The construction industry is one of the most dangerous sectors, recording 20% of worker fatalities. One out of five work-related deaths happens in the building sector. Health and safety measures have come a long way since the iconic lunch atop a skyscraper photo from 1932 during the construction of the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
Nevertheless, reducing the number of fatalities and accidents on construction sites is a mammoth project that requires a thorough understanding of the facts. First of all, the most common fatality incidents are caused by four frequent issues:
- Being struck by an object
- Being electrocuted
- Being caught in or in between an object
Managing these issues accordingly by preventing them from happening would effectively stop building sites from turning into death traps for workers. However, it is a task that requires great attention to details, as minor changes could have dramatic consequences when you’re dealing with heavy machinery and electricity.
Health and safety have been a priority in the construction sector for several years. The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping priorities to maximize safe and hygienic protocols. Ensuring that only previously authorized personnel has access to the site can help contain contagion risks. Construction site managers could also consider requesting COVID tests from independent contractors to reduce health uncertainty. However, reduced physical interactions could affect site safety, as workers may skip checks that present a COVID risk. Ideally, the sector needs to review all protocols so that pandemic-inspired measures don’t lead to further injuries and fatalities.
Aside from training workers to follow the appropriate protocols, introducing and maintaining health and safety activities falls within the site manager’s duties. Facilitating safety management requires the addition of monitoring devices and automated systems that can send real-time notifications to both the site manager and the relevant workers.
Calculated outcomes rather than assumptions
The pandemic has put several site projects on hold for many weeks. While most sites have now been able to resume activities, many projects still need to be completed on time. When the deadline can’t be moved – or the construction work can’t be prolonged –, teams need to double their efforts to complete as much as possible in a short time. This means heavy loads on machinery as a result of bulk deliveries and work. The added pressure can create a favorable terrain for accidents and fatalities. Consequently, now more than ever, it is crucial to proceed with carefully measured and calculated working load limit (WLL) to avoid breakages that could strike individuals on site.
Skills are NOT interchangeable
Time is of the essence to complete construction projects. Complex sites often require multiple experts to work simultaneously, which can be tricky to organize. However, expert skills and knowledge are not interchangeable. Specialist experience can make a huge difference in the smooth completion of a project. More importantly, untrained workers are a poor solution to trained specialists. While it may seem like a good idea to save time at first, fatalities occur when people skip safety measures. This is more likely to happen if inexperienced workers perform tasks without supervision and training.
Can the construction sector learn to reduce fatalities in a post-COVID environment? The question remains to be answered. However, it makes no doubt that some of the contact-free monitoring processes introduced during the pandemic can be repurposed for health and safety in general.