Heading for a safety incident? Look out for the Warning Signs

There are a number of hazards associated with construction work and those responsible for a site’s safety need to ensure none of these hazards slip through the cracks. It is easy to become overwhelmed with safety when you consider the sheer quantity of hazards presented by work on a construction site but a systematic and consistent approach to safety issues can mean the difference between a safe site and an unsafe one.

Site safety is everyone’s responsibility, not only employers. By looking out for certain warning signs, employers and employees can avoid an incident before it occurs.

The first thing that usually signals a decline in safety standards is a drop in productivity. Unfortunately many employers incorrectly assume that safety comes at the cost of productivity but this could not be further from the truth. Safety in actual fact enhances productivity, when productivity drops – it may indicate a need for a review of safety standards as well as attention to productivity. This is usually because whenworkers begin to get injured, ill and stressed they will spend more time off work, it will become harder to meet deadlines and eventually productivity will be negatively affected on the site. Ultimately a drop in productivity on a site will result in a financial loss.So it is in everyone’s best interest to address this issue.

Another indication that you need to review your safety is when workers start showing or talking about dissatisfaction with their job. This is often due to them having to risk their health and safety for an employer who clearly does not care about their wellbeing as much as they should. Workers in this situation will most likely become unproductive or less productive and the entire site will suffer and the construction project will suffer.

Also workers will probably seek work elsewhere and the company will suffer from a high attrition rate. High attrition rates are costly because it means replacing, training and supervising new workers.

You start receiving fines and notices. If your business is constantly being issued fines because of safety breaches there is definitely something wrong, even one fine is too many. You need to review your safety procedures and perhaps retrain employees on site specific safety. Also be proactive, do not wait for an incident to occur before correcting work processes.

In my opinion the best way to look out for safety issues is not difficult and doesn’t take reading between the lines, the best and most straight forward way is… to listen to workers.

Employers must communicate effectively about safety to their workers as this will foster a culture of safety on site. Whenever these requirements are neglected or ignored, you will notice safety standards begin to drop and incidents begin to occur, usually starting small and culminating in an incident either resulting in serious injury or a fatality.

Employers need to develop a 2 way communication system, that means not only instructing workers on safety matters but listening to their opinions as well and taking what they say into consideration.


Unions against Proposed Changes to QLD OHS Safety Laws

Unions in Queensland are outraged by proposed changes which were made by the Attorney General recentlyto the occupational health and safety laws. The changes would mean that unions who wish to inspect safety breaches on work sites will have to wait a whole 24 hours before they are allowed to access construction sites, something the unions say will compromise safety.

The aim of the changes according to a representative is to give government safety regulators time to deal with safety issues and to access it first before the unions can step in and takeover, however union bosses are very concerned by the proposed changes.

The president of the Queensland Council of Unions, John Battams, believes that lives will be endangered if unions are forced to give notice before entering worksites because employers will have forewarning to be able to simply cover up their safety neglect.

According to an article on http://ohspolicy.com.au companies are welcoming the proposal while unions have warned against it. This excerpt from the article explains,

The purpose of these changes, according to Jarrod Bleijie, is to make sure that all safety issues are dealt with by the government’s safety regulator and to “stop unions hijacking work sites.”

The Property Council has welcomed the proposal union bosses are concerned.

John Battams, the president of the Queensland Council of Unions, said that lives will be put at risk if usions are forced to give notice before entering worksites as employers will have time to cover up dangerous practices.

He said that 24 hours gives employers plenty of time to “hide what would be otherwise obvious dangerous situations.”

Source: http://ohspolicy.com.au/proposed-changes-to-qld-ohs-safety-laws-will-risk-lives-according-to-union/

The unions fear that those “cowboys” in the building industry who are still putting productivity before safety are going to benefit from the proposed changes because they will be able to commit safety atrocities and workers will pay, with no hope of help from unions who will be barred from the workplace until it is too late to make a difference.

Michael Ravbar of the CFMEU said that safety would be likely to decrease while accidents would undoubtedly increase if the proposal was to be implemented.

