Construction site risks
About construction site risks
Construction sites are some of the most dangerous workplaces on the plant, with thousands of injuries and too many fatalities taking place every year.
Construction sites are inherently dangerous places; hundreds of moving pieces, large machinery and equipment, power tools, open trenches and many many more hazards are a constant risk and constant threat.
Some construction site risks are very well known, while others are more subtle, but knowing your construction site risks well is one of the best ways to prepare for, control and ultimately mitigate the chance of them turning into dreaded incidents and issues.
Construction site risks which become incidents can have dramatic consequences for workers, projects and companies.
So what are some of the most notable construction site risks - and how can we best control and manage them?
What are the most common construction site risks?
Utilities - One of the major hazards associated with many construction activities including excavation are utilities. Utilities and services like gas and electricity are incredibly useful to all of us, but they are also highly dangerous and highly explosive.
Processes like service locating and potholing are designed to mitigate the risk of catastrophic hits and issues.
Unsuitable equipment and materials - The construction industry, like most industries, has benefitted massively from new equipment, materials and technologies. But while they can save mountains of time and really ease the physical burden of work, they can also pose a threat when not used and managed properly.
The most common source of construction site risk when it comes to equipment and materials is using unsuitable equipment and materials which weren't designed for this job or this process.
Damage to property - There are many different types of construction site risks including safety risks, environmental risks, commercial risk and even stakeholder risk. One of the construction site risks which spans across many different types of risk is damage to property. Damage to property on a construction site can occur to buildings and property around the site from deliveries and similar, it can happen to the pre-existing structure, or it can happen to recently completed works as other lots or areas are worked on.
Damage to property can be an expensive construction site risk, and it's also really problematic when it occurs to surrounding properties, roads and the community in general. Maintaining good dilapidation records and practices is crucial for almost all companies and this topic.
Accidents and incidents - Safety risks are the most common result of accidents and incidents on construction sites, but other accidents and incidents can include environmental spills, drastic weather disturbances and more.
Avoiding accidents and incidents is one of the aims of the construction game, but it's extremely difficult. Most of the time, the best option companies have is not eliminating accidents and incidents but ensuring they have the right systems and processes in place to respond to these issues quickly.
Site access - Site access is a construction site risk for workers and the public. Ensuring that the right people (only) can get in and out of site at the right time is critically important to overall site safety.
Security - Security is a risk for construction sites just like all properties and business. Construction projects and companies need to keep their sites and offices secure to keep their goods and services secure, as well as keep people who shouldn't be on site safe as well.
Poor conduct and negligence - The construction site risk which every company wants to eliminate is poor conduct and negligence. Issues which arise from bad conduct and negligence can be prevented, which makes them all the more painful.
There is a pretty broad spectrum of poor conduct and negligence ranging from not following a strict procedure perfectly to really mucking around and being silly. One of the strongest allies companies have for battling this construction site risk is building a strong and positive culture whereby all workers feel obligated to perform work properly and safely at all times.
Chemicals - Chemicals and hazardous materials are commonly used on construction sites to aid in work. While powerful and helpful agents, they can of course be very risky when not handled or respected properly.
Ensuring that all chemicals are labelled documented through material safety data sheets and tracked properly and that the right people with the right PPE are moving and managing these chemicals is the easiest way to keep chemicals where they are safe.
Other stakeholders - Annoying or disturbing other stakeholders like the community is a constant risk on all construction sites. Natural byproducts of many construction projects like noise and vibration can cause serious consequences for other stakeholders not on site - so they must be properly managed and prioritised.
Annoying the wrong stakeholder can cost the project time and a company money.
Poor safety procedures - Safety doesn't just 'happen' on construction sites, it requires a lot of conscious thought and effort. The companies with the best safety records and outcomes are often simply the companies with the best safety procedures.
Once again, there is a pretty broad spectrum of poor safety procedures ranging from a small procedural miss or non-documentation to having almost no safety procedures at all.
Inexperienced workforce - As we have mentioned, construction sites are dangerous places, but they become infinitely more dangerous when workers are inexperienced in the hazards on site as well as the works which they are doing.
In saying this, an experienced workforce can be a dangerous thing too, as workers and management become complacent because of their experience.
