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SAFETY AT WORK ON CONSTRUCTION SITES

Published: 01st Mar 2011

As the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) projects’ market enters a new cycle of growth after the global crisis, the need for sustainable construction and safety in carrying out the work is pressing.

The cash passing through the construction industry has stimulated unprecedented growth in GCC economies. In 2008, the combined GDP of its six member states rose to more than $1 trillion - three times the figure recorded in 2002 - and the region became the world’s most buoyant export market for building materials and equipment.

These trends could well be overshadowed by what is to come. According to regional projects’ tracker MEED Projects, about $2.5 trillion worth of projects are underway or planned in the GCC.

There has been a radical change in the safety methods employed by the GCC construction industry to deliver huge projects, but more needs to be done to secure workers’ safety.

Construction industry specialists say the codes are sound, but were designed to address an earlier era.

World class project execution is not possible or sustainable without world class health and safety management. The view from the construction site, nevertheless, is that construction companies and subcontractors are often reacting rather than managing the human element of the industry.

Brian Colquhoun, Regional Health and Safety Manager at UK consultant Mott MacDonald said that across the GCC, legislation is fragmented and typically at an early stage of development.

In many cases, specific legislation is not readily available and exists only in the form of Labour Law, as opposed to health and safety legislation. In the case of the UAE, there is existing legislation; however, it is not federal and as such varies from one emirate to another.

Contractors agree that unified health and safety legislation would help. It is also widely felt that standard legal requirements for the country will support improving the health, safety and environmental performance and prevent misunderstanding or lack of awareness for any of the requirements.

Frequent training is one of the most essential elements for preventing accidents and protecting workers.

All construction sites should have a safety manual, within which all safety procedures are documented. Any contractors working on site should read and agree to the policies contained within the safety manual before they are allowed to commence work. Construction is a hazardous industry, and so proper safety procedures are vital for avoiding accidents, injuries or fatalities.

Initial checklist for construction projects:

• Can everyone on the project reach their place of work safely, e.g. are roads, gangways, passageways, passenger hoists, staircases, ladders and scaffolds in good condition?

• Are there guardrails or equivalent protection to stop falls from open edges on scaffolds, mobile elevating work platforms, buildings, gangways or excavations?

• Are all holes and openings securely guardrailed, provided with an equivalent standard of edge protection or provided with fixed, clearly marked covers to prevent falls?

• Are the working structures stable, adequately braced and not overloaded?

• Are all working areas and walkways level and free from trip hazards, obstructions such as stored material and waste?

• Is the site tidy, and are materials stored safely?

• Have proper arrangements been made for collecting and disposing of waste materials?

• Is the work area and interior adequately lit? Is there sufficient additional lighting provided when work is carried on after dark or inside buildings?

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, is essential for anyone working on site. At the very least, each worker should wear a hardhat, high-visibility jacket or vest and steel toe-capped boots - all of which must be in a good condition.

Some specialist workers may require additional items of PPE, such as safety goggles, dust masks or ear defenders. Any relevant PPE must be worn at all times while on site.

Height protection

Falls from height are a common source of injury and even death on construction sites. Therefore, it's highly important that any raised platforms should have a handrail around the perimeter to prevent a worker from falling. Access to these platforms should be via a ladder or scaffold tower that has been correctly installed and secured.

By way of example, the American OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) states that ladders and other equipment for working at height should not be erected within a ten foot radius of power lines. Other states have their own rules, but this can be seen as a minimum standard to achieve.

Electrical safety

Any workers carrying out their function in the vicinity of electrical cabling or equipment should be trained in avoiding the hazards that are posed.

Electrocution can cause severe injury or even death. Only tools and equipment that have been recently tested to ensure that they are safe should be used, and all cables should be clearly marked to make others aware of the risks.

Equipment maintenance

All equipment is to be maintained on a regular basis to make sure that it is safe to use. If a tool malfunctions, it can cause serious harm. For example, a circular saw with a blunt disc can easily snag on the material, causing the saw to fly out of the hands of the operator, potentially causing an injury.

Routine inspections on all equipment are a must, and any malfunctioning tools should be immediately repaired or replaced.

Accidents on construction sites are costly, on both an emotional and financial level. The reputation of the company can be adversely affected through a fatality caused by negligence on site - and the family of the injured or deceased person can claim compensation; this will often have a large financial impact, and could cripple a small business.

Carrying out a risk assessment

Risk assessment of a construction site is a painstaking process with so many things to consider and so many pieces of legislation to comply with, but here is a range of just some of the more important things to consider, based on some of the areas which have probably contributed to the most injuries and deaths within the industry over the past quarter of a century.

The contents of this article, however, are by no means exhaustive and companies and workers who operate within the construction sector need to be aware of the different legislation which applies to them and further information can be obtained from, for example, the UK Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) website: www.hse.gov.uk.

Falls and trips

Falls and trips continue to make up the largest proportion of accidents in all work places. Specifically, falls from height are still a major risk factor, which is why concerns such as the safety of scaffolding, walkways, use of ladders and mobile lifting platforms are still of such importance.