It seems the Queensland construction sector safety has become a serious issue especially because this year has seen an increase in fatalities. Although the increase was minimal (only 2 more workers died this year as compared to last year), even one life is one too many. This year alone 9 people have died while working on building sites in the state.

The number of workers suffering hand injuries and other diseases seems to have fallen according to figures provided by Safe Work Australia.

The article goes on to explain:

Michael Ravbar, the CFMEU secretary said that though most builders valued safety over profits there are still those that are considered cowboys and rednecks who don’t.

He said that the proposed changes would cause safety to decrease, fatalities increase along with accidents.

However, according to Mr Bleijie it is the unions that are hurting workers by causing them to be locked out of workplaces.

Source: http://ohspolicy.com.au/proposed-changes-to-qld-ohs-safety-laws-will-risk-lives-according-to-union/

The ACT tops country’s most dangerous construction jurisdictions

As the ACT Work Safety Inspectors begin a 3 week blitz, the ACT’s work safety commissioner, Mark McCabe announced that the states serious accident rate make it the most dangerous construction jurisdiction.

Although the state has begun a trend towards safer construction sites, figures indicate a 17 per cent increase in serious accidents on local sites between 2011 and 2012. According to an article on CanberraTimes.com.au, during this time The Act recorded 30.5 serious accidents (which required workers compensation claims and a week or more off work), for every 1000 workers on the job in the same period as compared with only 24.5 the year before. This is much higher than the national average which was 18.7.

Ultimately 363 construction workers were seriously injured in The ACT in 2011-2012 as compared with only 321 the previous year.

These figures and more relating to safety in the state as compared with other states will be published by Safe Work Australia in October in their “Comparative Monitoring Report”. The Report highlights workers compensation claim comparisons for various industries across Oz.

Read the following excerpt from an article on CanberraTimes.com.au which explains more about the report and its findings:

web13IncidenceRatesGraph_Page1-620x349Tasmania had been slightly ahead of the ACT in 2010-11 for injuries requiring a week or more off work, but Mr McCabe said he could not imagine the ACT would not eclipse Tasmania with a 17 per cent increase.

When accidents requiring 12 weeks or more off work are tallied, the ACT already leads the nation with 9.5 accidents for every 1000 workers in 2010-11. This is well above Tasmania, on 5.6 accidents, with the national average 5.2.

While the ACT’s construction workforce has remained fatality-free for the past 12 months, just last month Mr McCabe warned of a spate of serious accidents including two worksites being shut down over dangerous scaffolding and one investigation into a metal pipe being dropped from a scaffold that pierced an electric cable and narrowly missed a gas pipe.

Read the full post at http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/safety-cloud-on-act-worksites-20130812-2rsq4.html#ixzz2cmzoy0I8

This week also sees the start of a safety blitz by inspectors across Canberra where residential construction sites will be targeted. Inspectors are also authorised to issue on-the-spot fines of up to $3600 for breaches ranging from work from height violations, signage, fencing, amenities, housekeeping, scaffolding, electrical testing and tagging, personal protective equipment and checking that all workers are in possession of their White Card – so contractors beware!

In order to avoid on-the-spot fines or even worse, prosecution (because of accidents and negligence caused by a lack of knowledge about safety precautions), ensure that all workers on site have completed their White Card Construction Safety Training – this is proof that they are trained on general construction safety and can be trusted to work safely on a construction site without endangering themselves or others onsite. Site controllers should also remember that regardless of whether a worker is experienced or simply an apprentice, they should be in possession of this qualification because it is a mandatory legal requirement.

Construction Safety: Beware of Falling Hazards

A construction accident which took place recently on a rural property west of Ipswich is an example of the risks associated with merely setting foot onto a construction site and why each worker should be trained on general safety in the form of The White Card course.

The accident in question occurred when an excavator operator’s leg was crushed by a tree as he worked on a dam wall at a property in the rural west of Ipswich.

The worker’s leg was broken when a huge tree fell onto the cab of the heavy machinery he was operating and crashed into it, breaking his leg. Although co-workers tried to help the worker get free, the fallen tree pinned him to the cabin.

