companies should prioritize health and safety in their training and operations, and all contractors should undergo health and safety evaluations before beginning work on a construction site.
According to the latest statistics from the HSE, there were 40 fatal injuries to construction workers in 2020, with falling from height being by far the most common cause at 47%, followed by being trapped by something collapsing (16%), being struck by a moving object (12%), being hit by a moving vehicle (10%), and being exposed to electrical discharge (4%).
There were also 61,000 non-fatal injuries and 81,000 workers who reported some sort of work-related health problems. Workplace injuries have a monetary impact as well, which is estimated to be £1.2 billion according to the most recent data available for 2018/19.
It may be comforting to look at these figures and think of accidents as some sort of abstract concept that will never happen to us, but unless we acknowledge our own vulnerability, construction workers and their families will continue to suffer needlessly as a result of the decisions we make.
Construction workers have a right to a safe working environment, and it’s the employer’s legal responsibility to take the required measures to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries. Neglecting that responsibility can lead to investigations, lawsuits, sanction,s and loss of reputation. If workers get injured on the job or develop health problems as a result of the employer’s failure to follow UK health and safety regulations, they are entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering.
Risk management for health is similar to risk management for safety. The same principles apply: you need to think about what the workers do, what are the risks, how those risks cause harm, and what you can do to prevent or control them.
You are legally required to perform risk assessment, but that doesn’t mean generating mountains of paperwork. The goal is to identify risks and take reasonable and appropriate measures to control them.
Consider the most serious risks – the ones that are most likely to occur and cause the most harm. What activities and processes could be harmful to employee health? Your employees will most likely be able to identify risks that you might overlook and have some useful ideas on how to increase safety.
For chemicals and equipment, you’ll want to consult the manufacturer’s instructions or datasheets, as they’re very helpful in detailing the risks.
Keep in mind that different regulations apply to certain categories of workers such as new workers, young workers, migrant workers, temporary workers, lone workers, subcontractors, and workers with disabilities.
Managing Safety Reporting through Technology
Managing safety and inspections in the construction industry is an extremely complex task. Every project is unique, and each company has its own set of standards and procedures.
Workers are also subjected to more physical strain and stress because of accelerated schedules, making it more likely to overlook certain details that reduce safety on a construction site. This is why construction companies have turned to technology to help them with safety management, but many struggle to integrate these modern tools and to achieve full-scale standardization, resulting in divergent approaches to safety across projects with some safety incidents still being recorded through analog methods.
Filling up paperwork for quality inspections and construction safety can be a time-consuming task since some of the reports contain hundreds of items. Technology can make this process easier, faster, and more precise. Mobile-friendly software from EHS software companies can record issues in real-time, improving safety outcomes.
Sensors and wearable tech tools make it easier to collect data and adhere to safety regulations while minimizing the impact on productivity, and automation can improve communication by giving staff access to the correct information when and where they need it.
Paul Morrell OBE – former government adviser and construction specialist, and Anneliese Day QC – legal expert, were recently appointed by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to supervise an independent examination of the system used to test construction products.
The examination will look into ways to improve the current system in order to provide assurance that these materials are safe and perform as intended. This decision stems from alarming allegations that some construction product manufacturers may be compromising the safety of workers and members of the public by gaming the current testing system.
Worker Engagement in Safety Protocols
Workplaces where the employees participate in decisions related to safety protocols tend to have better outcomes since they can assist their employers in identifying risks and ensuring that risk controls are feasible. Employee engagement also raises adherence to safety protocols.
Employers should consult their employees through union health and safety representatives. For non-unionized workplaces, this can be done through other elected representatives or directly.
Employers should not only provide employees with information but also listen to them and consider what they say before making decisions regarding potential dangers.
Employees should be consulted on the following topics:
- the dangers they face as a result of their profession
- suggestions for how to manage or control these risks
- the most effective means of providing information and training.
When health and safety monitoring and control are necessary, workers are more likely to comply if they understand why they are being implemented and how they will benefit them. Providing general health screening and programs in the workplace has also been shown to improve outcomes because workers who are focused on their personal health will be more mindful of potential causes for occupational health problems and injuries.
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