Construction Site Safety Tips
Please see below for some tips regarding the creation and maintaining of a safe construction site.
Many health and safety courses will cover fire risks from the perspective of actions taken by workers, such as carelessness with items like blowtorches or using faulty or damaged electrical equipment which causes a spark near flammable material. However, it may be the case that a fire on a construction site actually is started deliberately whilst nobody is present on site.
The effects of arson - the deliberate starting of a fire - can be devastating. If there is nobody present on site, although it means they cannot be injured or killed, it also means that there is nobody there to tackle the fire. Whilst a small fire started accidentally may be easily extinguished by a worker using equipment provided such as fire extinguishers, a small fire left untreated can quickly turn into a blazing inferno which destroys the whole project through burning from the flames or due to smoke damage. Not only can it destroy structures on site, but it can also put nearby buildings at risk if the fire spreads beyond the site boundaries or causes a large explosion.
Managers and the operatives of a construction site need to take steps to prevent arson, which basically comes down to preventing unauthorised access to the site when nobody is present, which is usually overnight. This can include putting up secure perimeter fencing around the site and possibly employing a security guard or guards to patrol the site. As well as preventing fires through arson, these steps can also help prevent the theft of expensive tools and equipment from the site when nobody is there.
Measures such as clearing away flammable material which is no longer required and introducing fire doors as soon as possible can help to limit the damage caused by a fire which is started deliberately as it will slow down the spread of the fire and give the emergency services more time to put out the fire and save as much of the building project as possible.
The health and safety dangers from drills are so varied, and their use so widespread, that they are often mentioned in NEBOSH General Certificate courses as well as construction-specific training courses such as the NEBOSH Construction Certificate and SMSTS.
Some of the many hazards that drills can pose include:
i) Noise - Drills are inherently noisy pieces of equipment, both from the motor and from the friction caused by the drill bit going into the material being drilled. Suitable ear protection needs to be worn whilst the drill is in operation to prevent damage to hearing. Not only does the operator of the drill require this, but also those working nearby can have their hearing damaged too without appropriate protection. With numerous drills and other such equipment being used in this environment, a construction site is likely to be a particularly noisy place.
ii) Dust - As the drill bores a hole into the material it will create a lot of dust. This dust will be a coshh (control of substances hazardous to health) risk and so coshh regulations will come into play. Whilst a small amount of dust may not always pose a danger to a person's health, over time the cumulative effects can cause severe damage, and so workers in industries such as the construction industry will be particularly at risk. It is for this reason that many construction workers will benefit from bespoke coshh training which can not only cover dust but also other hazardous substances that they are likely to encounter such as paint and cement.
iii) Electrocution - Electric drills will require electricity to run them, meaning that there is always a danger of electrocution if the equipment is damaged, inadequately maintained or comes into contact with water. There is also a risk of electrocution if the drill bit comes into contact with live electrical wiring.
iv) Vibration - Most drills will vibrate in the operator's hands as they drill a hole, and can lead to conditions such as hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
v) Eye Injury - Drilling holes can cause small fragments as well as dust to fly around which can cause an eye injury to the operator and those immediately nearby. The wearing of eye protection such as goggles will prevent such injury.
vi) Entanglement - Rotating drill bits can entangle hair or clothing which can cause severe injury to a person. Although nearly all drills will stop rotating by simply releasing the pressure on the trigger switch, they will take a few seconds to cease rotating, in which time an entanglement injury could occur.
vii) Trip Hazard - Some drills will be cordless and powered by a battery, but electric drills will require a cable between the drill and the power socket. This cable can create a trip hazard, especially if it is pulled tight and so is raised up off the ground.
viii) Manual Handling Risks - Having to move, carry and manipulate a drill will require an effort and physical exertion, particularly if the drill is heavy or cumbersome. A person is therefore at risk of suffering a manual handling injury from such equipment.
Just about every construction site in the world will create dust in its operations. Unlike many other hazards, dust is harder to contain as it can easily get past site perimeter fences and affect the area beyond where activity is taking place. It has the potential to cause problems for both the public, and for the local environment.
For people and other living creatures, dust can cause respiratory problems, as well as causing irritation and possible damage to eyes if the dust particles are of a material which is abrasive to the eye. Particularly hazardous material such as silica dust can cause irreversible long-term lung damage.
In sufficient quantities dust can also damage the local environment. If a lot settles on plants and trees, it can block sunlight from getting to the leaves which will prevent photosynthesis. Whilst it is likely to blow off naturally in the wind, it may cause problems if there for a long period of time. If there is really a lot of it, it can bury and kill young/small trees, plants or grass. Hazardous dust can also enter nearby rivers and streams with the potential to mix with the water and cause damage to fish and other aquatic creatures.