Emergency services were called in and managed to free the man. The impact of the fall almost knocked the man out of the cabin and emergency services personnel had to use harnesses to support his body weight as they worked to free him.

They said he was lucky to be alive and had the tree hit the man in the torso, he would not have been so lucky. Queensland Ambulance Service had to administer pain relief to the injured man during the operation.

The cause of the incident has not yet been identified but it is an example of how freak accidents on construction sites cause serious injuries and possibly even fatalities when workers least expect it.

The following excerpt from an article onwww.qt.com.au explains what happened,

9-2007711-ips030913exca03a_t460Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Ripley station Officer Ian Bland said if the tree, which had a 30cm diameter, hit the man’s torso he might not have survived.

“When you have a tree of that size come crashing through, he was lucky that it caught him and he was unlucky that it zcaught him. If it came through high it could have hit his chest or abdomen,” he said.

“The group around him did quite well in stabilising him when it first happened.”

It is believed the man was reconfiguring the dam wall on the property off Grandchester-Mt Mort Rd.

The tree came through the cabin as he removed vegetation from the dam wall at 11.40am.

The Laidley QFRS crew arrived and with the help of co-workers stabilised the man.

The crew cut off one of the tree’s branches and used the Jaws of Life to cut into the excavator’s hydraulic controls to free his fractured leg. It took the QFRS nearly 90 minutes to free him from the cabin.

Source: http://www.qt.com.au/news/tree-crushes-workers-leg/2008550/

Employers should ensure that they take certain measures to reduce risks involved with falling objects to avoid incidents such as this one from occurring again.

It is important that employers identify and manage all the risks associated with falling objects. This is similar to the process that should be undertaken when managing other risks on construction sites – identifying the hazard, assessing the risk associated with it, eliminating it or substituting with something less hazardous and as a final resolve minimising the risk of the incident occurring by implementing the appropriate controls.

It is also important that once these control measures are designed and implemented, employers provide the adequate training to their employees and familiarise them with the safety plan.


Basic Tips to make your worksite safer

Most construction companies and even their employees view safety as a complicated issue which has many in-depth facets, making it difficult and arduous. But the truth is construction safety can be summed up with a few key statements. When simplified and compressed, using a few basic tips it becomes easier for employers and workers to understand and facilitate safety on site.

  1. Identify the Hazards
  2. Assess the Risks
  3. Deal with the Risks
  4. Training

Identifying the Hazards

Before work on a construction site can begin it is important that employers and principal contractors identify the hazards that will occur. Hazards may be common to the construction industry or unique to your specific site.

Assessing the Risks

Once the hazards have been identified, each hazard should be examined to determine the risk each one poses to work safety and its seriousness, not all hazards are equal. Once the risks have been assessed, employers can move on to the next stage of the safety process…

Dealing with the Risks

Dealing with risks will involve firstly attempting to eliminate it. This is not always possible, there may not be a less hazardous process which can then replace the hazardous one. The employer must then attempt to minimize the risk as much as possible. Implementing the correct control measures is vital to minimizing the risk the hazards present to workers. Developing a safety plan for work on site will provide a blueprint of how safe work should be conducted on site by incorporating the control measures implemented for each hazards, as developed by the employer.


Training is arguably the most important aspect of construction site safety. This is because implementing all the necessary safety controls will be irrelevant if workers aren’t informed and trained on these controls.

It is an employer’s duty to ensure that workers receive the necessary safety training before beginning work on a site. This training should incorporate all the necessary safety information relevant to the site including control measures, emergency procedures, escape routes, reporting procedures etc. This training will also have to be adapted according to the site, no 2 sites will be the same so the training needs to accommodate the specific safety requirements of the site. Also this training should be comprehensively delivered to workers in a language that they all understand.

In addition to site specific safety training, the law of the country is that every construction worker undergo additional safety training, “Work Safely in the construction industry”CPPCCOHS1001A commonly referred to as The White Card. This training is aimed at unifying the safety processes of the construction industry in Oz and ensuring that every worker who steps onto a construction site has at least a basic understanding of the hazards and safety protocols used in the building industry. This is important not only to fulfill a mandatory legal requirement but also to ensure that worker’s ignorance do not present a risk to themselves or others on site.


