Accident Prevention in Building Construction

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By Dr Moses Amweelo The construction industry is one the world’s major industries. In Namibia, the occupational accidents that occur in various undertakings are recorded according to the branch of economic activity. The highest number of fatalities was registered for government services, followed by the building construction, mining, fishing and transport sectors. Some of the accidents are fatal and others result in permanent disablement, whether complete or partial; but the great majority of accidents cause only temporary disability which, however, may last for several months. ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ A 64-year-old employee of Namibia Construction Ltd died in the 1st week of March 2006 after being hit by a concrete bucket at work (The Namibian, 14/03/2006). Every accident causes suffering to the victim; a considerable proportion also causes much anguish to his/her family; and many accidents – especially those resulting in death or permanent disability – may have a catastrophic effect on the family’s life. Moreover, all accidents occurring in building construction waste time and money. The Social Security Commission (SSC) is still paying heavily for accidents in terms of both human suffering and economic loss. Although some progress has been made, the question of safety in building construction remains a serious problem. Safety Policy in Building Construction Safe and healthy working conditions do not happen by chance. According to the Labour Act, the employer must consult with a workplace representative when defining enterprise policy, setting out the safety and health standards to be achieved. He/she must consult with the workplace representative in planning any alterations of work processes, work content or organization of work which may affect the health, safety or welfare of employees; and must allow the workplace safety representative to conduct inspections and investigations as described above. The safety policy should deal with the following matters: – Arrangements for instructions, training and information related to occupational safety and health on the site. Particular attention needs to be paid to key tasks, such as those of scaffolders and crane operators, whose mistakes can be especially dangerous to other workers. (The 64-year-old employee mentioned above had been operating a crane when the large bucket attached to it swung the wrong way and smashed into him); – Safe methods or systems of work for hazardous operations; – The workers carrying out these operations should be involved in their operations; – The duties responsibilities of supervisors and key workers; – Arrangements by which information on safety and health is to be made known; – Arrangements for setting up safety committees and the selection and control of subcontractors. Safety Organization The organizational structure of the safety system on the construction site must be formulated to suit the existing structure. Safety and health duties should be specifically assigned to certain persons. Some examples of duties which should be listed are: – Testing of lifting machinery such as cranes and goods hoists, and lifting gear such as ropes and shackles; – Inspection and rectification of access facilities such as scaffolds and ladders; – Inspection and cleaning of welfare facilities such as toilets, clothing accommodation and canteens. The improvement of safety, health and working environment conditions in Namibian building construction depends ultimately upon people working together, whether governments, employers or workers. Safety management involves the functions of planning, identifying problem areas, coordinating, controlling and directing the safety activities at the work site, all aimed at the prevention of accidents. Accident prevention is often misunderstood, for most people believe wrongly that the word “accident” is synonymous with “injury”. This assumes that no accident is of importance unless it results in an injury. Construction managers are obviously concerned with injuries to the workers, but their prime concern should be with the dangerous conditions that produced the injury with the “incident”, rather than the “injury”. On a construction site there are many more “incidents” than injuries. A dangerous act can be performed hundreds of times before it results in an injury, and it is to eliminate these potential dangers that managers’ efforts must be directed. They cannot afford to wait for human or material damage before doing anything. So safety management means applying safety measures before accidents happen (ILO, Safety, Health and welfare on construction site: A training manual Geneva, International Office, 1995). Safety Officer Every construction company shall appoint a safety officer. It is the safety officer’s duty to monitor that the company complies with its safety policy and the Labour Act and Regulations, and to evaluate the company’s performance in this regard. The safety officer should have direct access to the Executive Director of the company. His/her duties should include the following: – Familiarize him/herself with laws and regulations relating to construction safety (Regulations 243-256 of the Regulations on the Health and Safety of Employees at Work made under the Labour Act). – Ensure that actions are taken to improve the working conditions, on the basis of the above-mentioned investigations and workers’ reports concerning the absence of or defect in any equipment, protective device or other working condition endangering the workers on the site, as well as to participate in pre-site planning. Workers According to the Labour Act, the workers’ safety representatives are entitled to carry out inspections. These include regular inspections, investigations of accident and other dangerous occurrences, and other surveys of the working conditions on the construction site. Inspections should be carried out monthly at all places where employees are put to work. However, the employer and the site safety representative may agree, or an inspection may direct, that the inspections should be conducted at longer or shorter intervals. Safety Committee At the request of a site safety representative or, if there is no site safety representativea construction company shall establish a site safety committee of at least 10 employees. The safety committee must consist of equal numbers of representatives of the management and employees’ representatives. The safety officer and the site safety representative(s) must be members of the committee. The safety committee carrying out a site inspection raises the level of safety consciousness at the site. The duties carried out by an active safety committee will include: – Regular and frequent meetings to discuss the safety and health programme on site and to make recommendations to management; – Develop and maintain a programme for the implementation of that policy; – Investigate all accidents, dangerous occurrences and occupational diseases, keep a record of them and make recommendations aimed at preventing their occurrences in the future; – Assist with and follow up the processing of compensation for injured workers; – Ensure both implementation of occupational health services on site and that appropriate periodic medical tests are conducted; – Examine the occupational health and safety implications of new construction, equipment, substances and processes, or purpose-changes in existing construction, equipment, substances and processes; – Stop work that poses an immediate danger to workers and ensure that the risk is eliminated before the work continues. The Safety Committee shall also keep written records of inspections, meetings, etc., for a period of at least five (5) years.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Reporting of Construction Accidents Occupational accidents other than road traffic accidents are reported to the Factories Inspectorate, situated in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, for the purpose of establishing their causes in order to enable the Factories Inspectorate to work out appropriate measures for preventing recurrences in future. Reportable accidents are mostly those which disable a worker, preventing him/her from carrying out his/her normal work for more than three days. According to the Labour Act, the employer shall immediately notify the Factories Inspectorate, through the quickest means available – including by telephone, by fax or by E-mail – of all accidents causing loss of human life or serious injuries resulting in absence from work for three days or more( Reg. 22 of Labour Act, Form F5). If the construction company failsÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  to comply with any provision of the Labour Act, then site safety representatives, employees or a registered trade union to which the employee belongs are entitled to bring the complaint before the Labour court.