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According to the Health and Safety Executive, 135 workers were killed in work-related accidents in 2022-2023 and around 20% of all worker fatalities each year are in the construction industry. However, little information is known about accidents, injuries and fatalities involving the public. There are, however, laws dictating public protection requirements in this field. In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about protecting the public when a construction project is underway.
What are the legal requirements for construction site safety?
The legal requirements for construction site safety in the UK are primarily governed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations). These regulations set out the responsibilities of various parties involved in construction projects. They aim to ensure the health, safety and welfare of both workers and the public.
Here are some key legal requirements:
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA)
The HSWA is the primary legislation that applies to all workplaces, including construction sites. Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This duty of care also extends to others who may be affected by work activities, including the public. Employees themselves also have a responsibility to take care of their health and safety and that of others.
Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations)
These regulations place specific duties on clients, designers, principal contractors, contractors and workers involved in a construction project. Health and safety considerations must be integrated into the design and planning of construction projects from the beginning to the end.
CDM Regulations also require the appointment of a Principal Designer and a Principal Contractor on projects with more than one contractor involved.
There are other important legal requirements on construction sites too. These include:
- Site Risk Assessments: Employers and contractors are required to conduct risk assessments for construction sites to identify and mitigate potential hazards. Risk assessments must be regularly reviewed and updated as necessary.
- Competence and Training: Those working on construction sites must be competent to perform their tasks safely and have received adequate training. Employers must ensure workers have the skills and knowledge to do their jobs safely. There must be strict policies in place.
- Site Access and Egress: Construction sites should have safe and controlled access and egress points to prevent unauthorised entry and protect the public from potential hazards.
- Safety Signs and Communication: Construction sites must display appropriate safety signs to warn and inform both workers and the public about potential dangers and safe practices.
- Protective Equipment and Clothing: Employers are required to provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers and ensure that it is used correctly.
- Welfare Facilities: Construction sites must have adequate welfare facilities for workers, including access to clean drinking water, sanitary facilities and rest areas.
- Reporting and Record Keeping: Accidents, incidents and near-misses on construction sites must be reported and recorded as per legal requirements.
What are the main hazards on a construction site?
Construction sites can be hazardous environments due to various factors involved in the construction process.
The main hazards on a construction site include:
- Falls from Height: Working at height is one of the most significant risks in construction. It includes working on scaffolding, ladders, rooftops or elevated platforms without proper fall protection measures.
- Struck by Objects: Workers and the public can be at risk of being struck by falling objects, such as tools, materials or debris, especially in areas where overhead work is being conducted.
- Collapse and Structural Failure: The collapse of structures or trenches can cause severe injuries and fatalities to workers and bystanders.
- Moving Machinery: Construction sites often involve the use of heavy machinery and equipment, such as cranes, excavators and trucks, which pose risks to operators and others nearby.
- Electrocution: Electrical hazards arise from exposed wires, faulty equipment or improper use of electrical tools, potentially leading to electrocution.
- Slips, Trips and Falls: Uneven surfaces, debris and poor housekeeping can lead to slip, trip and fall accidents.
- Hazardous Substances: Construction materials, such as asbestos, lead and other toxic substances, can pose health risks to workers if not handled and disposed of properly.
- Noise and Vibration: Construction sites can be noisy environments, exposing workers to hearing damage. Additionally, vibrating equipment can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome.
- Fire and Explosions: Flammable materials, welding activities and electrical malfunctions can lead to fire and explosion hazards.
- Confined Spaces: Working in confined spaces without proper precautions can lead to asphyxiation, entrapment or exposure to hazardous gases.
- Manual Handling: Improper lifting and handling of heavy objects can result in musculoskeletal injuries.
- Vehicle Accidents: The movement of construction vehicles and delivery trucks within and around the site can pose risks to workers and the public.
- Weather Conditions: Adverse weather, such as extreme heat, cold, rain or strong winds, can create additional hazards on construction sites.
- Public Safety: Construction sites in urban areas may expose the public to potential hazards, necessitating effective site access control and safety measures.
Site access in construction
Site access in construction refers to the process of providing controlled and safe entry and exit points to the construction site. It involves planning and implementing measures to ensure that only authorised personnel and vehicles can access the site while protecting the safety of workers, the public and the project itself.
Here’s some information on site access in construction, including determining the boundary and planning the perimeter:
Determining the boundary
Before starting any construction project, it is essential to determine the boundaries of the site. This involves identifying the exact area where construction activities will take place and establishing clear demarcations.
