Health and safety in the construction industry has recently come under the spotlight after a nationwide campaign by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found an alarming number of sites were failing to meet basic safety standards.
Many sites visited by the HSE
The campaign involved HSE inspectors visiting 2,607 sites across the UK where refurbishment or repair work was being carried out. They looked at whether:
- jobs that involved working at height were identified and properly planned to ensure that appropriate precautions, such as proper support of structures, are in place,
- quipment was correctly installed / assembled, inspected and maintained and used properly,
- proper monitoring and control arrangements to prevent unnecessary exposure to harmful dusts were in place,
- sites were well organised, to avoid trips and falls, walkways and stairs free from obstructions, and
- work areas were clear of unnecessary materials and waste and welfare facilities were adequate.
Safety standards found to be inadequate
During their visits, inspectors found insufficient safety standards on almost half (1,105) sites, and on 644 sites work was being carried out in such an unsafe manner than enforcement action had to be taken to protect workers. As a result, HSE inspectors were forced to serve 539 prohibition notices ordering dangerous activities to stop immediately, and 414 improvement notices requiring standards to improve.
The most common safety failures identified by inspectors included inadequate protection for workers carrying out activities at height, exposure to harmful dust and inadequate welfare facilities.
“It is disappointing to find a significant number of sites falling below acceptable health and safety standards, where our inspectors encountered poor practice this often went hand in hand with a lack of understanding,” commented Heather Bryant, HSE’s Chief Inspector of Construction.
“Through initiatives like this we are able to tackle underlying issues before they become established and we will continue to work with the industry in an effort to drive up standards,” she added.
Construction poses many dangers
These types of safety failings are part of the reason why the construction industry is one of the most dangerous sectors to work in.
HSE figures show that although the construction workforce only accounts for around 5% of the total number of employees in Britain, it manages to account for 22% of the total number of fatal injuries suffered by workers, and 10% of all reported major injuries.
The figures also show that in the last year alone construction workers suffered 49 fatal injuries. In addition more than 5,000 occupational cancer cases are thought to occur each year because of exposures suffered by employees during construction work.
Workers sustain serious injuries
An example of the types of dangers faced by workers in the construction industry was revealed in a recently reported HSE case, where two workers in Cardiff were seriously injured when a mezzanine floor collapsed on them.
The workers were involved in demolishing the floor when a section of it collapsed, trapping them beneath it.
One employee sustained cracks to his spine and lost the toes and ball of his left foot resulting in him needing a prosthesis. His colleague suffered multiple fractures to his arms, a dislocated elbow and cracked ribs, as well as severe bruising to his back and kidneys.
The HSE investigation found that the method of work chosen by the company to demolish this part of the floor was unacceptable and dangerous.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £100,074.
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