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How to Avoid Being in a Construction Accident When it Occurs

Updated on July 18, 2011

A construction accident will happen to you if you work in the construction industry long enough. This may sound dramatic, but the truth is that the construction industry is amongst the most dangerous civilian occupations to work in. While advances in safety, technology, procedures, legislation and compensation have reduced the occurrence and impact of fatalities within the industry, they do still occur.

While death is a serious risk on a construction site, it no longer presents the most significant risk. The largest risk for construction workers presently is injury. An injury from work can not only have serious repercussions for your own long term health, but can also have severe financial & relationship implications.

3 Steps to Avoid a Construction Accident

Like the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure,” and it holds as true for the construction industry as any other. The more time and effort you devote to avoiding a construction accident, the better positioned you will be to survive.

It doesn’t have to be difficult though. There are three things you need to do – and they’re really quite simple. These are the principles behind most of the occupational health & safety legislation and procedures that cover working on construction sites.

While the complexity of much of this legislation has left a bad taste in the mouth of many construction industry professionals, if you follow these three principles you can hardly go wrong:

1. Know the Difference Between a Hazard and a Risk

Construction work is inherently risky. The aim of all risk mitigation and safety procedures should not be to eliminate risk entirely – for this is impossible – but to manage the risks that are present, and ensure that the inevitable hazards of a construction site do not drift into an area of unreasonable risk.

The key here is to understand the difference between a hazard and a risk. The two sound the same, but are in fact very different in their meaning. Understanding this difference can have a big impact on your ability to avoid a construction accident.

A hazard is something that can go wrong. You walk onto a building site and notice that a team of roofing contractors is working on a roof laying large clay roofing tiles directly above a team of carpenters who are below. There is no net below the roofing team to catch falling debris or tools. Also, the roofing team are not using harnesses – if they were to slip and fall, nothing would break their fall except for the ground below. In this case the hazard is the roofing tiles and the roofing team. They present a hazard to themselves and those working below. Tiles may fall and strike a worker below. One of the roofers may fall and injure themselves or another that they fall on. Will this actually happen? More often than not, no. But that’s the nature of accidents – an unexpected event in an unforeseen circumstance.

A risk is the chance that something will go wrong. If a hazard represents something that can go wrong, a risk is the likelihood that it will. Take the example above. You may decide that, although the factors described above do represent a hazard, that the risk of anything bad actually happening is insufficient to warrant any special preventative measures. Which is fine. Depending on where you live in the world, sometimes this will be all that is required of you, provided you can show documentary evidence that it has been done. Now, imagine it has begun to rain on the same construction site. Does the rain increase the chance that something will go wrong? Almost certainly. Working at height without harnesses on a slippery surface is a recipe for disaster. The key is to know the difference between a hazard and a risk, and to realise that the conditions on a construction site are dynamic – the risk levels can change all of the time.

One measures the severity of a danger. The other measures the probability that it will occur.

A construction accident occurs where the hazard of a particular activity is significant enough to cause injury, and the risk is high enough that it will be more likely to happen than not.

This is a risk matrix. Graphically representing hazard and risk can help demonstrate the relationship between them.
This is a risk matrix. Graphically representing hazard and risk can help demonstrate the relationship between them.

2. Identify the Hazards, Manage the Risks

Half of health and safety on a building site is taking the time to identify the dangers and what can go wrong. It doesn’t have to take long, and is the single most important part of health and safety – even more than personal protective equipment.

Knowing the difference between a hazard and a risk, you need first to identify all of the potential hazards on your site. An effective way to do this is at the beginning of a work day. It doesn’t have to take long – assemble your team and take a quick walk around the site. Get as many opinions as you can on what constitutes a genuine danger to you as a worker. If you see something, rectify it immediately if practical or discuss as a group the best way to mitigate the risk.

3. Learn & Use Manual Lifting Techniques

A good tradesperson will spend considerable time and money amassing high quality tools and then caring for them. How ironic then, that the same people generally neglect the single most important, expensive and irreplaceable tool they have: their body.

Tools can be replaced – your health cannot.

The single activity which consumes most of your time as a tradesperson is manual handling of goods, materials and tools. It is unavoidable that you will be forced to use your body to lift, move, shove or hold large amounts of weight in awkward positions while working in the construction industry.

To avoid injury in this manner you need to familiarise yourself with manual handling techniques.

Health and safety on a construction site does not have to be complicated. Avoiding a construction accident is, in reality, as simple as adopting and following these three tips.

Do yourself and your family a favour, and implement them next time you’re on site.


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