Tabbed manual titled "Workplace Safety"

Top 7 tips for reducing H&S risks in Construction

The construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries for people to work in due to the nature of the work, which can involve working from heights, using heavy machinery and lifting heavy loads.

Most of the danger’s workers will face can be dramatically reduced by setting up the right health and safety measures and putting procedures in place to keep workers safe. Below is a seven-step guide you can use to help you spot, reduce and even eliminate some of the risks.

Elimination:

The first step for any site should be to identify the applicable hazards and reduce the risks as far as is reasonably practicable. For instance, is there a way you can complete the task with a different method, or use different materials and/or chemicals to reduce or eliminate the risks?

A few ways you might reduce risk would be:

  • Using extendable tools rather than working at height.
  • Having materials delivered cut to size to remove any risks associated with cutting.
  • Using battery-operated equipment to eliminate trip hazards.

Substitution:

If the risks can’t be removed entirely which is very often the case in construction, the next best option is to try and make a substitution to reduce the risks to anyone involved.

These could be:

  • Replacing ladders with scaffolds.
  • Wearing high visibility jackets to enhance visibility.
  • Substituting hazardous chemicals with non-hazardous.
  • Having access to the latest equipment.

Engineering controls:

Another method you should look to use is using engineering to control the environment that you’re working in. These controls could be fixed for everyday tasks or temporary measures for less commonly executed tasks. The measures should generally look to protect the collective workforce rather than individuals.

These could be:

  • Adding edge protection whilst working at height.
  • Enclosing any equipment or sharp edges.
  • Having extractors, such as LEV’s to remove dust or chemical fumes.

Procedures:

Procedures are incredibly important to not just have in place but also make sure that all your staff are aware and know how to follow them to reduce the risks of an incident.

They should also be updated if any of the procedures change, for example, if you have a new piece of equipment that requires different use than the previous.

You may also put in permanent procedures to reduce risks such as enforcing a one-way system around your sites to minimise risks or to restrict working at height during windy conditions.

Supervision:

Another way to reduce risks to workers is to make sure that anyone who is carrying out hazardous work has supervision. The supervisor should have experience and training in the area they are supervising. This will allow them to spot and identify if anything is not being done correctly but also, if the worst is to happen and someone has an accident, someone is on hand to help them.

Training:

It might seem obvious but making sure that all individuals are trained for completing a relevant task is imperative. No one should be asked to complete a task they are not well versed or trained in and making sure that your staff have the most up to date training is extremely important.

PPE:

Another one that might seem obvious but making sure that your workers have access to the right PPE for all the tasks they need to complete and new equipment should be made available if there are changes to regulations or better technologies are available. Individual measures such as PPE should always be explored once all other options are exhausted as they give the least prevention. We all have a responsibility to give our workforce the best protection possible, so implementing collective measures is always better than individual measures.

Engineer and construction site manager dealing with blueprints and projects.

Top 10 health & safety risks in construction

There are health & safety risks in any industry but if you work in the construction industry, you’re more likely to face health & safety risks due to the environments you face on a daily basis and the equipment and manual handling that comes with being on a site.

 

But what are the most common areas for health & safety-related dangers in the construction sector? In this article, we will go over the 10 most common areas to help you with spotting risks and preventing hazardous situations in the future.

 

1.     Falling from heights

Construction worker wearing safety harness and safety line working on construction

By far the most common and dangerous risks when working in construction is falling from heights with about 40 fatalities per year. Construction workers are often required to work from a height, but risks are increased dramatically when mobility is restricted, or the correct training isn’t in place. It’s important for site managers to make sure anyone required to work from height has the correct training.

 

2.     Trips and falls

The second most common area for construction-related injuries is slipping or tripping. Working outside in poor weather can easily lead to slipping and therefore having the correct footwear and if possible temporary flooring in bad areas is highly recommended. Tripping is also a big risk if tools, machinery and materials are left lying around they not only are a trip hazard but can increase the severity of anyone who does fall and land on them.

3.     Moving objects/materials

As a project develops sites can become chaotic with materials and vehicles passing through. All of these create potential risks and things you need to be aware of. Having a clear route for vehicles to use can help reduce risks, as can having a well-marked area for lifting.

 

Image of construction worker on construction site, working on site where skyscraper is being built. Manual worker has protective helmet and protective uniform. Image taken with Nikon D800 and professional Nikon lens, developed from RAW in highest resolution. Location: Novi Sad, Serbia, Europe

4.     Manual handling

Another common cause of injury in construction is manual handling. Lifting heavy materials incorrectly can cause both short and long-term injuries which you’ll want to avoid not just for your health but also so you can avoid having to take time off work. Avoiding risks for manual handling related injuries can be easily avoided by using the correct lifting technique and asking for help when a load is particularly heavy.

5.     Noise

Something that can be easily forgotten about but can have serious long-term implications is being exposed to loud noises, most commonly through the use of machinery. Being exposed to loud noise without the correct protection can lead to reduced hearing or complete deafness. SMAS Worksafe are partnered with Workscreen UK which offers our members an online hearing test so you can get checked.