Areas which have been excavated, untidy sites where building materials have been left out where people can trip over them and the removal of waste have all contributed to slips and trips which can result in serious injury and, in some cases, death.

Fire risks

Fire risks are always a concern on construction sites and there should be a proper provision for fire prevention, what to do in the event of a fire. Any storage and use of hazardous or flammable materials must also be taken into consideration.

Electrically operated equipment

Electrically operated equipment is always heavily used on construction sites and, given that the nature of the work, often exposes this type of equipment to the elements of the weather, all proper precautions need to be taken with regards to this, as well as ensuring that the supply voltage is as low as possible.

This should preferably be by using the 110v centre tapped earth system and if not, use double insulated tools and residual current devices (RCDs). Also ensure that all such equipment is checked daily and is full working order.

Noise

Noise can be excessive with all the various machinery in operation, but site managers can often reduce this by sequencing the order of machinery operations to minimise the number of workers exposed to noise simultaneously and, of course, proper ear defenders in the form of ear muffs or plugs should be worn.

The list of potential dangers on a construction site is almost endless. Other areas which need to be risk assessed and have proper provisions put in place are likely to include checking for asbestos and checking for any locations of underground services so that any digging is safe.

Making sure that proper safety procedures are in place when undertaking roof work is also a must.

There will be many more and it’s crucial that site managers and safety officers ensure that no health and safety issue has been overlooked before any work commences. This also needs to incorporate contractors who may be working on the site.

Suggested checklists:

Plant and machinery

• Is the right plant and machinery being used for the job? Has the entire project team agreed on this point?

• Are all dangerous parts guarded, e.g. exposed gears, chain drives, projecting drive shafts?

• Are guards secured and in good repair?

• Is the machinery maintained in good repair and are all safety devices operating correctly?

• Are all operators trained and competent?

Traffic and vehicles

• Have separate pedestrian, vehicle access points and routes around the site been provided? If not, are vehicles and pedestrians kept separate wherever possible?

• Have one-way systems or turning points been provided to minimise the need for reversing?

• Where vehicles have to reverse, are they controlled by a properly trained banksman?

• Are vehicles maintained? Do the steering, handbrake and footbrake work properly? Have drivers received proper training?

• Are vehicles securely loaded?

• Are passengers prevented from riding in dangerous positions?

Fire

• Is the quantity of flammable material on site kept to a minimum?

• Are proper storage areas provided for flammable liquids and gases, e.g. LPG and acetylene?

• Are containers and cylinders returned to their stores at the end of the shift?

• If liquids are transferred from their original containers are the new containers suitable for flammable materials?

• Is smoking banned in areas where gases or flammable liquids are stored and used? Are other ignition sources also prohibited?

• Are our gas cylinders and associated equipment in good condition?

• When gas cylinders are not in use, are the valves fully closed?

• Are cylinders stored outside?

• Are adequate and suitable bins or skips provided for storing waste?

• Is flammable and combustible waste removed regularly?

• Are the right number and type of fire extinguishers available and accessible, with staff trained to use them? Cranes and lifting appliances

• Is the mobile working on a firm level base?

• Are the safe working loads and corresponding radii known and considered before any lifting begins, with a suitable lift plan in place for all lifts to be undertaken?

• If the crane has a capacity of more than 1 tonne, does it have an automatic safe load indicator that is maintained and inspected weekly as a minimum standard?

• Are all operators trained and competent?

• Has the banksman/slinger/signaller been trained to give signals and to attach loads correctly?

• Do the operator and signaller/banksman find out the weight and centre of gravity of the load before trying to lift it?

• Are cranes inspected weekly, and thoroughly examined every 12 months by a competent person and all accessories thoroughly examined every six months, again by a competent person?

• Are the results of inspections and examinations recorded?

• Does the crane have a current test certificate? Hoists

• Is our hoist protected by a substantial enclosure to prevent someone from being struck by any moving part of the hoist or falling down the hoist way?

• Are gates provided at all landings, including ground level?

• Are the gates kept shut except when the platform is at the landing?

• Are the controls arranged so that the hoist can be operated from one position only?

• Are the hoist operators or sub-contractors trained and competent?

• Is the hoist’s safe working load clearly marked?

• If the hoist is for materials only, is there a warning notice on the platform or cage to stop people riding on it?

• Is the hoist inspected weekly, and thoroughly examined every six months by a competent person?

• Are the results of inspection recorded? General

• Have emergency procedures been developed, e.g. evacuating the site in case of fire or rescue from a confined space?

• Are people on site aware of the procedures?

• Is there a means of raising the alarm and does it work?

• Are there adequate escape routes and are these kept clear?

Adequate training

There is so much plant and machinery contained within a construction site that all operators of this type of equipment should be fully trained and competent in using the various equipment. That also applies to those who operate vehicles both on and off site, and those who use mechanical diggers, cranes and any fork lift trucks.

Senior management commitment

The need for senior executive and board members to become actively involved in safety programmes has been underlined by recent, worrying research. Safety specialists in the UK found that the majority of serious safety failures in all working environments, including the Middle East, are caused by management failure.

