Construction sites are dangerous. Period. The construction industry is seen as a very dangerous sector worldwide. As it is stated that a construction employee is killed every 10 minutes on a site. It is also estimated that up to 40% of work-related death occur on sites. In South Africa, the construction industry has the third highest fatality rate, after the fishing and transport sectors.
The construction sector contributes to 12% of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015, however the industry had 1.5 – 2.5 fatalities per week. It is estimated that that the previous finical year, there were an average of 12 500 construction sites and the sector employed at least 1.4 million people in June of 2016.
The Fatal Four
The four highest causes of death in the construction industry, sometimes referred to as “The Fatal Four”, are as followed; falls, being caught in or between objects, electrocutions, and being struck by an object.
Once again, it is no surprise that the leading cause of injury or a fatal incident is working at heights. In South Africa, 14% of fatalities are caused by falls. Accidents occur when scaffolding is not properly erected, ladders are incorrectly used or simply an employee slips or trips. Scaffolding is not the only thing responsible for falls, as edges that are not properly barricaded are also a culprit.
The second most common cause of death is when a worker is struck by something, such as a vehicle, machine or falling object. Many struck-by incidents involve cranes, as they can overturn, collapse, or hit a person while moving, raising, or lowering a load. Loads on cranes can also suddenly fall, which can injure or kill someone below. That’s why it is important to make sure that when a crane is being operated that the machine is inspected before every use. It is also required to have a competent person signaling the way of movement of a load being lifted by using a whistle to warn the workers in the areas.
Contact with live wires is the most common reason for electrocution-related incidents. Live wires can occur in circuit breakers, control panels, light fixtures, transformers, and underground cabling. It is easy to assume that the wires are not live, which is why it is imperative that the safety officer on site must make sure that all electrical wiring is in good working conditions.
Why is the industry so dangerous?
According to the South African Government, the main reason is due to a lack of “management and poor workmanship”. A lack of supervision and commitment by management causes the employees to overlook easy-to-avoid aspects on site.
Lennie Samuel – a senior inspector and forensic investigator at the Department of labour states the following: The health and safety legislation is not the problem on construction sites, but the behaviour, attitude, and perception of employers. He also added that some construction sites failed to produce proper risk assessments, and used inappropriate material and designs. The health and safety regulations in South Africa are of high standards, however, they, unfortunately, do not have the desired effect, as fatalities and injuries continue within the industry. The regulations are there to protect the employee, however, if these rules are not being implemented, used or training is provided on the above-mentioned, incidents and injuries will continue to occur on sites.
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When employers start to comply with the health and safety legislation, workers’ lives will be saved. As indicated, the construction industry employs the majority of the South African workforce, surely it should be a priority to make sure that the working environment is safe for all.
How can it be improved?
Management and employees should work together, along with safety officers and the entire professional team involved on the project. The simple fact is that when all employees feel that they are important and cared for by management, they will automatically become more productive. Therefore, it is the duty of management to implement the legislation correctly to save lives.
There are of course means to remove any possibility of injuries or fatalities happening on-site when focusing on the fatal four, namely:
Working at heights:
Workers should use fall arrest equipment and systems, including safety harnesses, and other proper PPE such as a helmet and lifelines. Workers should also receive training when they are required to use scaffolding or ladders to perform a duty. With regards to administration, a construction site requires to have a fall protection plan in place where applicable. This plan should be kept up to date and employees should be aware of the procedures to follow when an incident occurs.
Caught in or between objects:
Management can help prevent these sorts of accidents by conducting a comprehensive risk assessment of a site and carefully coordinating day-to-day activities. Also, high-visibility clothing should be mandatory, and training should alert workers not to position themselves between any moving object and a fixed one.
Struck by an object:
When focusing on falling objects, it is required that all equipment being used is safeguarded and avoid placing loos material near unprotected edges. Tool bags or holders should be used to carry and store hand tools in elevated work areas. Do not stack unwanted or waste construction material on elevated working platforms or walkways where there is a risk of falling or the material falling.
Workers should maintain a safe distance from overhead power lines, and use ground-fault circuit interrupters when working with live wires. Inspect portable tools and extensions before using them, to make sure that it is in good working conditions. Use power tools and equipment as designed or intended. And finally, to follow lockout procedures.
Care, Integrity, Consistency
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