Assessing risk, controlling and reviewing it are the main elements to working safely on any construction site.
Assessing the work area involves investigating the hazards, i.e who could be harmed (including the environment), how somebody could be harmed and to what extent harm could occur. Common health hazards can come from working with dust, asbestos, noise, vibrating equipment, cement and lead. The consequences of manual handling, and slip and trip hazards are also risks to one’s health. Occupational diseases include asthma, musculoskeletal disorders, occupational cancer and asbestosis and noise related hearing impairments.
In the assessment of risk on a construction project, the mitigation of risks should be part of the construction plans from the beginning. When doing so, one must consider the aims of the project, the amount of people employed, the length (in terms of weeks and even years) and the size of the project. The hazards and their consequences must all be assessed as part of the whole. The workers must be well trained so that they can work in cooperation with management. Both must comply with the law and the onus is on both to report any threatening issues.
Controlling the risks in construction involves completely eliminating them or diminishing them to an acceptable level that is reasonably practical, and complies with the law. This involves working with the safest equipment available, providing appropriate protective equipment (including respiratory) for workers. Other controls may include allowing limited access to hazardous work areas (where only qualified personnel are allowed), rotating the workers that are doing the hazardous tasks and allowing frequent breaks. Having strong protocol and work processes in place, by which workers must adhere to, will result in a ‘work trail’ whereby the risks to health is diminished. In this case, should an investigation be required later, one would be able to identify the likely cause of the situation that has occurred. A lot of responsibility depends on the training of staff, the hiring of competent workers and the preservation of a communicative and progressive work environment amongst them.
As with any work place, especially construction, the work environment is subject to change. Therefore, the risks need to be reviewed at regular intervals, and, most urgently as new changes occur. Changes can include new staff, the introduction of new equipment, new job roles and new changes to the construction phases of the project. Even a change in the weather can have an effect. Consideration must be given to temporary workers, shift workers, young workers and staff whose first language is not English. Temporary or young workers may not be experienced with procedures and so should be competently trained and supervised. Equipment should be tested for safety features and be well maintained. Maintenance work should be carried out safely. Any incidences of ill health should be investigated and a health surveillance system would be advisable. Formal audits may be useful in tackling ‘gap areas’.