13 October 2017

Ramshackle, run down, smashed windows. Clear signs to stay away. Danger lurks inside. Pity the poor construction professional who has got to work on this site just days before Halloween.

Not all construction sites will be as dangerous as the NBS house of horrors, but wherever you're working, a robust approach to health and safety is vital. Such an approach is essential if you are to prevent injuries and ensure people's health (your own, your workforce, contractors and occupants all need to be considered).

The response will vary from site to site but whatever sort of business you run, there is always the possibility of an accident or damage to someone's health. All work exposes people to hazards, be they: loads which have to be manually handled; dangerous machinery; exposure to toxic substances; prolonged use of display screen equipment. Crucially, hazards are not just those you can easily spot - psychological hazards such as stress can be just as dangerous.

A thorough assessment and appropriate response is required and, to this end, you need a system (e.g. have a policy, designate people and have clear procedures) in place to manage health and safety (and, if you employ more than five people, this should be codified as written health and safety policy statement). You need to be able to show how you plan, organise, control, monitor and review preventative measures and you need to appoint a 'competent person(s)' to ensure you comply with your legal obligations.

In order to control workplace hazards and eliminate or reduce the risk, you should take the following steps:

Identify hazards - Identify the main things that could cause harm through a workplace risk assessment.

Assess risk -  Determine the probability that significant harm will occur. Your assessment should be documented if you have more than five employees and you should record and review hazards on a regular basis.

Evaluate risk - Risk assessment is the key to working out what needs to be done. Although you have to do it by law, it is really only any use if it can be used as a working tool, it's usually used as a tool to help you prove to yourself and your employees that you have identified the main things in your business which could cause harm and that you are doing everything you should to prevent that harm from happening.

Introduce risk control measures - You have to make sure that your risk control measures are adequate and that they are used and maintained and that they continue to work. You also have to put in place any back up measures that may be needed like health surveillance or emergency procedures. And you have to inform, train and supervise employees.

What should I look out for when conducting a workplace assessment?

Potential for slips and trips

According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), slips and trips are the single most common cause of injuries at work, and account for over a third of all major work injuries.

The main causes of slips, trips and falls in the workplace are; uneven floor surfaces, unsuitable floor coverings, wet floors, changes in levels, trailing cables, poor lighting and poor housekeeping.

Dangers when working with storage

When filling drawers or shelves, always fill from the bottom, up, allowing the weight to keep it from tipping over. When finished with drawers or doors, make sure to close them properly to prevent bumps and tripping. Ensure staff only open one drawer or door at a time. Filing cabinets should be placed in low-traffic areas. Any cabinets or bookcases over 64 inches high should be secured to the wall to prevent tipping.

Potential for injuries from heavy lifting

Strained muscles are another common work-related injury, as anyone who regularly lifts heavy items at work will probably know already. Back and neck strains, in particular, are all too frequently sustained while working. These injuries can be avoided easily – some basic training on proper lifting techniques can make a big difference.

Identifying tasks that could result in Repetitive strain injury (RSI)

A problem that’s become increasingly common at work over the years, and can be caused by a variety of tasks, such as forceful or repetitive activity, or by poor posture. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, shoulders and neck. The cumulative impact of RSI can be severe in some cases, so it makes sense to take precautions.

Detecting equipment that could injure

All sorts of office implements can end up leaving their user nursing a painful cut. From power saws to paper trimmers, it’s easy to do yourself a mischief at work. The most common causes of these lacerations include poor training, inadequate safety procedures and failing to wear the proper protection. Employers can help prevent such accidents by providing adequate safety equipment and putting the right procedures, including training, in place.

Air quality

The air in many workplaces contains hazardous substances in the form of dusts, fumes, mists, gases and vapours. While most of us don’t work with hazardous chemicals those of us who do, without protection, may be at risk of impairment to breathing, skin or eye reactions as well as potentially more serious injuries. Employers must provide workers with the correct workwear, including goggles and fitted face masks, to avoid dangerous exposure.


Noise at work can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling. This can be hearing loss that is gradual because of exposure to noise over time, but also damage caused by sudden, extremely loud noises. Industrial deafness can also result in major compensation pay-outs further along the line, so it’s very much in employers’ interest to nip this particular problem in the bud. Safety measures such as ear protection can help to prevent it.

Identify the potential for falls

Falls are the largest cause of accidental death in the construction industry. They account for 50% of all fatalities. There is no distinction between low and high falls. This means that for any work at height, precautions are required to prevent or minimise the risk of injury from a fall.  To prevent or minimise risk when planning for work at height, consider the work to be done and take a sensible risk-based approach to identify suitable precautions. There is a hierarchy of control measures for determining how to work at height safely.

Manage vehicles and mobile plant

Every year, workers are killed on construction sites by moving vehicles or by vehicles overturning. Many more are seriously injured in this way. The risks can be reduced if the use of vehicles and mobile plant is properly managed. To reduce the risk of collisions with vehicles set appropriate speed limits for the routes on your site. Sign the limits clearly and consider using physical measures to restrict speeds such as road humps.  Reversing vehicles are also a major risk. Wherever possible plan your site layout to avoid the need for vehicles to reverse.

Take precautions around excavations

Almost all construction work involves some form of excavation (for foundations, drains, sewers etc) and every year people are killed or seriously injured while working in excavations. Many are killed or injured by collapses and falling materials, others are killed or injured when they contact underground or overhead services.  Designers and those specifying work should always consider the use of trenchless techniques, which replace the need for excavation, apart from the launch and reception pits. They also reduce risks to members of the public from open excavations and subsequent traffic disruption. It is crucial to survey any obstructions and control the machine cutting head to avoid them. Service location plans and location devices should be used to ensure that that route of the bored service does not impinge on existing services.

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