Work in the construction sector can sometimes be unsafe. In comparison to other sectors, construction professionals are the most exposed to work-related accidents, with two times more work injuries than the national average in New Zealand.
The fall from a height is the most common accident and is responsible for one fatal accident over four. Additionally, the lack of health concern in worksites, the poor working conditions, hard work, and physical constraints slowly deteriorates the health of construction workers throughout their professional life.
Scientific studies have identified the noise, repetitive gestures, carrying heavy loads, exposure to chemicals, harsh climatic conditions, the vibration of tools and work-related fatigue as major risks for construction workers. In this article, we provide solutions to curb these risks by improving your worksite safety.
- Improve the working conditions
Workers need proper toilets and showers to feel good at work. That’s common sense, but the issue is often overlooked. Toilets are obviously a necessity for workers that often work all day long on one site. Shower cabins are also very valuable to workers. On the one hand, it allows them to cool off in the event of warm weather. On the other hand, it allows them to feel better and more comfortable, for instance by taking a shower in the late morning before having lunch.
Such equipment can be purchased or rented. Leasing is often more profitable. If you hire a rental company, it will take care of installing and uninstalling the equipment and save you time, while ensuring its maintenance. Renting one shower and one cabin should not cost you more than 200 NZD per day.
- Mitigate workers exposure to weather
Be it warm or cold, construction workers are outside for more than 20 hours a week. Hence, they are particularly exposed to climate conditions. Long exposure to cold can lead to heavy injuries. Besides bringing an unpleasant state of shivering, chills and chapped lips, extreme cold can endanger workers safety. It can considerably affect body strength, rendering workers less effective at work and subject to hypothermia, or consciousness disorder at the minimum. It can cause numbness —and loss of dexterity, frostbite, and develop significant musculoskeletal disorders amongst workers. In the event of icing and snowing, workers are also more likely to slip and fall.
So how to face these adverse weather conditions? The first advice is to provide heated premises during periods of extreme cold. The workers should also be able to take breaks and access hot drinks when they want. The second advice is to organize a regular rotation of workstations so that one worker does not repeat the same gesture for too long. You should eventually provide workers with warm parkas to wear over their Hi-Vis overalls.
- Give the workers proper outfits
Oh, we had not mentioned clothing yet? It’s basic common sense that protecting workers’ bodies should be an absolute priority. You don’t want to be crippled to life because you were hired to build a house.
The hands of construction workers are particularly at risk. Beside thermal issues, they are also exposed to chemicals and corrosives like resin, solvent, paint, acid, and cement. Common injuries are also due to electrical burns, cuts, vibrations, and shocks from stainless steel products. To protect the skin, wrists, and hands in general, construction employees must wear gloves. Without this protection, they risk dermatitis, burns, cuts, cracks or worse, amputations.
The dangers for the rest of the body can also be mitigated by wearing two kinds of protection. One for the trunk and the abdomen, and one other for the whole body. Many of these life-saving clothes exist, from work boots for load carriers to fluorescent harnesses for public infrastructure workers. Construction workers are also often at risk of falling and must wear a height safety harness at all time. Such height safety equipment will support the worker in case of imbalances or falls from height.
- Protect workers’ sight
Construction activities expose employees to significant hazards than can affect the sight of workers, in the example of hot or chemical liquids splashes or projectiles that can have serious consequences for the eyes and face. In that context, protecting the eyes help prevent eye damage, allergies, irritations, conjunctivitis, burns, and even blindness. But there are three steps to take to prevent that from happening. First is wearing glasses with side protection. They might not be sufficient if chemicals are used, and the worker should then use complete masks. In case welding is involved, facial screens are necessary.
- Save workers’ ears
The construction industry is also subject to hearing hazards. The ears of the construction workers must be protected with effective tools. Without protection, the risks include balance disorders, tinnitus, otitis, and even deafness. Responsible for these symptoms are the continuous and impulse noises, big nuisances related to work tools and noisy machines such as jackhammers, chainsaws, presses, etc.
To prevent permanent damages to eardrums, auditory cells, and auditory nerves, specific solutions exist. The most common are anti-noise headphones and earplugs. For information, health agencies usually suggest that from 80 decibels, such protection is recommended, and beyond 85 decibels, it’s mandatory.
- Preserve workers’ breathing system
The last victim of construction activities is the breathing system. Without proper protection, workers regularly experience irritation, asthma, allergies, headaches, intoxications, blood diseases, and even cancers. Worksites are usually full of fumes, gas vapors, dust, mists, and aerosols, which can affect the nervous system and certain organs such as lungs, kidneys,and liver.
There are many solutions to avoid these health issues. Carpenters can wear disposable dust masks, painters can wear masks with filters, plasterers can wear masks with assisted ventilation, etc.
Depending on your field of activity and your specialty, the protections to be adapted will be different. So, check carefully how is your worksite exposed to risks and improve its safety accordingly.