UK is World Benchmark for Health and Safety – But Accidents Can Happen
The safety culture in the UK construction industry is the envy of most other countries, including the USA, and is also among the most regulated.
More than two million people work in the UK building industry, and the Health and Safety culture that has evolved over recent years means that construction workers here are far less likely to be the victims of serious accidents than their counterparts overseas.
Having said that, the nature of the work still means that it is one of the most dangerous industries. Maintaining health and safety is a never-ending job, involving both proactive components, such as continuous improvement, training and monitoring, plus reactive controls, including evacuation procedures, first aid training and maintaining both builders public liability insurance, and employer liability insurance. Employer liability insurance is a legal requirement for any business that employs people, even if those employees are short-term contractors.
Unsurprisingly, an increasing number of construction companies are choosing to outsource health and safety to external third party contractors, to be certain that they are always up to date with the latest rules and regulations relating to training, risk management, personal protective equipment and various other aspects.
Here we look at some of the most common accidents, and how employers can seek to avoid them.
Falls from height
Falling from ladders or scaffolding is the most common accident and can cause broken bones and back or head injuries.
Employers must ensure that guards are in place on all walkways, and that there is safe access and egress to and from scaffolding.
After falling people, the next most common cause of accidents is falling objects, which could cause anything from minor cuts and bruises right up to life-threatening crush injuries.
Again, appropriate guards must be in place, along with warning signs. Any workers in the area must also be wearing appropriate PPE, including a hard hat.
Defective power tools are a common source of injury, particularly when safety guards and shut offs become broken or are disabled.
Formal procedures must be in place for carrying out routine checks and inspections, and these should be documented and auditable.
Cables, pipes, holes in the ground and piles of equipment. A building site can sometimes look more like an obstacle course.
Trip hazards should be identified as part of each risk assessment, and kept to a minimum. Where they are inevitable, warning signs can mitigate the risk of an accident.
Aside from the construction work itself, an additional danger on a building site is that a relatively confined space is often shared by vehicles and pedestrians all moving around focused on their own activity. Little wonder that this can often lead to accidents.
Ensuring that vehicles and people can circulate safely is key to preventing serious injuries. Sites should also have clearly marked routes for both wheeled and foot traffic, plus rules regarding speed and parking.
Noise and vibration
Regular use of some power tools can lead to hearing loss or tinnitus, while prolonged exposure to vibration can cause nerve and tendon damage.
Where possible, exposure should be kept to a minimum, and appropriate PPE (gloves, ear defenders, etc) must always be used.
A building site is a dangerous place, but modern health and safety practices mean accidents are far fewer than in previous generations and in other countries.
However, these practices only work with the commitment of employers. Risk assessments, training and the provision of personal protective equipment are all absolutely vital to keeping employees safe.