Lack of training - A lack of training goes hand in hand with the above construction site risk.
Companies and projects work very hard to ensure that every worker is adequately trained through formal training, site inductions as well as more informal chats and lessons such as toolbox talks.
Much of this training of course centres around a specific trade or task, while the rest is more site specific and general in nature.
Lack of resources - The main reason that a lack of resources is a construction site risk is because a lack of resources can lead to rushed work, and unsupervised work. Many construction jobs and tasks benefit from the input and oversight of multiple people, and when these people aren't available or don't exist, more accidents typically happen.
Poor communication - Not as avoidable as poor conduct and negligence but equally painful is when issues arise from poor communication.
Poor communication can arise between two people who both work on site, or in a lack of communication (or communication speed) from the office to the site or vice versa.
Having the right communication tools and technologies in place can have a dramatic impact on the speed and quality of communication between internal and external parties on construction sites.
Prolonged exposure - The most obvious construction site risks are the ones which happen and disturb quickly, but many of the most damaging construction site risks are those which occur slowly and have damaging effects over time.
prolonged exposure to noise, vibrations, sun, dust and more byproducts of construction can all pose a very real threat to workers and other stakeholders.
Working at height - In addition to the macro level construction site risks we have talked about above, there are also some very specific activity risks associated with working on construction sites that many (or most) workers are exposed to.
One of the most common and damaging construction site risks is working at heights, and it's one which governments, authorities, companies and workers are always looking to improve.
Working at heights permits and SWMS are two of the most common mitigation tools for these activities.
Slips, trips and falls - Less tragic than falls from heights but very common and problematic on construction sites are slips, trips and falls. Slips, trips and falls result in many injuries and thousands of lost productivity hours for projects.
While all of these types of incidents will never be eliminated entirely, keeping sites clean and clear is the best and easiest way to mitigate this risk.
Manual handling - Another one of the massive construction site risks which can fly under the radar given people's comfortability with it is manual handling. Construction sites almost always involve a lot of moving and managing materials, tools and other objects. Many times, these movements require manual labour and manual handling, and when not done properly, people can easily get hurt, injured and even disabled.
Asbestos - As you can imagine, we could go on and on about activity and site specific risks, but the last one we will touch on here is asbestos. Asbestos isn't involved or encountered on every construction site, but it can rear its head at any time. Asbestos safety is a big topic like many other safety issues, and it is constantly top of mind for companies, projects, authorities and of course workers.
What are some of the best ways to manage these site risks?
We have drip-fed many of the micro-level strategies associated with most of the above construction site risks as we have cycled through them, but there are some high level tips and strategies which companies can employ to reduce risk across all of their construction sites.
Some of the key changes companies can make are:
Increase or improve training
A couple of the above construction site risks which compound risk across almost every part of a construction site are a lack of experience and lack of training.
These two risks increase the risks of unsuitable equipment, manual handling injuries, poor conduct and negligence and more.
Increasing or improving training doesn't have to be an incredibly formal or expensive process. Improving small things such as pre-starts and toolbox talks can have a big impact on how well prepared workers are to conduct their works and manage themselves and others on a construction site.
Build a better culture
Culture isn't just about making people love where they work or making them feel more happy, a good culture can have a profound impact on performance too.
A solid culture where safety is pushed by management and pulled by workers can increase the likelihood of people reporting hazards and incidents; a culture where other stakeholders are treated with respect results in less noise complaints before work should start etc. and a culture whereby people feel like they should perform well at all times reduces poor conduct and negligence.
A good and safe work culture can have a big impact across all of the above construction site risks.
Implement better tools and systems
And finally, many of the issues and risks which are common on construction sites are caused from less than perfect documentation, processes and communication.
While none of these processes will ever be bulletproof or perfect, replacing clunky paper, PDFs excel sheets and emails back and forth with real-time softwares is a great and easy place to drastically improve your current workflows.
Most of these softwares today can be tried and used for free, and then easily upgraded as you move more of your processes across to a digital and automated format.
Having a smart information management system is the best way to improve how information moves and how risk is communicated on your construction sites.
Über Lance Hodgson
Lance is VP of Marketing at Sitemate. His aim is to bring awareness to a brighter future for the Built World where industrial workers and companies work smarter.