This unforgettable image of construction workers perched on a skyscraper above New York, without even a hard hat, shows just how far health and safety on construction sites have come. This famous picture from 1932, when compared to the images of construction workers we see in the present day, shows a striking difference. Nowadays, it would be rare if you saw a worker on-site without a hard hat, steel-toe cap boots and a high visibility vest.
The Importance of Site Health and Safety Today
Given the multitude of risks and hazards inherent to construction sites, the significance of conducting risk assessments and implementing safety precautions cannot be overstated. It is crucial for companies to prioritise construction health and safety by integrating it into their training programmes and operational practices. Furthermore, all contractors must fulfil the prerequisite of completing health and safety assessments relevant to their specific work activities prior to commencing any tasks on building sites.
Health and Safety Risks on Building Sites
The construction industry ranks among the most perilous occupations globally due to the abundant risks and hazards prevalent on building sites. Tasks involving working at elevated heights, handling heavy loads using mobile machinery, operating hazardous equipment, and being exposed to potentially harmful substances like asbestos all contribute to the vulnerability of construction workers, posing risks of injuries and work-related health issues. Building sites also pose the risk of falling objects and collapsing structures.
Building Site Injuries
The data pertaining to injuries and health issues among construction workers serves as a stark reminder of the inherent dangers present on building sites. In the UK alone, there are approximately 54,000 reported non-fatal injuries annually, with the majority stemming from slips, trips, falls, manual handling incidents, and falls from heights.
Tragically, the construction industry also witnesses an average of 41 fatalities per year, out of which 36 are construction workers and five are members of the public. Notably, 49% of these fatalities are attributed to falls from heights.
These statistics undeniably highlight the significance of prioritising health and safety on building sites, not only to safeguard the well-being of construction workers but also to protect members of the public. By surpassing minimum health and safety standards and requirements, we can ensure the safety of both workers and the general public.
How to Improve Building Site Health and Safety
While it may not be feasible to entirely eliminate risks on construction sites, implementing effective health and safety precautions can significantly mitigate the likelihood of injuries and illnesses. Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment serves as a valuable tool for shaping workplace procedures and identifying areas where risk reduction measures can be implemented.
Surprise Site Safety Visits
Through a freedom of information request initiated by the Unite Union, it was revealed that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out a total of 7,647 unannounced inspections during the 2022/23 period. This figure indicates a 2% decrease compared to the previous year’s count of 7,793 inspections. The decline in unannounced site safety visits is causing concern as it may amplify the temptation to take shortcuts on construction sites, consequently jeopardising the safety of workers.
Health and Safety Legislation
The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) came into force in 1974 and places a duty on all employers “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work” of all their employees, and persons working on their premises.
Looking back at the famous ‘Lunch atop a Skyscraper’ image, it is hard to imagine that construction workers were undertaking this work with so little safety gear. Nowadays, the legislation and health and safety precautions on construction sites ensure that workers are protected from various hazards. However, it is crucial that construction companies are up to date with regulations and put health and safety at the top of their priority list whilst carrying out a project. Otherwise, the consequences can be extremely damaging and even fatal.
Remember, if you are faced with a legal issue on your project, whether it is regarding health and safety or any other form of dispute, Mercantile Barristers will be happy to assist. Similarly, if there is anything from this article you would like to discuss, do not hesitate to message me directly.
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