Construction sites are, despite the good work done by the spread of health and safety practices, some of the most dangerous places to work in the country. They’re filled to the brim with materials and equipment which, if mishandled, can cause serious injury or even death.
As well as a broad shift in attitudes and practices, and a steady stream of legislation designed to enforce those attitudes, safety on construction sites has also been improved by the gradual introduction of new, more safe and more reliable technologies.
It’s worth therefore considering some of the ways in which we can limit the risk to those working on construction sites – and in this article, we’ll do just that.
A crane is perhaps among the most dangerous devices on a construction site. It’s capable of lifting enormous loads – and, if used improperly, of swinging them into a building, or dropping them from a great height. The results of such an accident can be disastrous – not only for the construction project itself, but for anyone who might be standing nearby.
Crane accidents, though rare, can be hugely costly when they occur. Just last year, hundreds of Muslims had their pilgrimages brought to a terrible halt when a crane collapsed at Mecca’s grand mosque during the height of Ramadan. Closer to home, the Health and Safety Executive claim that, since 2001, there have been 61 accidents involving tower cranes, in which nine people have died and twenty-five have been seriously wounded. Naturally, preventing this sort of accident is hugely important, for both financial and ethical reasons.
In the main, crane mishaps have two causes: equipment malfunction and human error. In order to combat both of these causes, UK regulations stipulate a number of requirements, which can be viewed in detail here.
Generally speaking, equipment should be examined before first use, and when it’s moved and re-assembled for use at another site. Inspections might also follow adverse weather conditions which might inhibit its safe operation: a blizzard, for example, might cause a crane to no longer function safely.
Legally, both the crane user and the crane hirer share responsibility for any mishap that the crane’s use might bring about. For this reason it’s important that crane use be supervised properly, and that crane operators are vetted to ensure that they’re both competent and physically able to do the job.
Medical break glass
Of course, when accidents do happen, it’s vital that medical help is obtained as quickly as possible, in order that the problem be addressed quickly. In many cases, the speed of response can spell the difference between life and death.
But taking a mobile phone onto a construction site is not an ideal solution. If you’re wearing gloves, you’ll likely have to take them off before operating the touchscreen, which will waste valuable seconds. Then you’ll have to dial the emergency services, connect to an operator and explain the situation. You’ll then likely have to explain exactly where you are – which, since you’re in a place which hasn’t been built yet, might not be so simple.
Alone, these complaints might sound trifling – but when the situation is dire, all of these tiny obstacles standing in the way of medical help can amount to something serious. Fortunately, there exists a device that can help, in the form of a medical break-glass switch.
This operates in much the same way as a fire alarm break-glass switch, except that, instead of activating a fire alarm, you’re summoning medical assistance. It comes with a special cover, which prevents it from being used accidentally.
Devices like this are designed to shorten response times, and thereby save lives. They’re especially useful in situations where workers are working on their own – after all, if you’ve suffered an injury, you’ll want to be able to summon assistance without going through the trouble of dialing the emergency services, as we’ve just described. By installing a medical break-glass switch on your site, you can help to make it safer for everyone who might work there.
Of the accidents which occur on construction sites among the most harmful are those caused by cave-ins which come about as a result of excavation. If you’re to dig an enormous hole in the ground, there’s a considerable danger that the hole might at any minute collapse, depositing tons of soil, and possible other heavy objects, upon anyone unfortunate enough to be standing inside at the time.
This danger is made all the more pressing by the fact that it develops so quickly – an apparently safe trench can within a fraction of a second collapse, since the effect of one section of soil sliding can set off a chain reaction.
The threat is exacerbated further by environmental factors like the weather, since excessive rainfall can cause the sides of a trench to become slippery, and more prone to sudden collapse. Moreover, wet soil is even heavier than dry soil – which in perfect-storm conditions can weigh around a tonne-and-a-half per cubic metre.
There are few ways in which this threat can be combatted, and trenches rendered as safe as possible. The first, and most obvious, of these, is that trenches should be supported where possible using sheets, baulks and props. Ensure these materials are to hand before the work starts – and plan how many of each will be needed.
Ensure that the edges of the trench are sufficiently shallow. A steep angle is more likely to collapse, particularly during wet weather. Decide on an appropriate angle, with room for error, and stick with it.
Finally, if your construction project involves a trench, then it’s imperative that people be prevented from falling into it. Not only will this cause injury as a result of the fall, but it might cause the wall of the trench to collapse. Prevent this from happening by erecting a fence around the area of the proposed trench – and do so before digging takes place.