As at 26 January 2014, 22 Australian workers have died at work, none of these fatalities however have come from the construction industry.
According to Safe Work Australia, responsible for recording work fatality and injury, updating statistics and preparing reports, the number of workers who lost their lives this year so far is 22.
The construction industry has showed significant improvement from previous years, and although we are still in the early months of 2014, as compared with previous years, we are doing well.
At this time in 2012, 25 construction workers had been fatally wounded and in 2013 the number was 19. This year the number is at zero, which shows that the efforts being made to improve safety on construction sites are paying off.
What makes these figures even more impressive is the fact that since September last year activity in the construction sector has significantly grown, nationally. Usually an increase in activity corresponds with an increase in injuries and fatalities as workers and construction companies scramble to improve productivity however this year, that is thankfully not the case.
Construction companies as well as workers need to be commended on their commitment to safety which has brought about this result. However we should not become complacent about safety just because we have experienced a good year so far. We need to ensure we end 2014 as well as we started it.
What it takes to maintain a Good Safety Record
While many companies have the tendency to start off the year on a high note by addressing safety issues, not many are able to maintain these high safety records indefinitely. Perhaps this is due to the complacent attitude that sometimes sets in over time or it could be as a result of the pressure to get work done quickly that forces workers and employers to push for productivity at the cost of safety? Whatever the reason, it is important that we retain safety as a main priority throughout the year and at every stage of the construction process.
The key to ensuring that all workers on site are safety minded is by providing them with the necessary safety training.
Laying the foundation is the most important part of any building project because without a good foundation, you have nothing to build a strong structure upon. The same is true for a culture of safety on a work site. It is important to lay the foundation of safety knowledge by ensuring that every worker on site has completed General Construction Induction Training and is therefore in possession of a White Card. Even workers who aren’t directly involved in the building process but are regularly on site must complete this training.
In addition to general safety training, employers must also provide workers with additional site specific training so that they can become familiar with the safety issues relevant to the work site as well as the control measures to overcome hazards as planned by management.
Any additional training a worker may need must also be provided depending on the work being undertaken, sites unique features etc.
- Identifying Hazards and Assessing the Risks
There are certain aspects that should be considered when identifying the hazards such as taking into consideration the construction workplace itself including its location, layout, condition, operations being undertaken and accessibility.
Once the hazards have each been identified it is important that the risks associated with them are assessed. Assessing the risks on sites as well as developing Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are all part of an employer/contractors responsibility under the law. Employers should understand the risks associated with each hazard in order to eliminate, minimise or control them adequately.
After a risk assessment is conducted, action should be taken to control the risks by implementing the necessary control measures. Not all control measures are equal, and the best control will be one that eliminates the hazard completely. This is not always feasible and the next best control measure will minimise the risks associated with the hazard. The least effective controls involve implementing safe work practices and introducing personal protective equipment to the work environment.
Once control measures have been implemented, they will likely be effective but as the construction develops and the site changes etc. this is likely to change and control measures may not be as effective as they once were. That is why it is important to Review the control measures implemented regularly to ensure their continued effectiveness.
- Maintain Good, Open Communication
Employers should design a communication plan to ensure that communication is effectively handled on site and is an on-going process. Good communication does not end at the same time as safety training, it should be a daily process and should be two-way, not just from employers to workers.
Workers must be allowed and encouraged to freely communicate with management about issues, safety concerns etc. because they have first-hand experience with hazards at ground level and can be a valuable resource in enforcing site safety.
Another aspect of communication that is just as important as the daily verbal communication is the written communication between employers and workers. Workers can refer back to written resources at any time when they have a problem or a query and cannot speak to a supervisor immediately. Employers should therefore provide workers with written material in language that is clear, concise, simple and should have pictures that illustrate the safety message.