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  7. Health and Safety Dangers of Temporary Works

Health and Safety Dangers of Temporary Works


Temporary grandstand seating for an event

Although there will be widely contrasting numbers and severity of risk, every place of work - no matter what the industry - will have hazards that present a danger to the health and safety of workers and everyone in the locality. Certain workplaces and industries have a higher overall probability of a person becoming ill, injured or killed as they go about their duties, with the construction industry being a particularly pertinent example.

The term construction industry actually covers a wide variety of activities and their associated hazards. One such element or component of construction site work involves the building and use of temporary works.

What are Temporary Works?

Temporary works are constructions that will not be a permanent structure, but instead are necessary either to create the infrastructure of the site (e.g. bridges, tunnels etc) or as part of the construction of the permanent feature such as scaffolding or a necessary support structure. Temporary works usually fall under the category of earthworks, structures or the foundations for equipment such as cranes.

Temporary works can also include structures which are only needed to be in place for a short period of time. Examples of this includes temporary seating stands which are only needed for a one-off event and then will need to be dismantled and removed once the event has taken place.

Why are Temporary Works so Dangerous?

There are a number of reasons as to why temporary works pose such a danger to health and safety, but they all principally revolve around the fact that the work is not designed to be permanent. If it were, it would generally be more securely fixed in place, but because it needs to be removed at some stage in the future it is not practical to do so when it will be deconstructed later.

For example, a permanent bridge of stone which could last a hundred years would in all likelihood be a far safer crossing than a bridge made out of wooden planks and scaffolding, but it is not practical to construct this, as the bridge will need to be taken up again after work on the site has finished.

The whole issue of reasonably practical comes into play here. Using the bridge example above, whilst a stone bridge that would last a century would be safer than one comprised of wooden planks and scaffolding, the time and cost of constructing such a permanent bridge would be prohibitive.

As anybody who is familiar with the story of the Three Little Pigs, a structure built out of stone and bricks is inherently stronger that one made out of wood, and yet it is the case that building everything "as strong as possible" is not the right course of action. This can seem somewhat at odds with health and safety theory, which implies that everything possible should be done to prevent any possibility of an accident; i.e. a bridge collapse in this case. But reasonably practical takes into account that there will be risks associated with everything, and that the only way of eliminating them entirely would be to pack up, go home and not do any work. Obviously this is not an option, and a reasonably practical approach to health and safety aims to ensure that everything that can be done within reason by the company needs to be completed and put in place.

Unfortunately, the necessary action of what is reasonably practical and what is not is rather subjective, which is why the expert advice of a health and safety professional is so important to provide guidance. What you as a site manager may consider reasonably practical could be a long way from what health and safety law and legislation would say on the matter.

A Less Permanent Structure Typically Means a Greater Risk of Collapse

A wooden bridge that looks a bit unsafe

The lack of stability and permanency of temporary works means that there is usually more of a danger of collapse, causing either fall or crush injuries (or death) to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in the incident.

That is not to say that that this is acceptable of course! Whilst it may not be permanent and long-lasting, all precautions and must be taken to ensure that the temporary structure is stable and does not collapse. The potential consequences for those near or making use of the structure if it were to collapse are very real, and making the excuse of "it's only a temporary structure" will not be acceptable for bypassing any safety checks or not building it so that it is safe.

It is vitally important therefore that all necessary precautions are taken to prevent such a catastrophe, including suitable health and safety training and ensuring that those constructing the temporary works are competent in its creation, as well as monitoring for signs of problems such as cracks or erosion of side walls. As mentioned earlier, expert advice should be sought to determine the requirements of what is reasonably practical regarding temporary works, as well as health and safety training for its safe construction and usage.


Temporary works are a great example of how the issue of reasonably practical in relation to health and safety is both understandably necessary, and confusingly ambiguous at the same time. If the idea of health and safety is to protect people, then building the most sturdy object that will stand with ease for centuries to come, no matter what people or nature subject it to, would be the way to go. But if that costs a small company or local council millions of pounds and takes a decade to construct, when it is only intended to be in place for a few days while a small event is on, then most people would agree that it does not need to be quite so extreme.

The balance is on finding a solution which fulfils its purpose without putting any people or the environment at risk, whilst at the same time not taking too long or costing an unnecessarily large sum of money. This is why it is crucial to not only be aware of all relevant laws and legislation, but to also seek expert advice before any construction takes place.

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