Learning to Manage Fatigue in the Building Industry

Source : Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Fatigue is a risk to workers which can be overcome with a little effort and in the construction industry it is an issue that is of particular importance because workers engage in dangerous activities that can threaten their safety or the safety of those around them.

The main causes of fatigue in construction workers are working night shifts or long hours, broken shifts, lack of sleep or any disruption in the sleep cycle pattern, bad quality sleep, emotional or lifestyle issues.

Some of the methods suggested by authorities to manage fatigue include:

  • Limiting over time work
  • Drawing up rosters to allow workers to sleep for a continuous 8 hour period every 24 hour cycle.
  • Make sure workers take regular breaks and rest
  • Make sure that there is enough staff at any one time to meet the demands of the workplace, do not overload a few workers with the entire sites work.
  • Minimise work that starts prior to 6am
  • Ensure that workers are given sufficient time between shifts. Adults require approximately seven to eight continuous hours of daily sleep. One way of doing this would be giving workers two successive full days off within a seven day period, so workers can catch up on their night sleep.

Workers That Need Supervision on Construction Sites

Source : Nuclear Regulatory Commission

New workers can present a hazard on construction sites if they are not properly trained and supervised accordingly. New workers can cause harm to themselves and other workers if they are not supervised when given dangerous tasks. Before awarding tasks to new workers, determine whether they have the skill and knowledge to perform the task. Have they been trained sufficiently to carry out the task?

Other than new workers, visitors also require supervision on site. Visitors to the site may not be aware of the hazards that are present on the site and so may place themselves in harm’s way if they are not supervised. They should be separated from hazards as much as possible.

Site supervision means the general direction, coordination and oversight of the on-site work processes and this responsibility cannot be taken lightly. The contractor needs to ensure that everyone on site is protected from the hazards and those workers who require supervision, are being supervised.

A number of incidents have occurred on Australian sites where apprentice workers were given tasks that they were not sufficiently trained or experienced to perform which resulted in disaster. Workers that are undergoing training should not be left unattended, especially when undertaking something as dangerous as construction work.


Fire Hazards on Construction Sites

Source : Richard Allaway

Most serious fires in this industry occur on sites of renovation and refurbishments of buildings due to faulty or old electric cables and a lot of dry timber that workers are often not aware of. Also the building process uses chemicals like adhesives and insulating materials that are highly flammable. Most of the fire incidents can be avoided with a bit of planning and preparation.

Fires on construction sites are not only dangerous to human life but they can be costly and set work back extensively. It can also cause damage to surrounding buildings and properties.

In order for a fire to ignite all it takes is a source of ignition, small flame or electrical spark and oxygen.

Many solids, liquids and gases can catch fire and burn on a construction site. It only takes a source of ignition, which may be a small flame or an electrical spark, together with air.

By reducing the quantity of combustible materials on site, workers can reduce the possibility of a fire.  Materials that are combustible can be stored outside of the work area until needed and if it is to be stored indoors it should be located away from ignition sources and away from workers. Good housekeeping and site tidiness are important to prevent fires. This will also ensure that emergency exit routes are kept clear and unobstructed in case of an emergency.


How to Prevent Falling through a Roof in construction

Falling is a serious hazard on construction sites with falls from heights accounting for most of the construction site safety incidents in Oz. Falls from ladders, roofs, skylights, scaffolds etc. all occur frequently on construction sites, but so do falls through roofs. Often a worker’s task involves cutting holes in the roof for ventilation ducts, heating ducts etc. Sometimes workers fall through these openings in the roof, causing serious injury and very often death.

There are some ways workers can guard against these falls. Workers should ensure that materials used to cover openings are available before the openings are made. The covers for openings must be strong enough to withstand the weight of workers and any equipment that might pass over them.

After cutting an opening in a roof or floor workers should cover it immediately and leave it unattended as this leave other students vulnerable to a fall. Also workers must ensure that the cover is securely and correctly put in place in such a way that it cannot be moved inadvertently.

