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The Biggest Health and Safety Hazards in the Construction Industry
According to HSE, there are 80,000 construction workers in the UK who suffer from work-related bad health each year, with 64,000 of these suffering non-fatal injuries. In 2016/2017, there were 30 construction-related deaths.
These statistics prove that accidents occur every day in the construction industry and while they can’t be completely prevented, there are plenty of things that construction managers and onsite workers can do to ensure that risk is reduced. In an ever-changing working environment, risk assessments must be done to identify risks and implement the correct prevention methods.
Asbestos is one of the main sources of fatal respiratory conditions, with asbestos-related lung cancer causing a staggering 20% of the overall death by lung disease figure. In the UK alone it is estimated that there are 50,000 public buildings that still contain asbestos. Ceiling tiles, thermal paper and wall plaster, insulation and cement siding can all pose a risk to workers who can also carry the dust home to their families. This is known as para-occupational exposure.
Airborne fibres and toxins
The construction industry is one of the top contributors to 12,000 work-related lung disease deaths each year. This is because these types of conditions can take years to develop and for that reason, workers can be lured into a false sense of security and become lax about using the correct PPE. When workers breathe in dust from stone masonry and wood or toxic fibres that are airborne when carpets are laid they could contract anything from occupational asthma to silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or even lung cancer.
Tasks that involve heavy lifting, pushing and pulling materials, lowering or carrying, etc are without a doubt one of the major causes of injuries in the construction industry. The most common injury is soft tissue damage that affect the neck, shoulders, elbows, arms, hands, lower back, hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet. Usually, these will grow worse over time and begin to cause intense pain and even the potential for permanent disability. This will therefore disrupt a person’s working schedule as well as their personal activities.
Between the years of 2007 and 2017, HSE reported that there were 1,505 work-related deafness claims in the UK. Hazardous noises can plague construction sites and workers can be lax about wearing the correct hearing protectors. This type of protective gear should allow workers to hear a warning call and should fit correctly with other PPE.
Hand and Vibration Syndrome
If a worker continually uses handheld power tools they can start to develop Hand and Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) which causes permanent damage. Luckily, this is easily preventable by holding tools in varying positions, taking regular breaks of at least 10 minutes and keeping hands warm.
Slips and Trips
Almost 40% of all reported injuries are slips and trips related, meaning that they are the most common non-fatal workplace-related injury. According to HSE, several thousand workers are injured on site each year with 1,000 of them ending up with a dislocated joint or fractured bone. Thankfully, most of these hazards can be avoided with proper work area management.
Construction sites are constantly moving and without the correct onsite management being hit by a moving object can post a huge hazard. Avoid untidy and cluttered work areas and working close to moving objects. Site managers should always ensure that the correct lighting is in place and that warning signs are placed at movement intersections.
Working from a Height
One of the major causes of fatality in construction is working from a height. Between 2016-2017, 50% of fatalities were caused by falling from a height whether this be because of unguarded openings, inadequate edge protection, unsecured scaffolding or ladders, loose tools or improperly stored materials on roofs or elevated walkways.
Exhaustion is a factor that underlies many of the hazards we have listed. The nature of construction work is that it includes laborious long hours, often in harsh weather conditions. A worker who is exhausted, whether mentally or physically, will have a lack of attentiveness that can lead to poor judgement, bad decision making and costly mistakes. Site managers should ensure that workers take regular breaks and have access to onsite facilities including toilet facilities, a canteen and drying room. In fact, you are now lawfully required to have these provisions on site throughout the course of a project.
HSE has plenty of advice online regarding construction safety and when the correct knowledge, equipment and risk management solutions are implemented within a workplace, workers can be kept safe from harm.
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