Health and Safety Guidelines in the Construction Sector

Any construction site poses potential hazards to those working on it. Construction safety is one of the most important considerations when planning a construction project. Some rules and regulations are law, others are common sense, but all equally as important due to the high risk of injury and death on construction sites.

In South Africa, the OHS Act & SANS 10085 is a strict set of safety regulations regarding scaffolding and other temporary structures. Any person working in construction should abide by this act and should be properly trained in all areas of construction work to ensure optimum safety.

First Aid and Emergencies
It is advisable to educate all workers on site about first aid and fire procedures. Basics such as the location of emergency phones, first aid kits, stretchers, fire extinguisher locations and evacuation plans greatly reduce the risk of injury and accidents.

Fire equipment should always be close at hand and all staff should be aware of where the equipment is, how to use it and what procedure to follow if there is a fire.

Prevention is Better than Cure
Precaution is a main ally of construction safety. Before anyone enters a construction site, there are a number of precautions which should be observed.

Firstly, no one should enter the site without a hard hat and knowledge of how to conduct themselves properly on site. Hats, gloves, eye protection glasses and proper footwear are vital!

Workers need to be healthy and fit to work on a construction site. If a worker suffers from dizzy spells, a fear of heights, is sick or anxious, they should not work at an elevated level to prevent injury or death by falling.

Proper knowledge of how to lift things can save a person from any possible back injuries. If lifting a heavy weight, use your legs and not your arms and if the load is too heavy, get someone to help.

Safety on Site
There are further precautions which need to be adhered to in the construction industry.

Workers should never use power tools unless they are trained in how to use them. Safety harnesses should be worn at all times when working at a height to prevent injury or death from falling. Any areas of danger should be barricaded and workers or visitors to the site should never enter a barricaded area.

When on site, if having to work around machinery or dangerous areas, make sure that construction workers can see you and are aware of you, to avoid injury.

When entering a confined space, the air supply might be weak and the space could be filled with poisonous or flammable gases. Workers should get a qualified person to test the air of such spaces with a detector.

Electrical grounding on a construction site should be checked every day. When electricity is not grounded, it can be fatal. A construction site is an unstable location and electrical flow may not be set up to normal safety standards, so it is vital that electricity supplies be checked to make sure that the supply is grounded. The atmosphere can wreak havoc with the safety of a construction site. If the weather is wet, workers should use ground fault circuit interrupters to prevent injury by electrocution. Three-prong plugs are also safer to use than others.

Ladders can be a great danger to construction workers. There should be no litter or debris around the base of the ladder or on the ladder being used. A ladder should also always extend three feet above the landing it is resting on so that workers can climb on and off easily and without risk of overbalancing. When in use, a ladder must have safety feet attached to the legs. If a ladder is defective, it needs to be tagged and removed from the site.

Scaffolds should be built according to recommendations, with scaffold planks properly secured to prevent workers overbalancing and dropping heavy loads or falling off the scaffolding. Trenches need to be sloped if their size exceeds 5 feet to prevent collapse and workers should never enter a trench without it being sloped.

Your Brain is Your Best Protection
Aside from all of these precautions and safety instructions, common sense is a big factor when it comes to safety on construction sites.

Workers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs are a major hazard to the safety of themselves and others. Throwing things over the sides of a building or level should be strictly forbidden as it may connect with another person on the site and injure them.

Playing around and being foolish, running and not paying attention to where you are going will make any construction site extremely dangerous. Open fires are also a major risk of injury as flammable gases and substances are common on a construction site and can catch alight easily.

A construction contractor should ensure that all staff are aware of these safety procedures and are willing to abide by them. Most contractors will mention health and safety as part of their service and adhere stringently to safety standards.

About the Author
Cape Formwork Contractors (CFC) are construction formwork and scaffolding contractors based in Cape Town which adhere stringently to health and safety regulations such as the OHS Act & SANS 10085, and maintain their health and safety standards to the highest level.