Avoiding construction accidents

The law requires that health and safety be managed and controlled on construction sites. It’s as simple as that. Employers know their responsibilities in this respect and should be familiar and adept at using the knowledge and guidance at their disposal to achieve a safe working environment.

A construction project is a complex operation and integral to its success is the advanced planning, organising, controlling and monitoring and reviewing of health and safety issues. A failure to address health and safety adequately can, apart from the legal and personal pain and suffering consequences, have a detrimental effect on completing the project on time and on the morale and commitment of the workforce.

The most common accidents on construction sites are:

• Falls from height – due to poorly designed, positioned or built working positions or inadequate access to those positions.

• Accidents involving vehicles (mobile plant) – most usually caused by rutted, uneven, holed ground conditions, poor driver visibility (especially when reversing) and plant operators being killed or injured when their vehicle turns over.

• Falling or moving materials and collapses – caused by vehicles shedding their loads, materials falling off working positions, incorrectly shored excavations collapsing, overloaded or undermined structures falling down and botched demolitions.

• Trips and slips – caused by untidy sites and unaddressed spillages.

• Electrical accidents (shocks and burns) – mainly due to using faulty equipment or workers coming into contact with underground or overhead power lines.

The methods employed to eliminate or control such risks are extensive and detailed but basically boil down to the following:

• Undertaking a preliminary review of site history to determine the threat of hazardous substances such as asbestos, the location of underground and overhead power lines, the geology of the site, the routes of public rights of way and non-construction project related activity on the site and adjacent to it.

• Agreement to the work methods and safety precautions by everyone involved in the project (who will also be given a copy of them).

• A detailed checking to ensure that every employee or sub contracted worker, from the managers through supervisors to site workers are all adequately trained to undertake the jobs required of them.

• Careful planning of the construction site that will be include, if possible, segregation of vehicles and pedestrians and the demarcation of areas for loading/unloading, parking and manoeuvring of vehicles.

• Provision of personal protective equipment and training on how to use it.

• Trips hazards keep away from stairs and walkways.

• Footpaths kept, firm, level and uncluttered.

• Guards on all raised walkways.

• Adequate (preferably natural) lighting.

• Always considering if hazards can be avoided altogether before imposing controls.

• Establishment of the standard ‘hierarchy of control’ for working at height which is, in order of preference:

o Avoid working at height if possible.

o Use equipment to minimise working from height.

o Minimise distances and consequences.

o Adopt collective protective measures.

o Adopt personal protective measures.

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