Managing safety risks in construction

The construction industry is designated as a priority industry for work health and safety as per the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22 due to the high number and rate of work-related injuries and illnesses and inherent risks associated with working in the industry.

Managing workplace hazards and risks in the construction industry is a top priority every day because the working environment constantly changes. There are often many different contractors working alongside each other. It becomes more complex in multi-storey construction, where work is carried out over several levels. Injury and fatality rates in construction remain high.

There have been significant reductions in the numbers and rates of injuries and fatalities in this industry over the last ten years or more. Nevertheless, the construction industry remains a high-risk industry. Around 12 600 workers’ compensation claims are accepted from the construction industry each year for injuries and diseases involving one or more weeks off work. In the construction industry, this equates to 35 serious claims each day

Managing risks in construction is an important part of keeping people safe in a dangerous environment. This includes:

  • working through the hierarchy of control measures
  • creating an emergency plan and
  • completing and implementing a safe work management plan (SWMS) for any high-risk construction.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must apply risk control measures, starting with trying to eliminate the risk first.

Risk control measures

The work health and safety (WHS) Regulations require you to control risks in a certain order (known as the hierarchy of control measures):

  • first, eliminate risks by eliminating hazards; this is the most effective control measure
  • then substitute a hazardous task with something safer,
  • then isolate hazards from people
  • or use engineering controls to minimise any risks that have not been eliminated
  • then use administrative controls to minimise any remaining risks, and
  • then use personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimise any risks that remain.

Note: a combination of the above control measures can be used to minimise risks.

If these control measures change how your workers do their work, you must:

  • consult your workers and create safe work procedures
  • if workers are represented by a health and safety representative (HSR), the consultation must involve that representative
  • provide training, instructions, information and supervision on the changes

Emergency Response Plan

As a PCBU, you must put an emergency response plan in place before you start construction work. The plan has a written set of instructions for workers and others on what to do in an emergency.

This includes fire, explosion, medical emergency, rescues, incidents with hazardous chemicals, bomb threats, armed confrontations and natural disasters.

The emergency plan must include:

  • an effective response to an emergency
  • evacuation procedures
  • notifying emergency services
  • medical treatment and help
  • effective communication
  • testing emergency procedures
  • information, training and instruction to relevant workers about doing the emergency procedures

Safe work method statements (SWMS)

A PCBU that carries out high-risk construction has additional WHS duties. These include requirements to prepare, keep, comply with and review a SWMS for the work. The PCBU must provide give the SWMS to the principal contractor.

A SWMS is a document that sets out:

  • high-risk construction work activities
  • hazards that could happen from these activities
  • how the PCBU will control the risks

Construction induction training card (white card)

Workers must show their white card to the PCBU on the site and any inspectors who ask to see it. To get a white card, a worker must do the training course ‘Prepare to work safely in the construction industry. This is also known as ‘white card’ training. White cards are recognised Australia-wide.

WHS risk management plays a vital role in the management of a construction site. WHS risk management is one of the key factors that determine whether the job will be completed safely and to the required standards. WHS risk management practices have certainly improved over recent years, but it is still important for construction firms to manage these areas effectively. Not only will this aid in ensuring that employees enjoy safe working conditions, but it will also reduce the impact on business performance e.g. delays to projects.

If you need help with establishing a WHS risk management system and processes or training your staff on WHS Risk Management, our team can help.Feel free to contact us by using the link below:

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