Construction work is a high risk occupation. There were a total of 182 construction worker deaths and 63,230 serious injuries between the years 2008-09 and 2012-13. Thus, improving construction industry safety is a high priority in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. The government wants to reduce the number of serious injuries by 20 percent and the number of fatalities by 30 percent.
Work Health And Safety Regulations are in place in all States and Territories. However, there is still a need for “Codes of practice” because of the many avoidable incidents that have destroyed the lives of individuals and businesses across Australia. A Code provides practical advice that Trade Workers can use to ensure on-site safety.
In this post, we identify the chief risks facing Trade Workers and how construction firms (and individual workers) can mitigate them.
The Movement Of Mobile Plant
Keeping unprotected workers separate from mobile plant remains a priority for Regulators. Work Health And Safety Regulations 2011 (section 214) states that any person charged with the control of a powered mobile plant must prevent the plant from overturning, colliding with people or objects, or jettisoning material in an uncontrolled manner. Specific control measures include:
- Ensuring the correct level of protection of Operators
- Ensuring that no person, except the Operator, rides the plant unless they have suitable protection
- Ensuring that the plant does not collide with other machines or people
- Ensuring that the plant has a warning device that alerts people at risk in the vicinity.
Case study 1: Contractor Standing in a Trench near operating plant.
Consider a situation where a Contractor, such as a plumber or electrician, stands in a trench being dug by an excavator. If the excavator Operator continues to dig while the Contractor is in the trench, any slight loss of attention or fatigue by either Worker could cause injury.
Case study 2: Forklift Operator operating with reduced visibility
Forklift trucks are another common form of “mobile plant” found in warehouses, stores and factories. Forklifts are responsible for more worker deaths and injuries than any other plant, in both inside and outside locations. They kill both with their heavy forks at the front and when reversing quickly into people in the rear. Incidents often occur when the forklift truck is laden with bulky loads that block the Operator’s vision in the direction of travel.
A Person Falling
Falling injuries occur in many industries, however, in construction they often lead to serious injuries because of the increased heights involved. Typical falls include:
- Falling from a roof
- Sliding down a roof
- Falling from temporary constructions, such as scaffolds
- Falling from ladders
To prevent falling injuries, safety regulations recommend that construction businesses and workers take action to minimise the risk of falls. Actions include:
- Providing fall prevention devices (such as harnesses)
- Using a work positioning system (equipment that supports a worker in a harness that prevents a fall from occurring)
- Providing training that relates to minimising the risk of falls
- Providing safe work procedures including instructions on the safe use of ladders, signage, permit systems and correct sequencing of work
Electrical isolation involves protecting workers from electrocution by ensuring that they always remain isolated from live electric circuits. Electrocution is not usually a significant threat in new building construction (since electricians usually install circuitry once the main construction work finishes). However, it is a risk in renovations, solar and air conditioning installations in existing buildings where live circuitry already exists.
Workers at the highest risk are those in trades that involve “peno” (penetration) work, such as drilling through floors. Floors on multi-level buildings often contain live power circuitry which can shock workers directly or via drilling equipment. Pre-scanning walls before drilling can sometimes detect live wires, but not always.
To minimise risk, construction companies should switch off all power to the building regardless of operational requirements. Critical Client data storage /computer systems may need to be run on backup power.
Compressed Air In Vehicle Tyres
The construction industry relies on vehicles that run on compressed air-filled tyres. Examples include front loaders, dump trucks, compactors, backhoes, forklifts and excavators.
In some cases, recently repaired tyres can be a hazard. If drivers allow vehicles to run on a flat tyre it can lead to “zippering.” This phenomenon occurs when the steel braids in the tyre fracture while the tyre is running flat. On re-inflation, the steel band in the tyre’s wall suddenly rips open like a zip, releasing an intense blast of air. Because tyres release lair so rapidly, it can be lethal to anyone within three-metres.
To prevent this from occurring, workers must not operate equipment with flat tyres. Repair technicians should check the integrity of the steel braid in the tyre before re-inflating.
Working Adjacent To A Road
The occupational fatality rate for clerical and administrative workers in Australia is 0.1 per 100,000 workers. However, the rate for labourers is 2.9, and for machinery operators and drivers, it is 6.2.
To reduce the risk of fatality, traffic controllers and police will often implement traffic controls to protect workers on construction sites next to busy roads. Construction companies will also instruct their workers to wear high-visibility vests. Lower speed limits; flashing lights with better worker-visibility should alert passing drivers to the danger, hopefully causing them to slow down as they pass by. However, such precautions cannot prevent injury entirely. Remember high-visibility jackets are not the same as body armour!
Removing or Defeating A Safety Device
Lastly, removing a safety device from a piece of equipment is a common cause of injury in high risk construction work. Examples include:
- Removing the safety guard from an angle grinder to allow Trade Workers to extend its capabilities beyond the manufacturer’s intended specification
- Rendering factory-installed micro-safety switches invalid on semi-automatic production line equipment (by inserting a small object, such as a toothpick or piece of card)
Removing or “defeating” safety features is illegal under WHS Law. Trade Workers found to be engaging in such practices can be found guilty of Industrial Manslaughter, a crime now in force in Australian States and Territories.