Controlling the Risks associated with Construction Hazards

Coming to terms with construction site hazards and controlling the risks associated with them is as important to the project as any other aspect of the construction process, not only because it impacts the productivity on site but also because workers are the ones left most vulnerable. An incident which happened on a Vancouver site is an example of what can happen when the risks are not controlled.

A man suffered minor injuries, while another had to be rescued from a construction crane after the crane’s cable brushed a power line on Thursday morning last week.

This excerpt from an article on explains what happened:

1The crane operator was removing a wooden form from a commercial high-rise construction site on West Broadway when his machine’s cable came into contact with a power line, a WorkSafe BC spokeswoman said.


That resulted in an explosion and fire, according to witnesses. Crews shut down power in the area and rescued the crane’s operator, who was trapped high up in the machine’s cab for some time.


A worker on the ground holding the wooden form was given a jolt and rushed to hospital with non-serious injuries, though he was alert and walking shortly after the incident, according to WorkSafe BC. The man has since been released.


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Whenever a hazard is identified the next step is ensuring that a process of assessment occurs in order to thereafter implement measures to either eliminate or minimise the risk they pose to workers.

In this regard we use a process called the Hierarchy of Control. According to this Hierarchy of Control, hazards should be dealt with in the following manner,

  1. Elimination. This is the best and preferred option. Elimination completely removes the hazard and is the ideal control solution. An example would be if a hazardous chemical was being used, completely removing it and changing the process so that such a chemical is not necessary.
  2. Substitution. Substituting the hazard with something less hazardous. Substitution is where a hazard is replaced by a less hazardous alternative. An example of this would be instead of using a hazardous item of plant or equipment, substituting it for a less hazardous item that serves the same purpose.
  3. Isolation. If elimination and substitution aren’t possible then the hazard must be isolated to minimise the risk it poses to workers on site. Isolation involves separating the hazard from people by the use of physical barriers to keep the hazard enclosed. For example implementing a fully automated process rather than a manual one which would have presented a risk.
  4. Engineering. Engineering controls should be implemented to minimise the risk further.
  5. Administrative. Administrative controls should be planned after engineering controls in case the previous attempts are not effective. This is when work practices are introduced which reduce risk by limiting the exposure to the worker from the hazard. For example placing warning signs around the hazard.
  6. Personal Protective Equipment. PPE offer the least protection and should be the last resort when dealing with a hazard.

Control measures which make the workplace safe are likely to be more effective than measures which protect employees from a hazardous worksite, in other words eliminating the hazards altogether is always better than just protecting workers against them.

That is why the Hierarchy of Control is the most effective way of dealing with hazards. Measures from the top of the hierarchy give better results and should be adopted wherever possible. Measures from the bottom of the hierarchy are more difficult to maintain and should be regarded as interim measures until preferred ones can be implemented and as a last resort.