Also workers should mark the cover to indicate where the opening is and to warn other workers to prevent them falling through. Guard rails should be erected if the opening cannot be covered.

If workers adhere to these rules, they can substantially reduce the risk of falling through roof openings.


Construction workers at Risk of Respiratory Disease

Many construction workers are aware of the dangers that asbestos and other chemicals present to them, but not many are aware of the danger of inhaling silica dust, a dangerous element of construction work that can cause Respiratory Disease.

Some workers even risk their health by failing to wear PPE, to protect them from inhaling potentially deadly particles. These workers are placing themselves at risk of developing silicosis, a lung disease caused by silica dust collecting on the lungs. Silica can also cause permanent damage to the lungs and heart.

Silica dust is released from processes in building where sand, rocks, sandstone and granite are used.  Many employers are unaware that common building products such as clay bricks, concrete, tiles and fibro cement products contain silica as well. Silica dust is usually created when such building products, sandstone or rocks are cut, drilled or worked on in a way that creates fine particles of silica in the air. It is breathing in this crystalline form of silica that causes silicosis.

In order to avoid developing this disease, ensure you use a water hose to wet dust down at the point of dust generation.  Employers can also encourage good work practices to minimise exposures to nearby workers or even the public in the vicinity.


White Card Update: Head Injuries All Too Common on Construction Sites

Photo : Ell Brown

Construction workers know all too well the dangers that they expose themselves to each day in order to make a living. Many workers in the construction industry go their whole lives without suffering serious injuries however there are also those who frequently sustain serious injuries. The difference between the two is not only the employer’s commitment to safety but also the workers own adherence to safety procedures and regulations.

Sometime injuries on site are as a result of co-workers negligence and these situations highlight the need for employers to instil a culture of safety on site and hold workers liable when the proper safety procedures are not followed.

A motto of “Safety First” should exist on all building sites in order to instil in workers the importance of safety.  Think of the alternative?  Head injuries, burn injuries, severe wounds, spinal cord injuries, traumas, dislocations, blinding injuries and hearing loss are just a few of  the possible outcomes that may threaten workers on a construction site daily. Unlike other professions where injuries are limited to certain parts of the body (for example office workers who are exposed to computers may suffer eye damage), construction workers entire bodies are at risk.  Let’s look at just some of the head injuries that can affect and forever change a construction worker’s life.

Head Injuries

Sadly construction workers heads are at risk from a variety of hazards, falling objects like tools or excavation buckets, workers falling and hitting their heads etc. that is why personal protective equipment is a legal requirement and must be provided by employers at no cost. Workers have a responsibility to wear a hard hat at all times on site even when not engaged in dangerous activities. Sadly these PPE are not 100% safe and there are some injuries that even hard hats cannot stop.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

When the brain sustains a sudden trauma it may cause irreparable damage to the brain. Sometimes workers may have sustained this type of trauma and may be unaware of it. Some of the symptoms these workers should look out for are persisting headaches, vomiting, nausea, convulsions, seizures, confusion or loss of consciousness. These types of injuries may cause disability in the long run and may also include cognition problems, communication problems or mental health problems. Some doctors even warn that long term side effects could include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, similar to the diseases suffered by boxers later on in life from repeated blows to the head.

Closed Head Injuries

Quite often workers drop tools, debris and equipment from higher heights, hitting workers below causing what is commonly referred to as blunt force trauma. A concussion is an example of this type of head injury.  It causes temporary disorientation in the victim who loses awareness momentarily because the cerebrospinal fluid doesn’t cushion the brain from the skull during the impact. Like with boxers, the more repeated the injury the more lasting the long term effects.

Another type of injury that can result from a head injury is a severed nerve. When the head sustains a blow, swelling can occur which causes a severed nerve. The consequences of this type of injury may be irreparable in severe cases. There is the chance it may cause paralysis of a limb/limbs and/or a loss of sensation. This may be a huge inconvenience to a worker and costly to the company especially because construction workers rely on their bodies to make a living.