 

6.     Vibrations

Another risk that comes with using machinery is vibrations and the long-term impact that can have. Prolonged use of power tools and ground working equipment can lead to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, or ‘Blue-finger’ as it is commonly referred too but it can be prevented with effective risk assessments and use of the correct PPE.

 

Young construction worker using a jackhammer.

 

7.     Respiratory diseases

Another common health & safety risk when working on site is the dust produced during tasks such as drilling and sawing, as well as using chemical products that are required to complete a certain task. Wearing the correct PPE will greatly reduce the risk of inhaling dust and chemicals which could cause long-term illnesses such as pulmonary issues, silicosis and asthma.

8.     Asbestos

Following on from respiratory diseases is asbestos. Over half a million homes in the UK still have asbestos despite the substance being banned in housing in 1999. Removing asbestos can be extremely harmful and damaging if not done correctly and it is therefore imperative that anyone dealing with it has suitable training. SMAS Worksafe are partners with UKATA who offer a range of asbestos training courses depending on what level of training you require.

9.     Electrocutions

Electrocutions were responsible for 5% of all construction-related deaths in 2019 with many of those due to the worker not holding the correct level of training required to carry out the work. It is therefore extremely important that only those with the required level of training carry out electrical work.

10.  Collapsing environment / Trapped

Collapsing environments such as trenches can leave workers seriously injured and in some rare cases may cause fatality, although they are few and far between with about 14% of all fatal construction injuries falling under this category. Making sure that risk assessments are complete will help to minimise the chances of a collapsing environment.

 

How to minimise risks on site:

  • Make sure there is always at least one person on site who has up to date first aid training.
  • Make sure that any risk has been risk-assessed and it has been checked over by more than one person.
  • Regularly check that all persons working on any site have the relevant health & safety training as well as the correct qualifications.
  • Make sure your site has the correct signage required
  • Keep tools and equipment well maintained.
  • Have frequent health & safety meetings to keep on top of the ever-changing environment.

 

Waste site

Managing Environmental Risks

Is your business aware of its impact on the environment and the potential penalties for getting it wrong? 

When it comes to protecting your business, making sure your activities aren’t causing environmental harm is incredibly important as a breach of environmental law could have a profound effect on your business’s success.

What exactly does the term ‘environment’ mean?

When considering the environment, most people think of trees, rivers and animals, when in fact it encompasses most things around us, even other people.

ISO 14001:2015 defines the environment as ‘’The surroundings in which an organisation operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans and their interrelationships’’, and these surroundings can extend from within the organisation to the local, regional and global system.

Environmental law covers all of the above aspects, so when considering what impact the organisation’s activities have on the environment it’s worth keeping in mind that these are not just direct, such as where we directly dispose of our waste, but also indirect, such as where our suppliers gain their materials.

What are the potential penalties and additional costs? 

Most breaches of environmental law are criminal offences and carry penalties of a fine and/or imprisonment. For cases tried in the Magistrates’ Court, the maximum penalty is a fine of up to £50,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment, whilst cases tried in the Crown Court could incur an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment.

When considering the costs of environmental accidents, it is highly important to consider direct and indirect costs, as well as the insured and uninsured costs.

Direct costs are measurable and arise from an accident and / or any claim for liability in the civil or criminal courts.

These include elements such as:

  • Repairs or replacement of damaged equipment and buildings;
  • Remediation,
  • Product loss or damage,
  • Loss of production,
  • Public and/or product liability,
  • Fines,
  • Legal fees and
  • Increases in insurance premiums.

Indirect costs may also be incurred as a result of an incident, but do not generally actually involve the payment of money. As these costs are largely immeasurable, they can be difficult to account for. In certain circumstances, they may be extremely high.

These include elements such as:

  • Business interruption,
  • Loss of orders,
  • Cost of time spent on investigations and
  • Loss of corporate image.

Not only does your business need to consider direct or indirect costs, but if your insurance will cover them. Uninsured costs usually include all indirect costs, as well as those relating to a loss of production as a result of many types of incident. Insurances may also be voided where it can be shown that the business had not taken adequate precautions to prevent the incident. Uninsured losses can be many times greater than insured losses.

What harm might your business cause the environment? 

There are 000’s of different ways businesses can cause adverse effects on the environment. These can extend locally, regionally or even on a global scale. When considering how your business affects the environment, there are a few elements you should consider.

To learn more about each area of environmental risk and the potential damage they could cause your business, check out the toggles below. 

There are many ways your business can affect the air quality on a local, regional and global scale. The contaminates of air are elements such as:

 

·       Vehicle emissions,

·       Dust,

·       Fumes,

·       Smoke,

·       Odours,

·       Fibres (i.e. wood, asbestos) etc.

 

By considering your activities and how they may release contaminates into the air, you are reducing the risk of enforcement and the associated costs.

 

In 2006 a hazardous waste company from the north west released toxic fumes into the air that left four members of staff needing medical treatment along with several members of the public reporting side effects.

