Health And Safety On Construction Sites

Construction By Matthew Coombes

The construction industry is one of the biggest industries in the UK, employing over 2.1 million workers in the second half of 2020. There are a massive number of roles in the construction industry, and any demolition, refurbishment or repurposing work comes under the umbrella of construction and construction legislation.

Why is health and safety so important on construction sites?

Construction projects involve many moving parts, often many different contractors and companies, and a wide range of hazards. There are typically a lot of different companies involved, each with their own staff, own ways of working and it’s essential that they can all work together to keep everyone safe and to keep the site operating.

Additionally, there are some construction hazards which result in fatalities each year, such as workers falling from height, or being struck by vehicles or objects. Other hazards take longer to kill you, such as exposure to silica dust, asbestos fibres and welding fumes.

There are many arguments for effective management of health and safety, and the most well known are the moral, legal and financial arguments.

Moral:

Generally, society believes that working should not result in injury, ill health or the death of workers. This is additionally reinforced by the hugely negative effect that injury, ill health or death can have on an individual or by extension those that care about them including family, friends, and even pets.

If a worker dies on a construction site, the organisation that has provided the work has not just let down the worker who has suffered the fatality, they have let down everyone that cares about them.

Legal:

There are legal duties held by any workplace in the UK, and failure to meet these legal requirements can be seen as a breach of health and safety legislation, resulting in fines or even incarceration for directors or individuals.

Financial:


Any incident, accident, injury, or damaged equipment can come with huge costs.

Incident – When something goes wrong, even if it’s a near miss, it should be investigated to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. This can mean stopping certain work until someone can investigate, or taking another approach to a task, such as using different equipment until the reason for the near miss can be found. This can cost production time, and depending on the circumstances may need money to fix.

Accident – Any accident reportable under RIDDOR will likely result in a visit from a HSE inspector. The HSE will then begin an investigation into the incident which may result in action being taken against the organisation including a prohibition notice, preventing any work from taking place. This will immediately result in loss of production time, which may mean that the site completely grinds to a halt depending on the specific accident.

Injury – When a worker becomes injured, there is a risk of civil suit being brought against the organisation. Even if the civil suit ends favourably for the organisation, there will be costs associated with defence such as solicitor fees that will not be able to be recovered. Additionally, there is the cost of time to prepare a defence, with this cost being apparent in the salary of individuals preparing the defence.

Additionally, any injured worker may need to be replaced with another professional able to do the same job. If this is through an agency or a highly skilled worker, the costs could be extensive.

Damaged equipment – Equipment that becomes damaged during an incident or accident will need to be replaced, in the incidence of plant becoming damaged the costs can be huge to repair, replace or re-hire the damaged equipment.

When does health and safety start on a construction site?

Not including safety features baked into the design/plans of whatever is being built, refurbished or demolished, health and safety starts before a single person has stepped foot on the site.

It often starts with selecting contractors.

As a result of all the moving parts that go into a safe construction project, it’s essential that all contractors, equipment hire services, workers and more are competent and capable of working safely.

Contractors may use their own subcontractors, so ensuring that you’re hiring the right contractors is essential. Many organisations will do this by looking at their previous work, incident reports, method statements, risk assessments and sometimes even requiring previous companies that they have worked with to ‘vouch’ for their quality of work.

Who has responsibility for health and safety on a construction site?

In a word, everyone.

Responsibility for health and safety is legally and morally everyone’s responsibility, and it’s financially in everyone’s interest to keep the site safe and operational if they want to be able to work.

More specifically, responsibilities can be easily understood when placed against the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In summary duties are:

Directors – Lead by example, ensure health and safety ‘happens’, resource and facilitate health and safety.

Managers/Supervisors/Team Leaders – Complete health and safety actions and use resources as instructed, complete risk assessments (or source them), manage the day-to-day health and safety, ensure those working on site are competent and trained properly.

Workers – Don’t increase risk, deliberately or accidentally, follow instructions relating to safety procedures and equipment.

It’s not just the ‘big guys’ that can be prosecuted if something goes wrong, small companies, directors and individuals call all face fines and even incarceration for failing to maintain health and safety.

A great recent example of failure to manage asbestos resulting in sentencing for two construction company directors can be read on the HSE website by clicking here

Want to know more about construction health and safety?

We have loads more free-to-read articles relating to construction health and safety including:
How to produce safety reports in construction

Welfare guidance for employers

Excavator hazards and control measures

Additionally, we offer accredited construction health and safety training from NEBOSH that can help you progress into a career in construction health and safety.
We offer this course in the classroom, via video conferencing and as an e-learning course.


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