Suitable precautions should be but in place in order to minimise or prevent the negative consequences associated with excessive dust. For those on site, personal protective equipment such as breathing apparatus and goggles can be used to prevent damage to health along with using equipment which captures the dust created by cutting or drilling. To prevent dust causing problems for the public and the environment, the area can be dampened down with water to prevent dust from escaping into the air and beyond the site boundaries. Areas should also be swept regularly to prevent the build up of large quantities of dust, although those doing the sweeping need to take precautions as this sweeping will whip up the dust and could be inhaled.
The risks and hazards from dust are covered in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, apart from lead and asbestos dust which have their own specific regulations. Site workers would benefit greatly from health and safety training such as COSHH training in order to become more aware of the short-term and long-term dangers posed by dust, and how to work safely in dusty places of work.
Related Internal Pages:
- Why are COSHH health and safety courses important?
- COSHH - How can hazardous substances enter the body?
The activities of a construction site are almost certain to at one time or another involve items or materials which need to be lifted up with either mobile or tower cranes. As with other activities, effective preparation and planning is key to working safely and keeping everyone else safe nearby. This will include factors such as risk assessments, permits to work if necessary, the assignment of competent persons to manage the lift, and controlling access to the area where the lifting is taking place to keep unauthorised or unwary persons out so that they do not become injured from falling objects or from the machinery itself.
The immediate area around the crane needs consideration. The ground upon which it is situated needs to be firm and level, with suitable load spreading decking beneath it in order to provide stability whilst lifting is taking place, otherwise the crane may topple over or slide. If this were to happen, the heavy load may begin to swing wildly and either hit nearby objects or come loose and fall to the ground. Neither of these outcomes is desirable, for if the load was to strike a scaffold it could cause injury or death to those working on it, especially if it were to collapse. There may also be overhead electricity or telephone cables in close proximity which could be damaged if the crane were to come in contact with them. Minimum safe distances need to be adhered to, as damaged live electricity cables would be extremely dangerous to everyone nearby.
Because of the many risks and dangers that lifting heavy loads entails, it is an operation which has numerous health and safety considerations. In fact, it has its own specific set of regulations in the form of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998. These health and safety requirements with respect to lifting equipment are not industry specific and apply to nearly all lifting operations.
It is imperative that not only should operatives be trained in the use of the equipment, but that all those who will be involved in the lift or working nearby receive suitable health and safety training in order to work safely and reduce the chances of an accident as much as reasonably possible. There are numerous health and safety courses available for construction site workers including the NEBOSH Construction Certificate and the CITB SMSTS courses and SSSTS courses. There are also non-accredited courses which concentrate specifically on a certain issue such as manual handling training, coshh and hazardous substances, permit to work training and fire safety courses.
All of the activity on a construction site can quickly make the whole area muddy, particularly if it rains. This mud can get onto the tyres and undercarriages of vehicles, which without intervention will be deposited all over the public highway if the vehicle has to leave the site and travel to another location. This mud will not only be a nuisance for other road users as it dirties their vehicles, but, more seriously, will create a danger of skidding as the mud brings about a loss of traction which affects steering and braking. This has the potential to cause serious road accidents as motorists lose control.
Construction site operators not only have a duty to look after the health and safety of their own workers, but also towards the general public who may be affected by their operations. This means that action needs to be taken to prevent mud or other debris from leaving the construction site and getting onto the highway. Often this will take the form of tyre and undercarriage cleaning systems to wash off mud and debris which vehicles leaving the site need to go through before they exit. The site may also employ road sweeper vehicles to clean the road of anything that gets onto it, although prevention is far more preferable than cleaning as an accident could happen in the intervals between the road being cleared.
Mud and the associated risks to motorists is not the only reason for ensuring vehicle tyres and undercarriages are clean. Depending upon the nature of the site and the substances being used, vehicles leaving the site may also have hazardous material or chemicals on them which could be deposited on the road and then be washed away into the drains or surrounding area, damaging the local environment and creating an environmental health and safety issue.
Slips, Trips and Falls
One of the most common forms of injury either on a construction site or indeed any place of work is one caused by a slip, trip or fall. However, on a construction site this can be particularly dangerous as there is a high chance of this occurring whilst a person is working at height or in close proximity to dangerous machinery and equipment. This can turn what may otherwise have been little more than a sprained ankle or a bruise if it occurred in a different place of work into something which could be a potential killer if the person falls from high up or in front of a large piece of machinery such as an excavator.