 

The company had inadequate emergency plans and breached the conditions of their waste management license by accepting waste they were not permitted to hold and then stored it with another chemical substance. This resulted in a joint prosecution by the HSE and the Environment Agency which resulted in a £101,000 fine as a result of the eight charges brought against them, along with paying a further £65,000 in costs.

These types of breaches can be avoided by having the proper procedures in place and ensuring they are rigorously followed. (full story can be found here: Bootle Company Fined)

Some of the most common causes of environmental issues relating to land are:

 

·       Hazardous waste, 

·       Chemicals,  

·       Deforestation,  

·       Leachate (i.e. from waste skips etc.)

 

Making sure your business has adequate procedures in place to reduce the likelihood of land pollution occurring is a key element to mitigating the risk of receiving hefty enforcement and the associated costs incurred, especially when it comes to remediation costs of putting the land back to its original state.

 

Back in 2013 a scrap metal company had been delivering large quantities of waste to a third party for disposal. The third party were licensed to take agricultural waste for deposit over agricultural land it owned, however the nearly 4000 tonnes of contaminated waste soil was revealed to include plastics, metals and household waste.

 

Norwich Crown Court fined the company £3600 after finding it guilty of allowing contaminated waste materials to be illegally deposited on the land. The court also ordered the company to pay full prosecution costs of £4718.

 

The documentation accompanying the waste was also found to be incorrect as it only identified soil waste and not the above waste types. In imposing the level of the fine, the court noted that the defendant’s actions were not primarily financially motivated and that there were other mitigating circumstances to consider, resulting in a lower level of fine than may otherwise have been applicable. (full story can be found here: Waste – Breach of Duty of Care)

 

Water pollution can be one of the costliest pollutions to rectify due to the extensive remediation costs as well as the pure size of the potential problems caused. A spill into a freshwater sewer left unchecked has the potential to pollute an entire eco system living in rivers, lakes, oceans etc.

 

Some of the most common pollutants to water are:

 

  • Sewage (may contain solids such as wood, plastic waste, textiles etc.).
  • Hazardous chemicals.
  • Unauthorised discharges from manufacturing facilities.
  • Construction site run off.

 

It is highly important to not only have the procedures in place for preventing discharge into water courses, but also what to do in the event of a spill or contamination, such as having appropriate emergency plans in place.

 

In 2017, a Leeds-based house building company was sentenced after it was found to be discharging contaminated run-off into a water course from a Huddersfield construction site. The effects that the discharges were having on the water quality in the watercourse were registered up to 3 kilometres downstream. The company were fined £120,000 for illegally polluting a watercourse and were ordered to pay an additional £8,706.71 in legal costs as well as a £120 victim surcharge. (full story can be found here: Watercourse Pollution).

 

Noise is an issue most companies identify as a health and safety issue for their workforce, but noise becomes an environmental issue when considering who or what it affects when it is being emitted outside of the workplace. Some of the causes of noise pollution are:

 

 

  • Construction Noise (such as drilling, sawing etc.)
  • Vehicles (Plant, delivery vehicles etc.)
  • Manufacturing Processes (such as assembly lines etc.)

 

 

By considering noise as an environmental as well as a health & safety issue your organisation is not only protecting the health and wellbeing of your workforce, but also reducing the likelihood of prosecution should the noise affect the surrounding environment.

 

After numerous complaints from locals and interventions from the local council, a Bangor based construction company were sentenced in 2014 for causing noise nuisance from a building site. It was reported that they were breaking the imposed conditions set by the council that the construction work be limited between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturday. Yet residents, some with young children, have been disturbed by noise through weekends, early in the morning and late at night. The noise was caused from sources such as nail guns, saws, generators, skip collections at inappropriate times and forklifts continuously using reversing bleepers straight into residents living rooms.

 

The company were ordered to pay £6,000 for the four charges of breaching the relevant legislation and were also ordered to pay costs of £3,511.48 to the council as well as a £120 victim surcharge. (full story can be found here: Noise Pollution).

How we conduct business not only affects the local or regional wildlife, but also affects wildlife on a global scale. The UK is home to many protected species and adversely affecting their habitats can come at a great cost.

 

The most common causes of impact to fauna are:

 

  • Waste(leading to death in animals or habitat being destroyed)
  • Deforestation (due to high demand for materials etc.)
  • Noise(causing forced evictions of animals)

 

A civil engineering company were sentenced in 2018 for illegally dumping more than 5,000 tonnes of construction waste into two land hollows in Herefordshire. The dumping of waste was compounded by the fact that the site was a habitat for great-crested newts, a European protected species. According to the Environment Agency, the actions of the company resulted in the disturbance, injury and killing of some of the newt population.

 

Great-crested newts are the largest species of newt in the UK and are protected by UK law, meaning to disturb or damage them or their nesting sites is punishable by unlimited fines and up to six months in prison. The company were ordered to pay £50,000 in fines and a further £50,000 towards prosecution costs. (full story can be found here: Protected Species).