Asbestos Awareness Week

Construction workers are not the only ones at risk of contracting an asbestos related disease. According to WorkCover NSW people undertaking DIY tasks at home and being exposed to asbestos because of old building materials that may have been used in the construction of their homes. Asbestos may have been left dormant in a home or dwelling but may be disturbed by renovations or DIY work.

Asbestos is formed in fibre bundles and as it is further processed or disturbed the fibre bundles become progressively finer and more hazardous to health. The small fibres are the most dangerous and this is why the fibres released during renovations or revamps of buildings are extremely hazardous. They are invisible to the naked eye but when inhaled penetrate the deepest part of the lungs causing significant, permanent damage.

This video by WorkCover NSW on Youtube highlights the danger of exposing your family to these deadly fibres during renovation work.

In order to avoid significant health risks, its best to identify the presence of asbestos beforehand and develop a plan of how you are going to deal with it. Home improvers should call in a professional to remove the asbestos and not attempt to do so alone.


Crane Collapse Results in $170K Fine

Source: OiMax

An incident that occurred in Victoria recently has highlighted the danger of working with cranes for employees and the need for employers to ensure worker safety. The crane in question collapsed on a worker, causing him to sustain serious injuries.

This post on Abc.net.au explain what happened:

A drilling company has been fined $170,000 after pleading guilty to a workplace safety incident at the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

In the Korumburra Magistrates Court last week, PezzimentiLaserbore Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to ensure the safety of workers.

WorkSafe Victoria says the company was at fault when a crane collapsed and injured a worker.

The injured worker suffered sustained shoulder, back, leg and other injuries.

The company was also ordered to pay almost $3,000 in legal costs.


There are numerous ways that workers in the vicinity of a crane can be injured. Crane incidents include a full or partial crane collapse, ancillary equipment failure that endangers drivers, workers and those in proximity, negligent mishandling or misuse of the lifting equipment by the driver which usually restricts injuries to co-workers or objects dropped while being lifted.

The sheer size and enormity of a crane and its load can cause massive destruction if it collapses and although this is rare, the incident in Wonthaggi proves that it can happen. Employers must be diligent when safeguarding workers against this type of incident.

Many crane accidents have also occurred where workers on site have been struck by loads that were being moved or lifted due to negligence by the crane operator either through lack of experience or training or a simple mistake often caused by communication difficulties. Ensuring a good system of communication between the operator and those directing the load is vital to good safety.

Loads that weigh tons can cause extreme damage to property, danger to workers and fatalities, particularly on building sites. Another cause for concern when working with cranes is falling objects. The whole purpose of a crane is to lift loads too heavy for manual lifting which implies that the load is extremely heavy and most probably large, which could cause severe injuries and fatalities if dropped onto workers below. Due to the heights that are often involved in a crane accident even small falling objects can pose extreme danger.

One of the most important responsibilities of employers is to ensure that the equipment is well maintained and operating properly because as proven in the incident above any failure with equipment will result in costly fines for the company.

Another issue relating to crane safety is ensuring that operators are adequately trained and supervised. Giving an untrained worker such powerful equipment is careless and foolish. Only licenced operators should be allowed to operate such dangerous machinery. Also workers in the vicinity of the cranes operation should be familiar with the basic safety rules of crane use because any incidents may affect them as well.


Avoiding Nail Gun Accidents in Construction

Despite their usefulness nail guns can be dangerous when improperly handled. Safety guidelines need to be followed in order to minimise the risk involved with nail gun use.

The hazards presented by nail gun use include accidentally discharging them and nails ricocheting in unintended directions which then can cause injury or property damage, most often when the tool is in “bump mode”.

Occasionally when the nail gun is shot into a hard surface, it can bounce off the surface and shoot in an unpredictable direction, usually when working on hard surfaces such as metal.

Nail guns can be pneumatic or powered by a gas canister. The first type of nail gun is the single shot gun. This nail gun requires finger depression of the trigger for each nail that is fired. The second type is a Bump fire type which requires the trigger to be held down and nail is fired every time the gun’s nozzle comes into contact with an object.

