Construction is rather unique in that the risks associated with it can change during the various building phases, and even from one day to the next. This can apply whether a construction project involves a new build, an extension, a renovation, or repairs.
Identifying hazards and managing the risks associated with construction is therefore essential to prevent harm, injuries and losses (including to reputation), and to avoid legal and financial liabilities and insurance claims. Some of the more common risk areas in construction include heights, vehicles, machinery, slip and trip hazards, manual handling, electricity, fire, structural collapse, noise, falling objects, and hazardous substances.
Statistics on fatalities and injuries
According to SafeWork’s statistics 2003-2013, the highest cause of construction deaths was falls from heights 3 metres or above – comprising 28% of all fatalities. This was followed by vehicle collisions (16%), electrocution (15%), being hit by moving objects (12%) and falling objects (11%). Items that lead to construction deaths included vehicles, self-propelled plant, structures, machinery, fixed plant, ladders, ramps, and scaffolding.
With regard to injuries not leading to death, 31% occurred from being hit by an object, 30% from lifting, pulling or pushing an object, and 22% from falls.
The statistics also show that on average, 35 construction workers were injured each day and there were 36 fatalities each year. The commonest bodily site for injury was the lower back, while 30% of injuries led to fractures requiring hospitalisation. Typical time off work for recovery from injuries sustained was 6.4 weeks.
Managing the risks
If your organisation is undertaking new construction or renovations, identifying and controlling construction risks should be included in your church risk management policy. Some of the areas to be covered are outlined below.
Insurance and security:
- Insurance cover – firstly, make sure that your contractors are able to provide proof of current public liability cover (through a Certificate of Insurance) that names your organisation as an ‘additional insured’, and that contains a clause that renders your organisation harmless (including employees, volunteers and board members) for liability in regard to negligence.
- Security – construction sites are often a target for vandals. Your construction contract should stipulate that contractors are obligated to provide the necessary means (such as perimeter fencing) to secure the site for reasons of safety and to protect it from trespassers.
With falls from heights causing the highest number of fatalities, safety precautions are a must.
Risk management tips include –
- Provision of protective systems and equipment – such as guardrails, scaffolding, harnesses and appropriate footwear.
- Full training in safety awareness and in the use of ladders and other equipment.
- Isolating the area.
- Working at heights from scissor lifts or platforms.
- Determining whether demolition work (such as roof removal) could be done from ground level.
These may include objects that fall from lifting equipment, debris on demolition sites or from structural collapse, or items used in construction such as bricks, tools, or scaffolding. Risk controls may include the following –
- Isolating dangerous areas.
- Providing protective systems such as netting and guardrails.
- Use of chutes to transfer debris into skips.
WorkSafe stats indicate that accidents from vehicles are quite high on the list of construction incidents. Good oversight and health & safety management should take into account not only the hazards around actual construction, but also those associated with trucks, forklifts, vans and other types of vehicles.
Risk control measures may include use of the following –
- Traffic controllers and / or lights.
- Zero tail-swing excavators.
- Collision avoidance technology.
- High-visibility reflective clothing for workers.
When materials such as scrap timber, paper, rags or flammable chemicals come into contact with ignition sources (e.g. from welding equipment, heat guns and heaters), fire can quickly take hold and spread. Risk control measures include –
- Removal of all combustible materials from ignition sources.
- Removal of flammable liquids when not on use – away from the main structure and safely stored.
- Ensuring portable heaters are placed at least 1 metre away from combustible materials.
- Daily removal of rubbish and debris.
- Full training in the use of the right type of fire extinguishers.
Hot work permits will also need to be obtained before commencing hot work operations (those that involve the use of heat) begin. More information on hot work permits can be found at the FPAA (Fire Protection Association of Australia) here.
Other areas to consider:
- Slips and trips – these can occur from slippery or wet surfaces, debris, obstructions, or trailing cables.
Risk control may be managed by putting up ‘wet area’ signs, and removal of debris and items that could cause people to slip or trip up.
- Electrical safety – unsafe use of electricity can result in electrocution, burns, fires, injuries and fatalities.
Electrical work and equipment used on construction and demolition sites need to comply with Australian Standard 3000:2007 in terms of supply, switchboards, outlets, cord extensions and generators. Electrical wiring should not be bundled with permanent wiring and should be marked with iridescent yellow tape to distinguish it.
- Manual handling – lifting, bending, pushing and pulling of objects, repetitive movements, over-reaching and sustained vibration can all lead to manual-handling injuries.
Automation, mechanical aids, using smaller load sizes, avoiding work above shoulder-height, and full training in correct use of equipment can all contribute towards managing and controlling manual-handling risk.
- Dangerous materials – a classic example of this is asbestos on demolition or renovation sites. Many older buildings were built using asbestos in roofing, wall-cladding, pipes, insulation and even carpet underlay. There is no safe exposure level to asbestos fibres.
If a demolition building contains asbestos, a licenced asbestos removal contractor must be hired to remove it, and disposal guidelines must be adhered to.
- Signage – appropriate signage should be provided to identify access routes, location of fire equipment, hazards, and wet floors.
- Regular hazard identification – in some cases this may need to be done daily, as work requirements and conditions can change and create new hazards not previously identified.
Links for more information
Safe use of ladders
Considerations for new building projects
Construction project owner-builder responsibilities
Managing asbestos removal
Church renovation safety issues
Protection from falling objects
Fire safety and prevention
Safe use of fire extinguishers