Of all of the places to work in the UK, a construction site is among the most dangerous. Every year, around three percent of construction workers suffer from an injury at work, and a further three percent suffer an illness. All of this amounts to millions of days off, and millions of pounds worth of lost time every year. This isn’t even taking into account the non-quantifiable, emotional damage and misery which might occur as a result of all of this danger.
It used to be a lot worse than this. Health and safety at work is a relatively recent movement, and it’s done considerable good in preventing injury and death. If you want proof of that, you need only consider how the construction industry used to be. We needn’t go back as far as the construction of the Pyramids – government statistics indicate that work-related injuries have fallen by a whole percentage point over the last decade. What this suggests is that recent changes in procedure, and the introduction of new safety technologies, have made a considerable impact on worker safety. Put simply, health and safety works.
In this article, we’ll examine some of the more essential items of safety gear – the stuff that might mean the difference between life and death for a construction-site worker. These items aren’t just for politicians who want to appeal to working-class voters; they’re actually enormously useful, and on no account to be dispensed with!
Let’s take a look, shall we?
When it comes to serious, life-changing injury, the brain is perhaps the most vulnerable of all organs. You might expect this, since it comes ready-encased in a sturdy protective bone-jacket. But the human skull hasn’t adapted to deal with the extremes that we might find on a construction site. Drop a brick or iron railing from a great enough height and the skull will be next to useless as a protective measure.
Accidents can happen even on the most vigilant, professional construction site. It’s vital that we take precautions to limit the damage that these accidents might inflict. Thankfully, the modern age has provided us with sturdy, lightweight and strong plastic materials with which to make protective headgear. This means that everyone in the construction industry can and should be protected against cranial trauma.
A hard hat can spell the difference between a day-long headache and a lifelong disability. For this reason, wearing one should be considered mandatory for anyone entering a construction site.
If the brain is the part of the body most vulnerable to life-changing injury, then the eyes should probably be considered a close second. They’re a lot more delicate than the top of the skull – but thankfully, they’re also a lot smaller. If you’re simply wandering around a construction site, then it would take an incredibly freakish accident for your eyes to be made vulnerable. That said, freakish accidents occur all the time – and modern safety goggles are so stylish, economical and unrestrictive that there’s no sensible reason to forgo their use.
Protective eyewear is most important in situations where there’s a risk of eye injury. If high-speed flying particles and chemical splashes are a risk, then goggles should be considered as obligatory as a hard hat. If you’re operating a pneumatic drill, then particles of cement might easily fly up into your face, causing severe pain and even blindness. If you’re handling chemicals, then you might want to go further. Full eye enclosure, with unvented googles, or even full-face visors, will provide you with the maximum protection and peace of mind.
When you’re working in construction, the right footwear is essential. Slips, trips and falls are likely to result in injury – especially to a person who happens to be operating dangerous machinery or carrying heavy building materials. The ground underfoot in a construction site is rarely in a complete state, and there is little protection against wet weather, which might make things all the more slippery. A pair of high-grip, substantial boots should therefore be considered mandatory.
When it comes to working on a construction site, information about what’s going on around you is essential. We’ve all seen an episode of Casualty that starts off with a close-up of some unseen hazard, and then a wide shot of some oblivious unfortunate. Clearly, if we’re to reduce the likelihood of an accident, then we need to make sure that we know as much as possible about our surroundings. And of course, this also applies to those around us.
Clearly, advertising your own presence will go a long way toward ensuring your safety. If your fellow workers can’t see you, then they’re not going to be able to take your safety into account when doing potentially hazardous jobs.
High-vis clothing should be made to a recognised standard. In the UK, this standard is known as BS EN 471. Jackets produced according to this standard will come in various different levels of reflectivity and conspicuity. Select the one that’s appropriate for the level of danger.
If you’re handling sharp, hot or highly abrasive materials, then you’ll want to wear gloves. Gloves will provide your hands with a level of protection against irritants and impact injury. They’ll also allow you to work during cold weather – even on tasks that require a great deal of dexterity.
Gloves used in construction should be of a sort that isn’t going to compromise grip. Ideally, the palms should be coated in latex or some similar high-grip material. This will reduce the risk of for example, dropping a breeze block on your foot – or, worse still, on someone else’s.
In almost all cases, it’s down to the employer to ensure that their employees are wearing the safety equipment that’s appropriate to the task. Safety equipment should be properly maintained and stored, and its use should be supervised. After all, there’s no point insisting that your employees wear hard hats if you’re not going to check that they do.