Some basic nail gun tips:

  • Workers should be trained on the safe and correct use of a nail gun
  • New and inexperienced workers should only operate nail guns under supervision
  • All tools, including nail guns should be serviced regularly.
  • Manufacturer’s guidelines should be followed
  • Rather than the bump fire mode, it is safer to use a single shot type nail gun
  • The appropriate PPE, such as eye protection and hearing protection should be worn at all times
  • Never point the nail gun at anyone.


Bridge Collapses Injuring Worker

Another safety incident has occurred on the construction site of a bridge. A worker suffered serious injuries after falling after the bridge collapsed.This incident demonstrates the need to guard against structural collapse in construction work.  In addition to bad weather, ensuring the structural integrity of walls and buildings is crucial. This is because of the damage to property a collapse can have as well as slowing down production in addition to injuring or even killing workers on site.

This highlights the incident on Abc.net.au:

The WorkCover Authority is investigating after a worker fell from a bridge on a section of the Hunter Expressway project.

Emergency crews were called to the Wallis Creek Bridge at Buchannan, near Kurri Kurri just after 4:00pm (AEDT), with initial reports a bridge had collapsed.

A 40-year-old man was flown to Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital in a serious condition with chest and abdominal injuries.

WorkCover says it was notified of the fall and an inspector will be sent to the site today.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-13/workcover-investigates-expressway-accident/4368380

One of the ways principal contractors can manage the risk is by checking the stability of structures at each stage of the construction. They could also install lateral supports which can help the wall or building remain sturdy during construction.

Bridges in particular are susceptible to collapse due to their structure and the fact that they are exposed to vibrations with traffic etc. which can affect even the slightest vulnerable point to cause a structural collapse.

Before constructing buildings, bridges or any structures a strategic erection plan must be coordinated, one which incorporates the construction sequence, rate of building erection and support required for the wall or building. There may be a need for lateral or temporary supports which should be included in the structural drawings of the building.

Also where bridges or other structures are being erected, exclusion zones should be established to exclude unauthorised personnel from a potential collapse. Only workers who are authorised and necessary should operate within these exclusion zones. Passers-by should be protected from injury at all times.

Workers should be consulted when developing a safe work statement for the site and these documents should be available to workers to reference at all times.

Because the building of bridges and structural work is so dangerous, employers should ensure that a qualified and suitably experienced person is available to supervise the work and ensure it is being safely carried out.

It is important to engage a qualified and competent engineer to provide specifications to ensure that the structure is stable and construction workers should stick to this precisely, at the end of each day and at the beginning of every new phase of construction.

Workers should also watch weather reports so they can be aware of strong winds and provide extra support for the structure if necessary. Adverse weather conditions can be inconvenient and even dangerous for workers that is why they need to be prepared for it. Putting safety first is crucial to preventing injuries and deaths from structural collapse.


Adjusting to Work in Extreme Heat

Source: Fabio Coatti

Construction workers engage in extremely strenuous work, most often outdoors which can be a problem especially during the hot summer months.

As an outdoor worker you are at risk of developing skin cancer, and Oz in particular has recorded the highest numbers of skin cancer suffers in the world. It is there extremely important to safe guard yourself if you are working outdoors in the sun.

You also need to protect yourself against other side effects such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, cramps etc.

High temperatures, high humidity, slow air movement and direct sunlight all combine to make the risk of working in the heat even greater.

  • Remember these tips when engaging in work outdoors or in extremely hot environments :
    Drink at least half a litre of water each hour, to replace the water lost during sweating
  • Wear the appropriate PPE like loose fit long sleeved shirts and sunhats.
  • Employers keep the work area well ventilated to provide a good flow of cool air, especially where work processes generate heat such as machinery.
  • When working outdoors, skin cancer is a major hazard so make sure to wear the appropriate PPE and take the necessary precautions such as wearing a hat and applying sunscreen.
  • Take frequent rest breaks and relax in a shaded rest area
  • Employers should provide free access to cool drinking water
  • Employers should also encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss.
  • Educate workers about recognizing the early symptoms of heat stress
  • For outdoor workers reschedule work to cooler times of the day