The European Union says that the current 6,000 deaths in the EU each year from work related accidents are not only the result of carelessness, poor training and negligence, but also bad management and incompetence.

Increasingly companies are ‘biting the bullet’ and sending senior staff on high level training courses.

Recently more than 50 directors and managers from a firm who is a regional leader in design, construction, facilities management and maintenance services through joint ventures in Dubai, Oman, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, undertook the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, the NEBOSH

National General Certificate.

This is an extremely rigorous health and safety training course, so well worth taking - and in this instance more than 80% of attendees achieved a credit or a distinction.

Not everyone thinks so progressively. A worker was killed recently at a refinery in Baghdad and the investigation concluded that while companies in the region usually buy the right equipment, the workers tend not to receive the training to go with it.

The cost of this failure is high in both personal and financial terms. In 2001, the monetary value of the 5,300 work related deaths in the US was around US $132 billion. Even companies with safety management and training protocols in place had to ask uncomfortable questions about the soundness - or otherwise - of their programmes.

The Middle East has become one of the most multicultural areas on the planet as the rapid expansion of both the population and industry has created an influx of workers from outside the region. So any training course has to deal with groups of people who may have no fluent common language, and possibly no common language at all, and very little shared culture.

It would be simplistic to assume that anyone can train people in safety management as long as they speak the language, or have someone who can speak it for them.

A core issue is social and cultural assumptions being made by the trainers. Poorly trained or inexperienced tutors, especially from Europe and America, can sometimes have a tacit expectation that certain levels of, for example, equipment and tools will be routinely available.

They believe that the management style will be the same as at home. They don’t realise that people may not understand the context of illustrative or explanatory anecdotes.

If they are teaching in their own language they sometimes fail to check which kind of English their students understand - US or UK. After all, a torch in the UK is a portable light that runs on batteries; in the US it’s a piece of wood with fire at one end.

The leading safety hazards on site are: falls from height, plant collision, excavation accidents, electrocution, machines, and being struck by falling objects. Some of the main health hazards on site are asbestos, solvents, noise and manual handling activities.

Falls from height are the leading cause of injury in the construction industry. In the OSHA Handbook (29 CFR), fall protection is needed in areas and activities that include, but are not limited to: ramps, runways, and other walkways; excavations; hoist areas; holes; formwork; leading edge work; unprotected sides and edges; overhand bricklaying and related work; roofing; precast erection; wall openings; residential construction; and other walking/working surfaces.

The height limit where fall protection is required is not defined. It used to be 2 metres in the forerunner to the UK based Work at Height Regulations. Now things have changed, as 50% of all deaths from falls at height are falls from less than 2 metres.

So what is working at height?

It is working at any height that may result in injury from a fall.

Protection is also required when the employee is at risk to falling onto dangerous equipment. This can only realistically be assessed via thorough and regular risk assessment, and not on reliance on rules like ‘the 2 metre rule’, which gave us all a false sense of security.

Fall protection can be provided by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems, and warning line systems.

All employees should be trained to understand the proper way to use all safety systems and to identify hazards. ?

Author

Pat McLoughlin

British Safety Services (BSS) is an international consultancy offering advice and training on health and safety issues. Established in 1990, BSS has gained an international reputation as a major provider of high quality safety training that gets results. The team at BSS also provides guidance on all aspects of public safety specialising in workplace legislation and best practice.

BSS advise clients on their health and safety strategy and policy and assist in implementing procedures as required. By conducting training needs analysis,

BSS help clients identify skills gaps in their workforce and then develop and deliver bespoke training programmes to meet these gaps, to improve safety awareness and performance in the workplace. BSS have been successfully providing these services to companies throughout the world for almost 20 years.

BSS has its Head Office in Birmingham, UK, and has regional offices in Qatar, Dubai, Yemen, China, Libya and Algeria. With a team of specialist staff grounded in a detailed understanding of each country’s cultural issues as well as specific industry and country safety requirements. Instructors are all qualified to NEBOSH standards and have a minimum of 15 years’ experience.

Most clients are in high risk sectors such as construction, the nuclear industry, oil and gas, together with many service industries including schools and food.

Clients include Qatar Petroleum, Al Futtaim Carillion, Readymix Qatar, PDO, Sabic, Conoco Phillips, Canadian Nexan, Weatherford, Inpex Libya, Al Mansoori, Petro Bras and Misco Libya.

To contact BSS

visit www.bssukhse.co.uk or email Pat.McLoughlin@bssukhse.com www.osedirectory.com/health-and-safety.php

Published: 01st Mar 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Pat McLoughlin has more than 27 years experience in health and safety, developed after a practical grounding of 10 years in Engineering at Land Rover. He was with ROSPA for six years before forming British Safety Services in the Sultanate of Oman, with his business partner Steve Burke. Today, Pat is involved in providing H&S training and consultancy, from medium sized businesses through to multi national corporations. Pat has advised boards of Directors in the strategic direction of their health and safety policies and procedures.