Severe cases of head trauma can result in the worker falling into a coma, which is a deep state of unconsciousness. Although the worker is technically alive, they are unable to move or respond to their environment.

Although the thought of one of these injuries is frightening and something workers would rather not contemplate, they occur each day on construction sites across Australia. By making safety a priority employers and workers can ensure these do not occur on their sites.


Basic Tips for Working from Heights

Falls from heights have been identified as the main cause of injury in construction workers. Civil construction sites in particular possess a high fall injury record.

Employers are often to blame, because they fail to provide supervision and fall protection, or fail to train workers on how to effectively use fall arrest systems. Many employers have been prosecuted for this, so in order to safeguard themselves employers should follow safety procedures.

1. Develop and Allocate responsibilities to workers for managing fall prevention. It is not only the employer’s duty to manage fall prevention workers also have a role to play.

2. Identify All Fall Hazards, for example work from house roofs, work on fragile or unstable surfaces, work on sloping or slippery surfaces, work near an edge, hole, pit or shaft.

3. Assess potential dangers and possible circumstances that may increase the risk of the fall.

4. Question whether the work can be done from the ground to eliminate the hazard or can a work positioning system be used to minimise the risk of falling.

5. Implement fall prevention measuresto control the risk, if the risk cannot be removed and train workers on these measures.

6. Ensure Emergency Procedures are in place in the event of a fall and workers are well trained in emergency response procedures.

7. Use the correct plant for the task and do so safely. Also ensure fall prevention devices are properly maintained and used.

8. Regularly conduct risk assessments and access safety measures at every site and as changes occur, review measures regularly.


White Card Update: Student Fall lands Government Department in Court

According to government statistics falling is the leading cause of death on construction sites and between 1995 and 1999, 362 falls occurred. That statistics makes this incident even more disturbing.

 A student at an Adelaide TAFE campus suffered a fall after walking across an unstable roof beam and fell through plasterboard 4.5m to the ground. The student received $20,000 from the government department involved for having suffered broken bones and other serious injuries.


SafetyCulture.com.au had this to report:

The Government Department that is responsible for an Adelaide TAFE campus has been fined $120,000 after an admission of guilt in the Industrial Relations Court. They are also required to pay $20,000 to the student that was injured in the fall.

 The fall happened in November 2009 when the construction student needed walk across a roof beam to assist with detaching a panel; he fell from the beam through exposed plasterboard 4.5 metres to the floor breaking bones and received serious injuries.

 The government department pleaded guilty to the failure to conduct a risk assessment and provide fall protection to the student.

Read more: http://www.safetyculture.com.au/news/index.php/08/government-department-in-sa-fined-over-student-fall/

Ordinarily construction site falls can result from a number of incidents, including use of unsafe or incomplete scaffolds, inappropriate ladders/ladder use, falling from or through roofs, falls from trucks, falls into holes, pits or shafts, accessing shelving, accessing mezzanine areas. Falls from heights are an extremely prevalent and dangerous threat to construction workers and so needs to be managed accordingly.

Even falls from relatively low height have the ability to cause very serious injuries, including fractures, spinal cord injury, concussions and brain damage. Management of the risks can significantly reduce the number of deaths caused by falling.

Employers should allocate responsibility to workers in managing fall prevention.  Each job is different and the needs have to be decided and specific responsibilities allocated. Responsibilities that can be distributed include ensuring adequate fall prevention is in place, equipment is used correctly, safety measures are maintained and workers are given adequate instruction and training. Employers have the main responsibility for ensuring that work environment is safe and free from fall threats.

Manufacturers, importers and suppliers of equipment must ensure that they equipment they provide is designed, constructed and tested so it’s safe to use when used for the purpose it was designed, manufactured or supplied. Employers also need to provide adequate information and training about how to use the equipment correctly. 

