The new statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show non-fatal accidents in the construction industry continue to follow a downward trend.
But despite the strides made in reducing accidents on site, the report shows there’s still a lot further to go – in particular the number of fatalities, although also on a downward trajectory, remained pretty constant. This therefore marks an opportune time for a refresher of some the main areas the industry should focus on to make greater inroads in improving health and safety.
1. Conduct thorough risk assessments – and make sure everyone knows about it
Before any project begins, inspect the site for any unusual or potential hazards, which will enable the creation of a suitable safety plan. A thorough risk assessment can create savings for projects not just in terms of accident prevention, but also working capital. A list of control measures should be made for each potential hazard and documented within the risk assessment. This risk assessment should then be presented to, understood, accepted and implemented by all workers during a safety brief prior to works commencing
This is especially important at the present time: COVID has meant many people may have been separated from the workplace for a period of time – they may have been redeployed or furloughed for example – which could possibly mean some lose sight of some of the control measures that they might normally implement within their work.
2. Focus especially on areas where risks are greatest
Falls from a height still constitute the most common accident: accounting for half of all fatalities and the second most common reason for a non-fatal accident, according to the new HSE figures. Think about measures to prevent against falls where people are involved: guardrails, toeboards, screens, canopy structures, nets and safety harnesses, for example.
More companies are now using technology, rather than humans, to undertake work at height. Surveys, inspections and analyses can be done using drones and aerial photography, for example, which is cost effective, safer and a more efficient method of data collection. RSK Orbital is seeing increasing demand for inspection surveys and virtual site visits of major construction projects. 3D aerial imagery can analyse a particular site from many different angles and allow for more informed decision-making as well as being safer.
Other parts of the RSK Group have introduced remote site engagement techniques, which not only enable online site safety audits, but also provide the ability to conduct permit to work processes remotely, provide assistance with hazard identification via a pre-works site walkover, as well as deliver on site video consultations (including kick off meetings and toolbox talks) by senior staff. The use of a smartphone installed on an employee safety helmet (using a low-cost mounting set), together with the use of wireless headphones and microphone allows the employee to keep their hands free during the teleconference.
Slips, trips and falls on the same level are also common, accounting for a quarter of all accidents according to the latest HSE report. We’ve previously introduced workplace safety campaigns centred around slips, trips and falls, and which offer hints and tips including:
- Be aware of hidden hazards; i.e. those that are not easily visible or not expected. For example, high vegetation may hide holes or changes in levels, whilst insufficient lighting in work areas, pathways, offices or stairways can cause harm.
- Manage poor housekeeping, where hazards might arise due to poor storage, distraction or simple laziness. Keep work areas tidy at all times, identify and mark any uneven walking surfaces, cover cables that cross walkways and adopt an “everything has its place” policy.
- Think carefully about the work environment that you operate within. Pay attention to the weather forecast and plan for rain, snow, ice or strong winds.
3. Conduct regular equipment safety checks
The HSE statistics show being injured by a moving object accounts for 12% of injuries. The kind of machinery used in construction today goes beyond anything human beings have ever had the power to control – and that requires a tremendous amount of down-time responsibility; namely, routinely checking equipment and maintaining machinery. Conducting maintenance checks significantly decrease the risk of injury-causing incidents. Hands, in particular, as the most commonly affected part of the human body with lacerations, broken bones and amputations all possible outcomes to poorly managed operations.
4. Cultivate a team approach to safety culture
Providing and repeating information only goes so far – the teams on the ground are the ones at the coalface so everyone needs to have a stake in creating a wilful safety culture. The knock-on effect is that teams will start actively conducting their own risk assessments at every turn and conducting safety protocols with rigour instead of monotony.
Workplace health and safety must be treated as a strategic priority if a positive safety culture is to be achieved. RSK, for example, runs an annual safety event, lasting for a fortnight, in which the entire business conducts a safety stand down and discusses at least two of a number of topics associated with a specific theme. These workshop discussions resulted in the setting of at least one H&S objective for each business unit, which has created more than 130 additional H&S objectives for the Group – all as a result of buy in from employees.
5. Focus on mental health
The HSE report shows there were an estimated 20,000 work-related cases of stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing), accounting for 27% of all ill health in the sector. Safety and mental health should constitute one and the same issue. Safety starts with being present and thinking about your actions so the last thing you want is distractions, but a major distraction is if you don’t feel mentally safe.
Thankfully, things are happening now that would have been unthinkable in the construction industry even a few years ago. The RSK Group, for example, encourages employees to share their experiences in staff events, homeworker wellbeing surveys and through podcasts and videos, raising the importance of talking about mental health and how to find support.
In summary, the sector is going the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go before its health and safety levels match all-industry standards.