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Construction health and safety plan you ask?

Well, us lot; we wander round construction sites all day without batting an eyelid. H.S.E., however (and we all know what a funny bunch they are!) reckon a construction site is a dangerous place! They put it on an extreme level – like trawling in the North Atlantic, or mining! Suppose I have actually to be fair to H.S.E.; they can be a great help with technical expertise if we have a serious problem or situation we haven’t encountered before.

The things they list as a particular danger on our sites are:

  • Falls from heights
  • Moving Plant
  • Trip Hazards
  • Excavations
  • Loose equipment
  • Chemical and Biological
  • Sharp Objects
  • Electrical
  • Noise

As far as our own safety is concerned, things have definitely moved on in my life-time! The biggest single step in that direction is probably the development and availability of PPE. If we are sensible and wear what we need at all times, we are pretty well protected against loose equipment, chemical and biological, sharp objects, electrical dangers and noise.

To me, the most obvious of that list is the sharp objects! Before we got the range of protective gloves we have now I had to have stitches in my hands quite a few times! Hard hats, though! I had a piece of timber blow off a container roof in a gale. It hit me on the head and my hard hat knocked my specs off and broke a lens! I was damn*d annoyed about that!

Steel insoles in footwear were another bonus to me! A few times, before they were readily available, I stood on dry-lining screws which went through my soles and into my foot.

Felt an idiot having to sit down and plead with someone to lend me a screwdriver so I could unscrew the screw from my foot before I could get my shoe off!

As for the rest of the hazards, these days safety measures such as barriers, safety netting and the rest are usually installed on our sites, at least in the UK. So what else helps keep us safe?

Health and safety

Awareness! Situational and Spatial Awareness! I said in the beginning that we wander round sites all day without batting an eyelid. Somehow we actually manage that! In fact, all our five senses are at it non-stop whatever we are doing and our minds are subconsciously assessing any danger with which we are threatened. Sure we do have accidents on site, some, unfortunately, fatal, but considering what we do and where we do it, we are pretty good at keeping ourselves safe and well!

This is just something that those of us suited to site work quickly develop in our early days in the building game. Those who don’t develop this ability tend to leave us and do something else. There are those, however, who come on site and can’t be expected to look after themselves; site visitors! Not all of them, but a high percentage; we just have to hold them by the hand to keep them safe!

So what is this Situational and Special Awareness all about? We have our five senses; Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch and Taste. Our Awareness comes from paying attention to what they tell us! They let us know how close to us something threatening is; they let us know if something will be harmful to us. We must pay attention to them! There is another ingredient of this and that is our sense of Balance. We don’t want to be working at height or walking along a trench if we feel a bit wobbly on our feet that day.

So what do we have to watch out for to make sure that our construction sites are safer places? We have already listed the kind of precautions built into today’s sites, so that just leaves people! This applies equally to ourselves and also to those for whom we carry a heavy legal responsibility if we are the Nominated Person on a site. So here’s what we keep an eye open for in people to make our sites safe places:-

  • Physical Fitness. Strength, sense of balance, stamina, the five senses; are they all in good working order?
  • Mental Fitness. Anyone can get a bit screwed up! An old saying on site is “Watch for the man who is an accident looking for somewhere to happen – and get shut of him!”
  • Emotional Fitness. Something in someone’s private life that causing great distress, distraction and preventing the exercise of the required Awareness? Transfer them to something safer, or even send them home to deal with it!
  • Experience. If they’ve been there, done that, then let them do it again! If they haven’t, then send someone with them to familiarise them with the risks.

Now I have been known to be very naughty! If a middle-aged tradesman has appeared for a site induction, I have been known to cut it short! My condensed version was “I only have one site safety rule. No accidents are allowed. If you see anyone doing something which may cause injury, to himself or others, let me know.” The response was always. “That’ll do for me, mate!” It must have worked because I have only ever had two Notifiable Accidents on my 150 sites. Neither were prosecuted by HSE, and both the guys got fired immediately afterwards for their dangerous actions!

You can read more about health in construction on our blog.