Monitor and control: Common construction site hazards and risks
SOCOTEC outlines some of the most common hazards and risks that construction workers may encounter, as well as the relevant legislation and control measures that ensure that the level of risk is kept as low as possible.
With an estimated one in 10 workers injured on construction sites every year, it is easy to understand why the sector is renowned for having the most fatal injuries for its employees. Each construction project comes with its own unique set of challenges, as well as a working environment that is constantly changing, which means that the management of the various hazards and risks on construction sites cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach.
According to the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) annual statistics, there were approximately 111 fatal injuries in the workplace between April 2019 and March 2020. Meanwhile, the latest Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 logged 69,208 non-fatal injuries to employees in 2018/19. As with all sectors, employers who operate within the construction industry have a duty of care to their employees, visitors and the general public, and must thereby ensure that the hazards and risks associated with their working environment are identified and monitored closely, with regular risk assessments conducted.
What is the difference between a hazard and risk?
While it is easy to presume that hazards and risks are exactly the same, there are some key differences between the two. When identifying hazards on a construction site, this will be anything that can cause harm, damage or adverse health effects to people in the workplace. This can include physical hazards such as a fall from height or excessive use of power tools, safety hazards from exposed wiring or a slippery surface, as well as ergonomic hazards such as manual handling and poor posture.
Meanwhile, a risk is the likelihood of a person being injured or receiving an adverse health effect through exposure to the hazard and this includes the severity or consequence of the injury or exposure. This can be influenced by a number of different factors.
It is the responsibility of the employer to identify the construction hazards and measure the risks within each individual working environment, implementing a series of control measures to ensure that staff, contractors and the general public are protected from harm as far as is reasonably practicable. Hazards and risks can be reduced and eliminated in a number of ways, such as providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and appropriate training, as well as having adequate first aid and hygiene facilities.
What are some of the most common hazards on construction sites and how can these be controlled?
There are many different types of construction risks and hazards that can affect employees during their day-to-day work. Below are examples of some of the most common hazards and risks that construction workers may encounter, as well as the relevant legislation and control measures that ensure that the level of risk is kept as low as possible:
Working at height
According to the HSE, one of the major health risks and biggest causes of fatal injuries at work is falls from height, with 40 workers killed when working at height in 2018/19. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require those responsible for the health and safety of employees to plan, organise, risk assess, supervise and ensure a safe system for those working at height if it is not avoidable, including employees whose daily activity involves working with roofs, vertical ladders and below-level walkways.
Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are a high contender for non-fatal injuries within the construction industry, given the uneven terrain on many building sites. As a result, employers are instructed to provide workers with suitable footwear with maximum grip and ensure that adequate signposting is in place to surround slippery, wet and uneven surfaces. The effective management of working areas and access routes such as stairwells and footpaths is required, while also providing designated walkways, cordless tools, well-lit routes and a clutter-free environment.
Around 21,000 employees in the UK suffer from work-related hearing problems as a result of overexposure to loud noises, and this is particularly prominent within the construction sector. Workers will regularly come into contact with power tools, groundwork equipment, loud machinery and supply vehicles, and as a result they are required to wear adequate hearing protection to reduce the risk of developing a related hearing problem. As part of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, employers are required to carry out a comprehensive noise risk assessment for all employees who use this equipment as part of their daily working activity.
Construction workers will most likely have been required to carry out manual handling at some point in their careers, and moving heavy objects without receiving the appropriate training can result in an array of back-related injuries. Under the Manual Handling Regulations, employers are legally obliged to ensure that all employees are fully competent in manual handling.
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome is a debilitating industrial disease of the blood vessels, nerves and joints caused by the prolonged use of handheld power tools, including vibratory tools and ground working equipment. With nearly two million at risk from developing the disease, employers must provide employees with the appropriate PPE, as well as coming up with alternative methods of work which will eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration.
Falling objects and collapsing trenches
Given that a considerable number of construction jobs occur on multi-storey buildings, remaining vigilant of the risks posed by falling objects and avoid working closely to anywhere where there is a high risk of one being disturbed is of paramount importance. It is also recommended that the appropriate PPE is worn where necessary, such as when working with overhead lifting equipment and supply vehicles.
Another common safety hazard on construction sites is collapsing trenches/excavations, which is particularly hazardous due to buildings being under construction or in the process of being demolished. It is therefore important to ensure that the trenches/excavations is fully secure, which can be carried out by conducting regular inspections before and during shifts.
Causing over 5,000 fatalities a year, the inhalation of disturbed asbestos fibres is a common hazard in the workplace, particularly on construction sites where asbestos-containing materials (ACM) could be disturbed at any given moment. With an estimated 500,000 buildings in the UK still thought to contain asbestos, it is a legal requirement for employers to inform all employees who may come into contact with ACMs in their day-to-day work as to their precise location. They should also ensure that workers are fully trained and able to respond competently and confidently in the event of their coming across any suspected or confirmed ACMs.
With an average of 1,000 electrical accidents in the workplace every year – as well as three construction industry workers electrocuted during refurbishment work on commercial and domestic buildings per annum – electricity is another physical hazard on construction sites that employers must be aware of. Many of these incidents are caused by workers coming into contact with overhead or underground cables and electrical equipment, and this also has a direct impact on the number of falls from height on ladders, roofing and scaffolding that occur on construction sites each year. Regular risk assessments and maintenance checks of electrical equipment should be carried out so as to keep the risk of an electrical accident in the workplace at a minimum.
Barbour download: Guide to working at height
Work at any height can cause injury; a fall from a height of just one or two steps can cause serious injury.
The Regulations were amended in 2007 to extend their application to those who work at height providing instruction or leadership to one or more people engaged in caving or climbing by way of sport, recreation, team building or similar activities in Great Britain.
Download your free guide from Barbour to understand: Duties of persons in control of work at height; Duties of persons undertaking work at height; General controls when working at height; Method statement for work at height; Selection of a means of access; Working platforms; Guardrails and toeboards; Ladders Mobile work platforms; Suspended access equipment; Personal suspension equipment and, Inspection of fall arrest equipment.