The boundary may be defined using physical barriers like fences, walls or barricades to prevent unauthorised entry and ensure that the site remains secure.
Planning the perimeter
After establishing the boundary, the next step is to plan the perimeter of the construction site. This involves deciding on the locations of access points, pedestrian walkways and vehicle entry and exit gates.
The positioning of access points and gates should be strategic, allowing for easy movement of workers, materials and equipment while minimising disruptions to nearby traffic and pedestrians.
Site access control is crucial for ensuring that only authorised personnel, such as construction workers, contractors and visitors with valid reasons, are allowed entry. Access control methods may include security personnel stationed at entry points, electronic access cards, key codes or biometric systems.
Clearly visible safety signage should be placed around the site perimeter and access points. Signage should indicate that it is a construction site, warn of potential hazards and provide information about required personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety rules.
Effective communication with workers and visitors is essential for site safety. Construction site rules and safety instructions should be communicated clearly to all individuals entering the site.
Visitors and contractors should be informed of potential hazards, safe areas, emergency procedures and any specific safety requirements.
In urban areas or sites close to public spaces, additional measures are necessary to protect the public from construction-related hazards. This may include the use of barriers or hoarding to shield pedestrians from potential dangers. Adequate pedestrian walkways and crossings should be provided to safely guide people around the construction site.
If construction site access impacts nearby traffic flow, a traffic management plan should be developed in coordination with local authorities to minimise disruption and ensure road safety.
Who is more at risk?
Certain demographic groups are generally considered to be more at risk when it comes to construction site hazards. Risk levels vary depending on age, physical capabilities and awareness of potential dangers.
The following groups of people are typically more at risk on construction sites:
Children are particularly vulnerable to construction site hazards due to their curiosity and lack of awareness regarding potential dangers. Construction sites may attract children who see them as exciting places to explore, climb or play, which can lead to serious accidents or injuries. Construction companies must secure their sites effectively to prevent unauthorised entry and implement clear warning signs to deter children from entering.
The elderly may have reduced physical capabilities, making them more susceptible to tripping or falling on uneven surfaces or construction debris. Vision and hearing impairments in older individuals can further increase the risk of accidents on construction sites. Construction companies must consider the needs of elderly individuals in and around construction areas and provide safe pedestrian routes.
Disabled individuals may face challenges navigating construction sites due to physical limitations, such as mobility impairments or the use of assistive devices. Ensuring accessibility and accommodation for disabled individuals is crucial to prevent accidents and allow them to move safely around construction areas.
The general public, including pedestrians and motorists, can be at risk if construction sites are not effectively managed and secured. Falling objects, construction vehicle movements and temporary changes to traffic flow can pose hazards to the public. Construction companies must implement effective traffic management plans, clear signage and barriers to protect the public from potential dangers.
Those new to the construction industry could be at a higher risk. This is due to their lack of familiarity with site hazards and safety protocols. Proper training, supervision and mentorship are essential to ensure the safety of new workers on construction sites.
Visitors and non-construction personnel
Visitors, such as clients, inspectors or delivery personnel, who are not directly involved in the construction project may not be familiar with the site’s layout and potential hazards. Proper site induction and guidance will inform visitors about safety precautions and ensure their safety during their time on the construction site.
How to prevent accidents
Preventing accidents is of utmost importance to ensure the safety of workers, visitors and the public. Companies should provide comprehensive safety training to all workers, including new hires, on potential hazards and safe work practices specific to the construction site. There should also be regular safety meetings to reinforce safety protocols and address any new or emerging risks.
When work is not in progress, the site should be secure. Companies can prevent unauthorised entry by using fencing, barriers and locked gates. There should also be access control measures to ensure that only authorised personnel with proper training and PPE can enter. What’s more, there should be clear and visible safety signs throughout the construction site. These should warn of potential hazards, specify required PPE and indicate safe areas. The work environment also needs to be clean and organised. Clutter and debris must be removed before it contributes to slips, trips or falls. Equipment that is not in use should be stored away.
Falls are one of the biggest dangers on any construction site and these need to be prevented. Construction companies should install guardrails, safety nets and personal fall arrest systems to protect workers from falls when working at height. They should also provide adequate training and equipment for working on scaffolds, ladders and elevated platforms.
