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Construction safety still a concern

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has recently turned its spotlight on the construction sector, warning that there is no room for complacency despite a recent fall in the number of accidents within the industry.

The charity is to hold a conference to highlight the need for more to be done to improve health and safety for construction workers. Topics for discussion at the conference will include safety measures, how to prepare in the event of a major accident, and legal implications, including financial and reputational damage as a result of poor health and safety management.

High risk of injury

According to RoSPA, construction workers are nearly four times more likely to be killed at work than the average worker.

In 2012/13, 39 construction workers lost their lives as a result of injuries sustained at work - a reduction from 49 in 2011/12. In addition, approximately 70,000 employees are currently suffering ill health as a result of their work in the construction industry.

Workers suffer severe chemical burns

When accidents occur in the construction industry, the consequences can be painful and life changing for the workers involved.

In one incident recently reported by the Health and Safety Executive, two builder’s labourers in south west London suffered serious and extremely painful chemical burn injuries after working knee-deep in wet concrete.

One of the workers suffered burns so severe he needed skin grafts to both ankles to help them heal.

The men had been tasked with wading through newly poured concrete to ensure it was evenly distributed. After three hours, one man complained of severe pains in his legs and tried to find welfare facilities to wash off the concrete, but no such facilities were available. They continued working in concrete for another hour.

That evening they both had to go to hospital for treatment after experiencing painful burning sensations around their ankles and lower legs. They were diagnosed with chemical burns and were unable to return to work.

Duty of care failure

The builder was prosecuted after a HSE investigation found he had failed in his duty of care to his workers in a number of ways:

  • He hadn’t briefed the workers on the dangers associated with working with wet concrete, which is known to be a strong alkali that can cause serious burns and ulcers.
  • He failed to provide personal protective equipment for the workers, such as boots providing cover to knee level.
  • Welfare facilities at the site were wholly inadequate.

The builder was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs after being found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Worker sustains fatal crush injuries

In a separate incident, a construction worker suffered fatal crush injuries after being struck by a large concrete beam at a hospital construction site in Essex.

The 44-year-old was involved in fixing beams across supporting towers to form part of the concrete structure for a new building. The beams were lifted from ground level to the work area by a tower crane.

The weather on the day of the incident was inclement, with wind speeds increasing throughout the day. At one point it exceeded the safe working parameters of the tower crane. As a result, the slew brakes slipped and the crane moved with the wind. The sudden movement caused the crane to swing round with the beam, which caught the worker and crushed him between the beam and an adjacent tower.

The HSE investigation found that the work had not been adequately planned and supervised. If the company had put a suitable management procedure in place, it would have been able to properly consider the deteriorating weather conditions and then take the tower cranes out of operation, it said.

The company was fined £175,000 and ordered to pay £80,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 8 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations.

“Although the judge was not satisfied that the company’s failings were a direct cause for Mr de Oliveira’s death, he said there was a systemic failure where a risk of serious injury was foreseeable,” commented HSE Inspector Dominic Elliss.

“Lifting operations can be highly hazardous and the appropriate standards are clearly set out in both the regulations and industry guidance. There is no excuse to ignore them and I would urge all those undertaking such work to review the effectiveness of their own controls to ensure safety on construction sites,” he concluded.

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