Five Key Areas For Managing Construction Site Hazards
Construction is often regarded as a high hazard industry, with inherent risks and a poorer safety record than other sectors. There can be a long list of construction site hazards, depending on the project type, project stage, construction techniques and safety management system. However, with good design, planning, management and hazard awareness, construction can improve safety standards for all involved.
The 5 areas below are the very basics of managing construction hazards but are the foundation for good safety and also quality and efficiency on site.
Public Safety and Interface
Except for very remote projects, all construction works will involve some form of public interaction. It is key that the public (on foot, bike, car, etc.) are segregated from the works and any potential hazards. For short-duration works, these may be barriers or heras panels, but a designed hoarding will be required for longer works. Controlled pedestrian and vehicles access points will be required, to ensure only construction personnel can gain access to site.
Where construction vehicles enter/exit the site (usually crossing a footpath) is a hotspot for the public interface, with gatemen required to control operations. Another item is to ensure that there are signs on the perimeter to inform the staff of all the works, vehicles and hazards. Finally, the site perimeter requires regular inspection to ensure it is in good condition, is complete and there is no evidence of unauthorised entry to site.
Construction projects can vary from those that start in a green field, to projects requiring demolition or just fit-out or refurbishment works. However, they all require planned, clear, level, even pedestrian access routes. These routes must be segregated from vehicle routes, with crossing points identified and who has priority (pedestrians or vehicles). Access to work at height should be planned in advance. For scaffolding, the Code of Practice now advises a clear priority for stair access when practical. When using ladders, they must be secured and extend a minimum of 1 metre above a safe platform.
Housekeeping, site tidiness and organisation are the next issues once the public interface and access have been addressed. Housekeeping is possibly the simplest but most common issue on construction sites. Not only is it a hazard in itself, but poor housekeeping can indicate other problems with site management, subcontractor coordination, planning and logistics. The immediate issues are trips and falls, vermin and fire from the build-up of materials.
The first step in managing housekeeping is to identify how waste is collected and transported to waste storage areas. This is sometimes not as simple as it sounds and requires planning, procedures, plant (e.g. bins, skips, hoists, teleporters, cranes) and adapting as the project progresses. After this, the housekeeping policy requires clear communication to all subcontractors and personnel, with frequent monitoring and inspection.
It might sound like a cliché, but a tidy construction site indicates a well-managed site, and also benefits programme and quality.
The proverb ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’ should be the motto for materials on site. Good housekeeping can only be maintained if it is followed. Management on restricted (city/town centre) sites will sometimes blame poor housekeeping on insufficient room for material storage. This doesn’t have to be the case and constrained sites need even better material storage and just in time delivery.
A key consideration with materials is to identify hazardous substances and store accordingly. This will usually require a locked ventilated and bunded store for chemicals, with items separated according to their properties. Flammable liquids need to be stored in approved containers/bunds and bottled gas stored in well ventilated external areas. For all hazardous substances, ensure safety data sheets are on site, have been reviewed and the key items communicated to the personnel using the materials.
The Construction Regulations (2013) provide a requirement for adequate welfare facilities to be provided on site. However, detailed guidance on the size of the facilities (depending on workforce size) are provided published by the Construction Safety Partnership Advisor Committee (Requirements for Construction Site Welfare Facilities, link: https://csponline.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/welfare_facilities_csp1.pdf).
Site welfare must provide canteen facilities, to make a hot drink and heat food; toilet and washing facilities and drying rooms. Once facilities are in place, they need to be maintained and cleaned daily. Warm and clean welfare facilities indicate personnel the site management’s commitment to the safety and wellbeing of those working on the site.
A list of construction hazards could go on and on, from demolition, excavations and work at height to dust, welding fumes and electrics. Another area, which overlaps with all topics, is the management of site safety documentation, from the Construction Safety & Health Plan to plant certificates to inspections to training records.