Two years ago the UK Government published a report on worker well-being in the construction sector, arguing how improvements in this area were not only a target in themselves but also conducive to economic growth. This win/win focus on promoting greater levels of health and safety within the sector, is supported by regulations which govern some of the key operational tasks carried out by construction workers.
These include laws around working at height, which are structured under the basis of avoid, prevent, arrest, requiring employers and self-employed contractors to assess the risks and then organise and plan the work so it is carried out safely.
Work at height is the biggest single cause of serious injury within the construction industry, with over 60 per cent of deaths resulting from falls on a site.
The starting point for planning is for employers to look at where they can avoid working at height. Where this is not possible, they must otherwise prevent or arrest a fall and the potential for serious injury, instructing and training their workforce in the precautions needed.
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Method statements are widely used in the construction industry as part of this process. These are a useful way of recording the hazards involved in specific work at height tasks and communicating the risk and precautions required to all those involved in the work. The statement need be no longer than necessary to achieve these objectives effectively. It should also be clear and illustrated with simple sketches, where necessary, avoiding ambiguities or generalisations which could lead to confusion. Statements are for the benefit of those carrying out the work and their immediate supervisors and should not be overcomplicated. Equipment needed for safe working should be clearly identified and available before work starts with clear guidance on what should be done if the work method needs to be changed.
As well as avoiding work at height operations where it practicable to do so, there are a number of additional precautions employers can put in place. Measures should be taken to prevent a worker from falling a distance which is liable to cause personal injury. This could include erecting a scaffold platform with double guard-rail and toe boards, for example. Installing equipment like safety nets to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall is also vital where work at height cannot be avoided or the fall prevented.
Manual handling is another key area covered by construction law governing the movement of items through lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling. While the weight of the item is an important issue, employers must also recognise the many other factors, including the number of times an items needs to be picked up or carried or the distance it is carried, as these can enhance the risk of musculoskeletal disorder injuries (MSDs).
MSDs are common construction-related injuries which include damage or disorder of the joints and other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. Statistics from the Labour Force Survey indicate that MSDs, including those caused by manual handling, account for more than a third of all reported work-related illnesses.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to manage these risks on behalf of their employees. This includes avoiding hazardous manual handling operations, moving loads through automated or mechanised processes wherever possible. If it can’t be avoided, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment from hazardous manual handling operations is required which sets out ways of reducing the potential of injury.
It is also important for employers to adopt an ergonomic approach to manual handling across their operations, taking into account the nature of the task, size of the load, the working environment and where and when direct worker participation is necessary.
The HSE has developed a number of supportive resources, including the MAC and the V-MAC tools which help employers analyse lifting, carrying and team handling. The ART tool gives advice and guidance on managing repetitive upper limb tasks, while the RAPP tool covers pushing and pulling requirements on a construction site. Often multiple tools will be required to complete a task. More information on these can be found at the HSE website.
These resources are there to support the wider legislative agenda of further protecting the people who work in the UK construction sector. It’s important for employers to be aware of these rules and use the tools that are available to promote a better working environment.
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