One of the highly risky practices on a construction site is working on a roof. To comply with the OHS Prevention of Falls Regulations 2003, employers must identify all tasks that involve the possibility of someone falling more than two metres.  These tasks may include construction, demolition, repairs or maintenance, on plant or structure, work on fragile or unstable surfaces, work on sloping or slippery surfaces, work near an edge, hole, pit or shaft.

Things that should be considered when assessing the risks include the nature, size and layout of the workplace, The duration, extent and type of work to be done, height at which workers will be required to access or undertake work, training and experience of employees undertaking  the work, how to get to the work area, the number and movement of people and plant on the work site and conditions of work.  Some aspects to consider include is it windy or slippery? Is there poor lighting, sloping surfaces or other hazards above or below work area such as power lines, impaling hazards or trees?

For employers, if it is not possible to eliminate the risk, precautions should be taken to manage the risk and thus minimise the likelihood of someone falling.  Working on the ground is the most effective method of protecting workers from fall hazards, however this isn’t always possible so the hazard has to be managed.

Construction workers need to use personal protective equipment to minimise injury in the event of a fall or any other hazard protection on a construction site. Workers shouldn’t just be given PPE, but must be trained on its correct use so that workers can get the full benefit of the PPE.  This in conjunction with other measures mentioned above, when combined can contribute to a safer and healthier work environment.

Posted by Steven Asnicar


White Card Online News Update: Scaffolding Safety on Construction Sites in Question

Earlier this year tragedy struck when a 54 year old worker died after sustaining serious injuries during a fall from a scaffolding on a site in Sydney’s CBD. The scaffolding was just 3 meters high and the damage done was too serious so the worker died at the scene. This is just one of many tragedies that have been reported in Oz involving falls from scaffolding on construction sites. The fact that scaffolding is often indispensable on construction sites cannot be denied but the number of lives being lost is too high and it is clear that more attention needs to be given to scaffolding safety if we are to reduce this number.

Dangers Presented by Scaffolding in Construction

While working from any height above the ground more than 2 meters is dangerous and can present a risk from falling, there is also the chance that scaffolders can fall from incomplete scaffolds during their erection and dismantling. Scaffolders can be exposed to fall hazards especially during the erection and removal of scaffold planks from the open sides or ends of the scaffold and in climbing from one lift of the scaffold to the next lift.

There is also the risk of scaffolding collapsing while workers are on or under it which can cause terrible injury. The collar locking mechanism on scaffolds can be a hazard if operators do not engage the lock correctly. They are progressively being phased out in favour of an adjustable leg that has a compression-locking device, which engages when a weight is applied to the assembled scaffold this method is favoured as it will save collapsing of the scaffold under the weight of workers.

It is vital that the people that erect the scaffold are trained and certified to do so. Scaffolding risks are presented by internal falls,that is during the placement or removal of scaffold plants, from the open sides or ends of the scaffold known as an external fall or when climbing from one lift of the scaffold to the next lift known as a climbing fall.

The risk that seems to be most applicable to construction sites is the risk of external falls as this has been reported more than most other falls from scaffolding so this is what we will discuss.

The risk of external falls from the open sides and ends of a scaffold can be controlled by adopting the “sequential erection” method. According to this method only one-bay-at-a-time is erected, sequential installation of standards and guardrails or guardrails alone. This ensures that scaffolders are not required to walk further than one bay length along an exposed edge of a scaffold platform thereby reducing the risk of falling. Dismantling involves reversing the sequence.

Another risk is presented when workers have to climb the scaffolding. Ensuring that an appropriate access system is in place can control the risk of climbing falls for scaffolders gaining access from one lift to the next. This can be in the form of a stairway or ladder access that is progressively installed as the scaffold is erected.  Employers should ensure that the practice of scaffolders  climbing the scaffold framework is strictly forbidden as this is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury.

