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How Safe is Your Work Site?

“Statistics indicate that fatal accidents in construction (on site) are three times more likely than in the manufacturing sector (off site).”

Are you and your employees working in a safe environment?

Working safely is always of prime importance, whether in an open or confined situation, as new build or retrofit or for commercial, civil workplace or housing construction.

The risk of a fatal accident, indeed all accidents should be minimised at all times. The four fatal injuries that contribute to most fatalities in the construction industry globally are derived from falls, being caught between objects, electrocutions and being struck by objects.

The Australian Government Construction Work Code of Practice outlines how a person managing risks associated with construction work should, amongst other procedures, try to eliminate these risks, as far as is reasonably practicable.

As construction complexity increases, new technology is introduced, and new safety considerations are raised.

One way to cut through these issues and reduce certain types of risks is to consider off site pre-fabrication.

Where off site pre-fabrication is employed, reduced site traffic (fewer people working in and around each other) leads to a safer working environment with reduced risk of fatal or non-fatal injury. Day to day on site construction health and safety can be improved which is arguably its most important benefit.

It is also understood that whilst pre-fabrication offers many opportunities to directly improve project safety, its use also encourages contractor involvement in projects prior to construction starting, a key consideration for improving safety. Benefits of pre-fabrication are wide reaching, benefitting contractors’ employees and partners as well as the general public.

Controlled off-site pre-fabrication is carried out in a clutter-free safe dry working environment allowing anything that needs to be done at height to be done in factory conditions on platforms under correct supervision and independent of prevailing weather conditions and related hazards. It allows components and materials to be supplied only where needed and reduces the need for hazardous on-site handling and associated trip risks.

A safe workplace is more easily achieved when all involved communicate amongst themselves to identify hazards and risks, discuss health and safety issues, and collaborate to find solutions. If there are less workers on site the risk of miscommunication or lack of communication rapidly diminishes.

Experienced workers will find physical demands less stressful and noisy when in a controlled factory environment than on floors, step ladders or scaffolds on site and this improves their overall physical health.

An increasing interest in pre-fabrication makes the present time opportune for evaluating the use of safety programs in the construction industry. Whilst the benefit of improved on site health and safety from pre-fabrication is highly desirable, it should be ensured that any on site risk is not transferred off site to a factory or somewhere between the two.

Sarah Bachmann, CEO of the National Precast Concrete Association recently wrote,

‘Taking work off site and into factories achieves improved safety outcomes and enables better health and safety control. Level, secure work surfaces are much more achievable in a confined purpose-built factory than on site as construction is happening, and with work being done off site in a factory, construction sites are less cluttered and inherently safer.’

A safer workplace equals greater productivity. Of course, not all methods of construction can utilise off site manufacture. But in the instances where this is possible, it’s always worth having another look at the safety benefits of pre-fabrication.

Author: Mary Bon RIBA for SBS Group Vic.