To reduce the chances of slips, trips and falls a number of precautions can be taken. These include wearing appropriate footwear, clearing walkways of mud and debris, putting temporary flooring down over bare earth, putting up covers to prevent rain getting surfaces wet, clearing obstructions and trip hazards such as cables and tools, not running around site, and, most importantly, paying full attention whilst moving around and not being distracted by another task such as using a mobile phone.
Whilst health and safety courses can contribute greatly in reducing the chances of accidents occurring on a construction site by making workers more aware of the hazards and dangers that they may encounter on site, one of the best ways to avoid an injury through slips, trips or a fall is to use common sense, not rush, and not be distracted by other things whilst moving around site.
Whilst those casual do-it-yourselfers are likely to be quite content with an ordinary hammer, those with a great deal of nails to put in place such as construction site workers will usually use a nail gun to speed up the process and make it easier. Whilst they may avoid the usual nail-related danger of bashing their finger or thumb with the hammer, there are still numerous risks to health and safety associated with using a nail gun.
The most obvious danger of using a nail gun is firing the nail into a body part, usually a hand or a foot, instead of the material it was supposed to go into. This can not only be extremely painful and could cause conditions such as permanent nerve damage, but may also lead to infection if the wound is not cleaned and treated properly.
Nail guns can also be noisy, both from the equipment itself as it discharges the nail, and from the impact upon the material receiving the nail, particularly if the acoustics of the room make the sound even louder such as a room which has been emptied whilst the work takes place and is now prone to significant echoes. Even if the noise does not seem to be too bad this time, prolonged exposure may cause irreversible damage.
Each time the nail gun discharges it is likely to cause a significant jolt and vibration through the operator's hand. Over a long period of time this vibration may cause damage and associated vibration-related conditions.
Measures such as frequent rest breaks or job rotation, personal protective equipment in the form of gloves and ear protectors, and suitable health and safety training courses to enable workers to perform their duties more safely will all help to minimise these risks to health.
As well as the dangers of a constantly changing site layout, the surfaces of the roads themselves on a site have a number of health and safety issues which need to be taken into consideration by those using them.
First of all, construction sites can become muddy, especially the roadways. Soil which is exposed to rain will quickly turn into mud, which will be further churned up by vehicles moving over the surface, particularly heavy ones. Unless the construction work is taking place in consistently hot temperatures, this mud is unlikely to become hard again as the constant churning from the vehicle tyres, combined with the likelihood of more rain, means that it never gets the opportunity to set. Apart from the time inconvenience of having to rescue vehicles which get stuck in the mud, the more serious problem from a health and safety perspective is the risk of the vehicle getting out of control on the slippery surface. If the vehicle cannot stop in time or slides when going around a corner, there is a danger of it coming into contact with people or buildings and causing an accident.
Even where a semi-permanent road surface of stones has been laid down there are still risks as the loose stones may not provide enough traction for stopping or cornering. They may also be squashed down to form bumps, hollows, potholes and gradients over time, sometimes severe ones, which again could cause a vehicle to either lose control or cause damage to it. A more permanent, harder surface such as tarmac can also cause problems if it becomes slippery from rain, mud or debris being deposited on it.
Many structures which are being constructed will require a scaffold to be erected so that work can be undertaken higher up on the structure. This scaffolding needs to be able to support the weight of those persons working, as well as that of other items such as tools, bricks etc. There are a number of health and safety issues which require consideration when scaffolding needs to be used on a construction site, in order to prevent accidents and injuries.
Perhaps the most obvious danger is the risk of collapse. Scaffolding needs to be erected correctly to ensure that it can support the weight of the people and objects on it. If it collapses, it is likely to cause severe injury or death to those working on it and anybody who happens to be underneath at the time of collapse.
Another serious danger is the risk of falling from height. This can include both a person who falls from the scaffolding, or an item such as a tool or brick which falls below and strikes a person. Depending upon the weight of the object in question, this can cause severe head injuries or death.
The weather also poses a danger to those working on scaffolding. Being metal, the structure itself can attract lightning, particularly if it is a tall scaffolding which is high off the ground and acting as a conductor. This could kill or cause serious burns to anyone in contact with the metal when it is hit. Strong winds can blow people or objects off the scaffold, leading to the falling from height issues talked about in the paragraph above. Also, rain can make the scaffold wet and slippery which can lead to workers slipping and falling. Not only could they hurt themselves in the fall, if they are carrying a heavy load such as a power tool at the same time then this can cause injury.
By combining a mix of common sense and information learnt on health and safety courses, workers can stay safe during the construction, use of, and dismantling of scaffolding. They may also be able to make use of alternatives such as elevated work platforms.
