The construction industry plays a vital part in the growth and prosperity of a nation. In 2018, the sector contributed £117 billion to the UK economy and currently accounts for nearly 7 per cent of its workforce.
However, construction sites are among the most dangerous workplaces in any industry. Construction workers frequently face hazardous conditions, such as falling, electrocution, structural collapses, and exposure to harmful substances. In its 2017/18 to 2019/20 report, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) documented 61,000 non-fatal injuries to workers and 40 construction-related deaths.
On a brighter note, workers can easily avoid many of these work hazards with proper training and management. But first, it is crucial to identify what these onsite dangers are. Here are five of the most usual health and safety risks everyone in the construction workforce should know.
Slip and Trip Risks
According to HSE, slips, trips, or falls on the same level make up over 26 per cent of non-fatal injuries within the construction sector. It is not surprising as so much goes on at a construction site. The usual causes of these are muddy or slippery surfaces, uneven ground, cluttered equipment, trailing cables, and strewn debris. Although not common, slipping or tripping could result in joint dislocation or bone fracture.
Construction site managers are the ones responsible for ensuring that the workers can move around the areas safely. Holes and excavations or wet and slippery surfaces should have a warning sign. Access routes such as walkways and stairways should be free of obstacles, scattered debris, equipment, and building materials. Workers should also wear sturdy and suitable safety shoes with maximum grip to prevent slipping or tripping.
Manual Handling Risks
Over 81,000 construction workers in the UK suffer from work-related ill health, with 57 per cent attributed to musculoskeletal disorders, both new and long-standing. The main contributor to the condition is manual handling.
What is manual handling? These are tasks involving lifting, carrying, lowering, pushing, and pulling bulky or heavy materials. The most common injury associated with handling materials is damage to soft tissues such as muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, cartilage, and nerves. The affected parts are typically the neck, lower back, arms, elbows, hands, wrists, legs, knees, ankles, and feet.
Other types of injury are bruises, punctures, and even fractures. In severe cases, healing can take a long time, with the possibility of permanent disability. Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is among the occupational diseases affecting construction workers who frequently handle hand-held vibrating tools such as power drills, chainsaws, and other machinery that vibrates. Symptoms include numbness in one or more fingers, aches and pains, muscle weakness, and wasting.
To minimize the risk, contractors should conduct regular training on proper manual handling. Construction workers should be aware of their physical limits when it comes to weight. They should know the techniques for carrying and lifting heavy objects. Also, there should be protocols that eliminate the hazards of prolonged use of vibrating equipment.
Working at Heights
Falls from height are the number one cause of work-related deaths in the construction industry, making up 47 per cent of total fatal injuries. The incidents frequently happen because of unsecured ladders or scaffolding, lack of guardrails, and insufficient edge protection. In a few cases, electric shock attributed to the fall.
Workers can avoid most of these incidents with an appropriate working at height training, proper planning, risk assessment, and a supervised work system. The company should also install fall protection structures, such as safety nets, and ensure that workers use functioning equipment, including correct ladders and sturdy scaffoldings with double guardrails when accessing high places.
Additionally, the Working at Heights Regulations of 2005 state that employees should avoid working at heights whenever possible. If they can carry out a task on the ground level, they should do it there.
Electrocution and electrical injuries, such as shock and burns, are among the most common dangers within the construction industry. According to the HSE, around 1,000 electrical incidents occur at the workplace annually, many of which transpire at construction sites.
Around three construction workers get electrocuted each year. Electric shocks sometimes cause slips from ladders, roofs, and scaffolds, which can be fatal. Unnervingly, the number of incidents is increasing. Most of these involve unqualified electricians, such as plumbers and decorators, performing electrical work.
To reduce the risk of incidents, only trained and qualified electricians should do electrical work. Employees working with electrical tools should wear protective clothing that includes safety glasses or face shields, insulating gloves, and anti-static boots.
There should be a comprehensive risk assessment that identifies potential electrical hazards. Safety barriers and warning signs should be in place to protect employees from overhead or underground cables and power lines. The manager should ensure the prompt replacement of damaged, frayed, or worn electrical cords and oversee that all tools and equipment are in perfect working condition. Lastly, ladders, scaffolds, and materials should be at a safe distance from electrical power lines.
Loud Sound Danger
Another health and safety risk that workers should know about is noise. Frequent exposure to loud, repetitive, and excessive sounds coming from ground-breaking equipment, power tools, machinery, and compressors can cause long term hearing problems.
The HSE estimates 21,000 workers suffer from work-related hearing complications, including 55 claims of occupational deafness in 2018. Too much noise also presents a distraction that can result in accidents, including being struck by moving vehicles or hit by falling objects.
Although noise is a daily part of construction sites, it can be controlled and reduced to an acceptable level. For instance, employers can choose equipment and tools with low noise emissions. Workers should undergo training on the proper and effective use of these tools to lessen unnecessary sounds.
Site managers should have procedures that minimize the employees’ exposure to noise, such as implementing sound barriers whenever applicable. In case the noise level is impossible to reduce, employers should provide the workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment. The PPE includes a set of soundproof headphones that decreases the intensity of sound waves entering the ears, reducing the risk of hearing loss.