Basically the risks involved with scaffolding can be controlled or managed using a combination of techniques which involve:

  • fully decking each lift
  • using the sequential erection method and
  • progressively providing access as the scaffold is erected

 Points to remember:

  •  Safety harness systems provide an invaluable assistance to workers working on scaffolding, but should not be the only control measure. If a harness is being used  in all instances a scaffolder must not be exposed to a fall prior to being securely connected to the anchor point of the harness. A properly designed harness will permit prolonged worker suspension after a fall without restricting blood flow.
  • Guardrails must be installed on all scaffold platforms in accordance with required standards
  • Hard hats should be worn to protect against falling objects. Mesh, screens, intermediate vertical members or solid panels should be used to safeguard employees and the public at lower levels
  • Workers on suspended scaffolds must use a fall arrest system as protection against the failure of the scaffold or its components.
  • Fall protection is only as good as its anchorage.

Posted by Steven Asnicar


White Card Online News Update: Safeguarding Construction Sites Against Hazards

A recent report by Safe Work Australia revealed that the number of deaths that occur at work have declined in the year ending 2011. Interestingly the largest number of deaths occurred due to incidents involving falling objects. Here we discuss the major hazards involved in construction work that are often overlooked and how they can be successfully overcome.

Power Tools

A number of accidents occur each year in which workers are maimed or severely injured sometimes fatally by power tools. Although they are invaluable in construction they can be extremely dangerous if not used with the proper precautions. Power saws, grinders and other power tools must have proper guards in place at all times. Cords and hoses must be placed so as not to create a tripping hazard or be subjected to damage from equipment or materials. Tools must be put away into tool boxes or someplace safe where they will not present a tripping hazard or fall onto someone and injure them while not in use. Also make sure that power tools are repaired whenever necessary by a licenced electrician only. Power tools should be tested regularly and if damaged reported immediately.

Compressed Air

Compressed air is used in many site operations, tools and equipment for power or cleaning down. Compressed air can be dangerous and can also injure or kill. It has the potential to blast slivers of wood, steel and concrete into eyes, through skin and deep into flesh. It can also peel skin off . It can burst lungs. It can even enter the blood stream and stop a person’s heart. It should be treated with great caution. Inspect airlines and tools before use, fasten all connections securely. Do not attempt to turn the air on yourself to blow dust from clothing or skin as this may result in death.


Inspect ladders before use for any damage. Wooden ladders should not be painted as cracks and damage may not be seen. If a ladder is damaged it should not be used. Ladders are to be secured at the top and bottom and set at the correct angle of 1 in 4 before climbing. When climbing tools should not be carried in your hands both hands should be on the ladder. Never use a metal ladder adjacent to suspended electrical conductors unless they have been isolated. Clean mud and grease off footwear before using ladders otherwise this will create a slipping hazard. Face the ladder when climbing and use both hands to hang on.

Chemicals And Fibre-Based Products

It is important that all chemicals and fibre-based substances introduced to site must not be used unless accompanied by a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The responsible foreman will ensure that the use of these products will not be harmful to the workers handling them and that the correct procedures for use and the correct type of protective equipment is worn.


Excavations of all types require barricading and hand railing of substantial materials so as to prevent persons from failing into them. Excavations or trenches exceeding 1.5 metres should have shoring to walls and faces or as stipulated by regulations. Ladder access must be provided to and from all excavations and trenches and Guard rails must be provided.

Guard Rails

All openings in the ground and all penetrations in floors must be fitted with guard rails or handrails. Missing rails must be reported immediately and if removed for work purposes, they must be replaced before leaving the area. Neglecting to do so may result in injury.

Even with great caution exercised accidents still occur. It is important the workers are trained before entering the construction site on specific procedures for that site.

Accident Reporting

All accidents need to be reported so that they may be investigated and analysed so that they do not occur again. It is also important to warn other workers of what to be aware of and to warn employers on what needs to be done in terms of safety and future prevention. If there is an accident, please make sure it is reported, no matter how small.

Injury Reporting

All injuries must be reported to the first-aid attendant/foreman for treatment and recording. The first-aid attendant will carry out treatment initially and recommend follow-up treatment. It is also important for compensation claims that the injury be recorded.

Posted by Steven Asnicar