The fact that the construction industry is far from the safest in the UK is a well-established fact. With close to 3000 deaths in the last twenty five years on construction sites and many more injuries resulting from accidents the figures speak for themselves. Safety on building sites is a big issue for employers and professionals in the industry. While building sites are the obvious location in which construction related injuries occur this is not always the case; this September’s initiative by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is aimed at highlighting the less obvious danger (and less obvious potential victims) by focussing on refurbishment sites and, in particular, smaller sites. Part of a regular programme of ‘interventions’, September’s initiative is aimed at improving industry standards on smaller sites, increasing understanding of the HSE’s expectations and reminding construction firms that the HSE is ready and willing to use the powers at its disposal.
Common Sense Safety for Sites of all Sizes
Whether large or small all construction sites have a number of inherent risks involved in their management and day to day operations. These include working at heights; effective site order; structural issues and stability and access arrangements. In addition, refurbishment sites have additional potential for risk in the form of specific hazardous substances including (but far from limited to) asbestos. Key to managing many, if not all, of these risks is common sense and training. Good site management practices and the ability to assess risks effectively is crucial to limiting and minimising danger to both workers and visitors to the site. For site supervisors the need for sound training and the ability to apply common sense approaches to safety is essential. For those supervising refurbishment sites and smaller sites this is also true and can require a more detailed approach in some senses.
While nearly all construction sites will contain hazardous substances the additional risk of building materials from past eras is inherent in many refurbishment projects. This can include large sites – such as schools and hospitals – but can also include small domestic properties where a range of interesting and highly lethal products have been commonly used to construct and decorate over the last century or so. From arsenic and lead to silica and asbestos the cocktail of lethal products to be found in some old houses and properties is potentially a poisoner’s paradise. Risk assessment is crucial in ensuring that workers and visitors have suitable training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Toddlers and Other Hazards
On smaller domestic sites and large refurbishment projects access is also an issue; from toddlers to admin assistants, a whole range of people can be encountered teetering on the edge of pits or chatting with colleagues amidst a haze of asbestos particles. Site supervisors on this type of site need to ensure that apart from their own training sensible precautions and training are in place for anybody with access to a refurbishment site. This can be particularly complex where sections of a building are under refurbishment and in other parts business (or daily life) is continuing as normal. The HSE initiative this month will hopefully serve to ensure that safety on smaller sites remains a priority in the minds of construction firms of all sizes.