Health and Safety Dangers of Temporary Works
Although there will be widely contrasting numbers and severity of risk, every place of work no matter what the industry will have hazards which 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, which is one of the primary reasons as to why the NEBOSH Construction Certificate is such a lengthy and comprehensive health and safety training course, as the syllabus needs to cover a great deal of information. 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 which 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.
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 which would last a century would be safer than one comprised of wooden planks and scaffolding, the time and cost of construction such a permanent bridge would be prohibitive. 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 which can be done within reason by the company needs to be completed and put in place. Obviously the necessary action of what is reasonably practical will be rather subjective, which is why the expert advice of a health and safety professional is so important.
The lack of stability and permanency of temporary works means that there is a very real danger of collapse, causing either fall or crush injuries (or death) to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in the incident. 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.