White Card Update: Work Safely on Contaminated Sites

The most common contaminants found on construction sites that could be harmful to workers are  metals (like lead),  inorganic compounds (like cyanide compounds), oils and tars, pesticides, toxins, explosive or asphyxiant gases (like methane), combustible substances (like petrol), fibres (like asbestos, synthetic mineral fibres), infectious materials (like medical wastes) or radioactive waste.

The health effects of contaminated sites cannot be denied especially associated with long term exposure. The health effects of exposure to these hazards include headaches, nausea, skin rashes, breathing problems, organ failure and long term effects such as cancer.

The following steps should be followed to minimise risk of adverse health effects due to hazard exposure:

  1. Conduct a Site Assessment. Contaminants may be introduced to soil by industrial processes which in small amounts may be dangerous but in larger quantities may prove fatal.
  2. Conduct an Environmental Audit. Local councils usually require an audit on potentially contaminated sites which will include an assessment of the soil and health risks, advice on remediation of identified problem areas and information about the health and safety of workers on site.
  3. Develop a health and safety plan once contamination has been identified and assessed. Plans should include information from assessments and cover all relevant steps and processes, such as training, work variation, health monitoring etc.

Occasionally contamination is only discovered after work on the site has already started as the construction processes uncover contaminants. Even after a site has been tested contamination may be discovered if previous inspections miss contaminated spots on site and once discovered the situation needs to be dealt with as above before work on site can continue.