Managing Major Risk Factors
Having safe standards of work is a two-pronged affair: rules that work preemptively and reactive rules that show workers how to act in the face of a calamity.
The construction industry expanded at an
exponential rate in recent years, not only in
countries such as the United States, but also
in emerging mega-economies such as China.
The UAE experienced a construction
boom in the past few decades. But as the
global economy faces recession, construction
has become stunted in many areas
around the world.
No matter what the
pace of construction
or where the construction
is being carried
out, however, construction
safety should always
remain on people's
minds. Construction is
one of the most dangerous
types of land-based
work in the United
States. Being involved in
the industry could pose
serious risks to your health, if not to your
life. Safety compliance during construction
projects is in the limelight today, and
accidents are more publicized. Questions
are asked about whether or not we are doing
enough to protect our workers, how to
comply and keep schedules and profi ts on
track, and whether the safety rules in place
Construction workers encounter numerous
hazards: They might fall from a
height, be electrocuted, be hit by falling objects
or struck by machines, or be involved
in a heavy vehicle accident. Chemicals on
site (solvents, for example), asbestos, cement
dust, and noise can be harmful. The
reality is that construction workers face all
of the above and more on a day-to-day basis.
As the list of potential injuries increases,
the face of safety measures and procedures
is also changing.
Myriad safety rules have been developed
by governments and
Union directives chalk
out the basics about
rules concerning workers.
In the United States,
OSHA sets and enforces
the health and safety
standards for workplaces.
with construction safety
is not that the risks are
not known or there are no rules governing
safety — rather, it is very difficult to control
hazards and risks in a constantly changing
The Ideal vs. the Achievable
As a business owner, you must understand
that complete safety is simply not achievable.
Every situation can go wrong, no matter
how much proofi ng has been done, and
things that were not hazards sometimes
can immediately turn into hazards.
What is acceptable one day may become
unacceptable the next. The best we can do
is to have a general set of rules applying to
any manual labor situation. In addition
to that, more extensive rules can also be
chalked out, depending on the specific type
of construction involved (road, skyscraper,
Safety is a concept to be practiced, but it
also can be seen simply as a result of certain
other activities and practices. Whatever the
case, we must understand the limitations of
safety rules. Not that rules in place should
be done away with; some forego safety
with the excuse that lots of rules merely
inhibit performance and stunt the effi -
ciency of the construction process. It must
be understood that, in the long run, safety,
productivity, and quality are not mutually
In fact, productivity can be increased
dramatically if safety rules are adhered to
and workers know they are well protected.
Firms have learned that following national
safety regulations as well as implementing
some of their own actually profi ts them, in
the sense that customers will be attracted to
hire them because they are not dangerous.
Having safe standards of work is a two-pronged
affair. One must have rules that
work preemptively — that is, rules in place
to prevent disturbances to the workplace
in the form of accidents. The second type
of rules should be reactive — that is, rules
or directives in place that aid construction
workers to know how to act in the face of
a calamity. It needs to be recognized that
safety is also a state of mind. Workers (and,
for that matter, anyone at a construction
site) always should be on their toes.
Any rule is worth nothing if someone
thinks he is above them. When safety is departmentalized,
most subconsciously begin
to think it is somebody else's job, not theirs.
Knowing this, it shouldn't matter whether
you're the site manager or the carpenter--if
you're on site, you always must wear a hard
hat. It's not cumbersome, it's just safety.
Inspections and Checklists
Construction safety constantly needs to
be reviewed. Some are under the mistaken
impression that site checks help improve
safety. Site checks are merely a first step toward
improving safety. Via site checks, potential
problems and hazards can be identified. The critical stage is developing ways to
check these problems. Even more important
than having an updated, comprehensive system of rules is enforcing these rules
as much as is humanly possible. It happens
too often that inspections are carried, reports
are submitted and fi led, but then
nothing is done based on what was found.
Construction workers obviously know
when they've cut themselves, when they've
fallen etc. But few workers realize their
health is harmed not only by immediate
physical injuries, but also by long-term,
slowly damaging stressors such as noise.
The noise of on-site heavy machinery
causes no immediate pain or trauma and
leaves no scars or bruises; the damage it
does is recognized at a stage when it may be
too late to do anything about it.
Industry-wide, threats such as these
have become silently prevalent. As many
as 60 percent of construction workers may
suffer from hearing damage. Some workers
are reluctant to wear any protective aid, saying
it inhibits their ability to communicate
with co-workers, hear warning signals, etc.
Pneumatic chip hammers, jackhammers,
concrete joint cutters, chainsaws, impact
wrenches, pile drivers, bulldozers, sandblasters,
and compressed air blowers are
machines used frequently on construction
sites. All of them produce noises of levels
that are potentially damaging. You should
require workers to wear hearing protection
for these exposures.
Most construction companies have a
checklist for safety. This checklist may include
many things: clearly posting numbers
of nearby hospitals, having clear exit
paths from the site, using only approved
and clearly labeled canisters to hold fl ammable
or dangerous chemicals, grounding
all fault circuit interrupters, ensuring employees
wear appropriate personal protective
equipment, providing each employee
with a Material Safety Data Sheet for each
chemical in use on the site, equipping all
stairs will handrails.
You should ensure that all construction
workers and laborers have taken at least
first aid courses and some basic training
courses on safety. Smoking on site should
be discouraged, and smoking in undesignated
areas should be actively prohibited.
Construction of high-rise buildings is
very dangerous. Indeed, the task becomes
more dangerous as the height of the building
rises. Every company operates on a
schedule, but unpredictable events such
as bad weather can disrupt schedules and
push deadlines. Safety of everyone on site
must take precedence over trying to get the
job done quickly.
Even minor winds can affect loads being
lifted to high heights. When such projects
are in populated areas, the safety of people
in the vicinity must be kept in mind, just as
the safety of construction workers on the
site is a priority.
This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.