Selection of Vehicle Drivers
Whilst they may not travel anywhere near as fast as an ordinary road car, the vehicles that move about on a construction site are likely to be much bigger and heavier, meaning that they pose just as much of a risk to the health and safety of both the driver and the other people on site. These vehicles include excavators, tipper trucks, bulldozers, and many other pieces of heavy plant equipment. Colliding directly with a person or with a structure such as scaffolding or a fuel storage tank can result in death or serious injuries being sustained. Similarly, reckless or inappropriate driving of the vehicles can pose a risk to the driver and any passengers of the vehicle itself if it is involved in a collision or it rolls/tips over for example through excessive speed when cornering.
The risks and potential serious consequences on safety and health mean that driving a vehicle on a construction site is a serious responsibility and should not be bestowed on just anyone. Whilst only those who have had suitable training on the safe operation of the vehicle should be allowed to drive/operate it, their must also be stringent selection criteria to ensure that people who are not suitable to be trusted with such equipment are not allowed to drive it.
This selection criteria will often vary slightly depending upon the particular vehicle and the nature of the site itself, but there are a number of common traits. One is the age of the worker. Whilst it is a large generalisation and certainly not always true, younger workers are likely to be less careful and more reckless when driving a vehicle. Whether this is due to inexperience or trying to show off or 'prove something' to others on the site, younger workers may take more risks such as driving too fast or showing off to their friends. It may also be the case that the vehicle may need to be driven on a public road, in which case driving legislation with minimum age regulations will apply so that only those over a certain age are legally allowed to drive the vehicle anyway.
Along with a person's age and their mentality/trustworthiness, their physical condition is also an important consideration when selecting or allowing someone to drive a vehicle on site. The driver needs to have good mobility to enable them to see properly when manoeuvring, as well as being able to easily get in/on the vehicle, or, perhaps more importantly, out/off it in the event of an accident. Just as it is a requirement for driving on a public road, good eyesight is essential for a site vehicle driver as they need to be able to see potential hazards ahead whilst they have enough space and time to take action such as making an emergency stop, not to mention being able to accurately gauge distances whilst driving and performing manoeuvres. Good hearing can also be crucial to enable drivers to hear warnings or instructions whilst they drive.
Site History and Previous/Current Use
Before starting any construction work, it is important that a site survey takes place to determine if any risks or hazards are present from the current condition, as well as finding out the history and any previous usage of the site which could have left behind hidden dangers. These two issues are discussed in more detail in the paragraphs below.
If the planned construction work is taking place on a site which is already used by other businesses or private dwellings in close proximity (as opposed to an abandoned or greenfield/undeveloped plot), then precautions will need to be taken to ensure the health and safety of the public, such as the erection of a secure perimeter fence to keep people from accidental or deliberately gaining access to where work is taking place (particularly children), and being aware of traffic and pedestrians moving about on the access roads to the area.
Even plots of land which have never been built on before will have potential hazards which need to be considered. The land may be prone to flooding, which could not only damage machinery, but will make the ground soft which will make it particularly difficult for construction vehicles to gain traction, and could lead to skids, slides and collisions which may injure the driver and those nearby.
Derelict or abandoned sites are usually more hazardous than sites that are currently in use, as many dangers may be hidden and not known about, which is why it is so important to perform a survey and obtain a good understanding of the site and any buildings currently there.
Not only could there be substances harmful to health present such as asbestos which needs to be taken into account before any demolition or renovation work on the building, but the abandoned premises may contain hazardous sharp items such as discarded drug needles or broken glass if people were able to gain access to the premises.
It is likely that the building was or still is connected to services such as electric and sewer systems, so pipes and cables need to be located to avoid accidental damage to these which would not only need to be repaired, but could cause serious illness, injury or death to workers. Uncovered manholes or drains may also be present on the site which a person could fall down.
Preparation and effective planning are key components of health and safety. Accident prevention is much more preferable to reacting to a situation when it is too late and a person has already been injured or killed, and a mixture of common sense and comprehensive health and safety training for workers can help to create a safe working environment.
When it comes to building sites, construction safety courses such as the SMSTS, SSSTS or NEBOSH Construction Certificate courses cover a variety of issues including COSHH substances, movement of people and vehicles around site, fire risks, working at height, excavation work, demolition, risk assessments and many more. To see exactly what is included on the syllabus of each, please use the "Health & Safety Training" tab at the top of the page to view the course outlines. Alternatively, please call us on 0844 800 3295 or contact us online to speak with one of our construction health and safety course advisors.