Thinking About Health and Safety Risk In The Construction Sector During COVID-19
There will always be Health and Safety risks in any workplace, with all sectors having their own unique set of risks. However, some industries have a much higher risk level and frequency - like construction. Every construction site has its own specific challenges and risks.
Although, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have all had to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and every industry requires different guidance. Keeping a construction site COVID-secure while ensuring the Health and Safety of your workers is essential for businesses to stay afloat.
Health and Safety in the workplace is not only the responsibility of the employer but also the employee. This blog aims to inform you of the relevant legislation for construction work, the risk faced in a construction workplace and how COVID-19 has affected Health and Safety in the sector.
The Health and Safety at Work Act etc (1974) is the main legislation regarding general Health and Safety risks at work. It states that “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” – Meaning employers must protect the welfare, health and safety of all staff on the premises. Additionally, the employer has a duty of care for the general public and any visitors on-site.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) is another important piece of legislation relating to general Health and Safety. This legislation holds employees responsible for following the training and guidance provided and requires employers to identify and manage risks to their employees and others on the premises.
Main Legislation Specific To Construction Work
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (2015) looks at identifying and managing risks during a project's design stage of construction, this reduces the risk of harm for the employees building and the general public while construction is ongoing.
Working At Height Regulations (2005) aims to reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by falling from heights. There must be proper training, equipment and risk assessments in place in any workplace where working at heights is possible - Construction often requires employees to work at height.
Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (1998) state that people and companies that own, use or have control over lifting equipment must follow these regulations. It looks at equipment like - cranes, forklift trucks, lifts, ropes, hoists, slings, rope and pulley systems, etc. It requires equipment to be risk assessed, maintained and marked with safe load weights.
Manual Handling Operations Regulations (1992) is guidance for employers, managers and safety representatives but can be useful for all construction employees. It states that all manual handling (e.g. lifting, pushing, pulling, lowering, emptying, carrying, etc) should be avoided where possible (by using lifting equipment), where it cannot be avoided risk assessments must be completed and risk must be reduced where possible.
Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002) otherwise known as COSHH, places responsibility on the employer to reduce their staff’s exposure to hazardous substances including; products containing chemicals, biological agents, dust and fumes/gasses - which can be common on construction sites. When exposed to these substances employers must identify any potential risks and provide appropriate equipment (including PPE) and training before staff are exposed to any hazardous substances.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations (2006) bans the supply and use of any asbestos products like tiles or cement. It also requires staff to undertake training if there is a risk they could come into asbestos.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) requires employers to protect staff members from any noise during work activities that can damage hearing. Construction has one of the highest risks of hearing damage, low-noise machinery should be used where possible and PPE must be provided when using loud equipment like jackhammers or bulldozers.
The Control of Vibrations at Work Regulations (2005) aims to reduce cases of back pain and other injuries caused by vibrations of equipment by providing PPE and equipment to reduce vibrations. In construction, the main risk is from using handheld tools that vibrate (e.g. drills, hammers, etc) causing injuries like Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome.
Specific Risks For The Construction Sector
There can be a large number of possible risks in a construction workplace environment, these include - the risk of accident or injury due to work-related activities, new and unknown site conditions, incomplete plans or drawings, weather & natural disasters and staff shortages to name a few.
The top 10 risks in construction come from:
Working at heights
Slips, trips and falls
Exposure to hazardous substances
Exhaustion (long hours and outdoor weather factors)
Research has shown that workers in the construction industry have a significantly higher rate of injury when compared to non-construction industries, and those doing the actual construction work are the most likely to be injured.
That is why there is so much legislation surrounding construction sites - to protect the construction workers from any Health and Safety risks. Failure to follow the laws and legislations concerning Health and Safety can lead to company’s or manager’s being prosecuted. Each breach of these regulations can lead to up to £20,000 fines and even imprisonment for serious breaches.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Inspectors are the enforcing authorities - they have to give reasonable notice before an inspection is undertaken and it needs to be at least 3 months since the last inspection. In the construction sector, inspections are done frequently as it is a high-risk setting.
Outsourced health and safety consultants can help make sure your company and its members are following and compliant with all relevant legislation. Health and Safety is one of the most important issues in the construction sector and it should be treated as such.
How COVID-19 Has Affected Construction Sites?
As with all other workplace risks, the risk of COVID-19 infecting your staff, clients and members of the public should be reduced where reasonably practical. The Government has set new laws and restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (for example the rule of 6) however, many construction sites have now reopened.
There are a number of steps that employers and employees should follow when working in the construction and outdoor working sectors set out by the Government.
These include (but not limited to):
COVID-19 risk assessments must be carried out and shared to staff
Anyone who is on the premises who begins to feel unwell should leave and self isolate at home
Frequency of hand washing and sanitising should be increased
Where possible, social distancing rules should be followed at all times (staying 2 meters away from others, or 1 meter if not viable)
Increased surface cleaning including high-touch surfaces and equipment/tools (e.g. hammers, screwdrivers, machinery, etc)
Using barriers or screens to separate people, where appropriate
Reduce the number of people workers come across by having fixed teams, etc
Avoid circumstances where staff need to raise their voice (e.g. not playing music/radio)
Back to back or side to side working is preferred over face to face, where possible
In face to face working situations, appropriate PPE should be made available