In terms of machinery, this should always be maintained and in good working order. Workers should be trained and given appropriate PPE. The PPE should be inspected regularly and replaced when damaged.
Risk assessments and other procedures
Besides ensuring physical safety on site, construction companies must also carry out other procedures to ensure they’re aware of potential risks and what to do in emergency situations. There should be regular risk assessments to identify hazards and implement control measures. Workers should be encouraged to report hazards and near-miss incidents to inform these risk assessments.
In addition to risk assessments, companies should develop and communicate an emergency response plan for a range of scenarios including accidents, medical emergencies and fires. There should be designated personnel who are responsible for dealing with emergency situations.
Safety signage and communication
Safety signs serve as a visual communication tool to convey important information, warnings and instructions to workers, visitors and the public. Signs should be used to identify hazards, warn of dangers and guide people along the right routes to use. There is also a legal requirement to display safety signs in specific circumstances.
Public awareness and education
Construction sites can pose significant risks to the public. This is especially true if they are located in urban or populated areas. Public awareness helps individuals understand potential hazards and how to avoid them. This then reduces the likelihood of accidents and injuries.
The public should be educated on the dangers of unauthorised entry to construction sites as well as construction-related diversions, road closures and alternative pedestrian routes.
- Awareness Materials: Develop brochures, flyers and posters that illustrate common construction site hazards, safety tips and emergency contact information.
- Public Workshops: Organise public workshops or safety seminars in collaboration with local authorities and construction companies to engage the community and address safety concerns.
- Media Outreach: Media outlets like newspapers, radio and television can disseminate safety messages and promote safe practices around construction sites.
- Online Resources: Create informative websites, videos and social media content to reach a broader audience and provide easily accessible safety information.
- School Programmes: Incorporate construction site safety awareness into school curricula to educate children about potential dangers and the importance of staying away from construction sites.
Environmental protection measures
Construction activities can have significant environmental consequences if not effectively managed. For example, they may disturb natural habitats and ecosystems, leading to loss of biodiversity and disruption of natural processes.
Sediment runoff and pollution from construction sites can also contaminate water bodies, affecting water quality and aquatic life while dust and emissions from construction activities can degrade air quality, leading to respiratory issues and other health problems for nearby residents.
Without careful planning of a change in landscape, soil erosion can cause soil degradation, reduced soil fertility and loss of valuable topsoil.
Finally, construction-related pollutants and hazards can impact the health of nearby communities and workers if not adequately managed.
Measures to prevent soil erosion, dust control and sediment runoff
To protect the environment and the public from soil erosion, dust and sediment runoff, construction companies can implement various measures:
- Erosion Control Practices: Using silt fences, straw bales and erosion control blankets can stabilise exposed soil and prevent erosion.
- Stormwater Management: Constructing sediment ponds and installing sediment barriers can manage stormwater runoff.
- Vegetative Cover: Planting vegetation or establishing temporary vegetation cover on disturbed areas can help prevent soil erosion and stabilise the site.
- Dust Suppression: Applying water or dust suppressants to control dust emissions from construction activities, especially in dry and windy conditions, can keep airborne particles to a minimum.
- Stabilising Construction Access Points: Using stabilised construction entrances can prevent soil tracking onto public roads and nearby areas.
Importance of proper waste management and disposal practices
The construction industry generates a significant amount of waste. Proper waste management and waste disposal are crucial for a number of reasons, including public protection.
Hazardous waste needs proper handling and disposal to ensure it does not pose a risk to public health. Care should be taken to minimise pollution too. Correct waste management practices are important in the prevention of pollution from construction waste contaminating soil or reaching water bodies.
Legal consequences for non-compliance
Non-compliance with public safety regulations can bring significant legal ramifications for construction companies.
Construction companies that neglect public safety regulations may face fines and penalties. Regulatory authorities like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have the power to issue fines and penalties. The severity of these varies depending on the seriousness of the violation. They may also consider whether it is a first offence or if there is a history of non-compliance.
Serious breaches can lead to criminal prosecution of the company and its responsible individuals. This may result in fines, imprisonment or both.
Affected parties (injured workers, the public or property owners, for example) can also file civil liability claims, which can result in substantial financial settlements.
Construction companies, no matter how big or small, have an obligation to protect the public during projects and planned works. This could be from physical hazards but also from polluting hazards. Thankfully, the UK has stringent legal requirements that companies must follow and failure to follow these results in fines, penalties and even imprisonment.