When we think about the hazards that construction work presents and the consequences for not properly managing those hazards, we commonly think of minor injuries and come to terms that a life in the construction industry will likely carry with it minor cuts and bruises every now and then, but we seldom stop to think about the more serious consequences that no one contemplates, such as death or a lifetime in a wheelchair.
It is no surprise that workers who have been seriously injured in the past or know of someone who has been seriously injured or killed tend to award more attention to safety measures than those who have never come face to face with a workplace accident.
An accident which happened in Swindon in the UK in 2011 is an example of the severe and unforeseen consequences of a lack of safety on construction sites. The companies involved,Wates Construction Ltd and Tego Roofing Ltd were prosecuted and fined after one employee fell through a waterproof membrane into an unguarded opening on a major development site, resulting in his paralysation.
The man fell more than 4 metres down while conducting metalwork in preparation for the installation of a vent in a roof on the new development. He subsequently tumbled through the hole where the vent was to be placed.
Upon investigation it was discovered that the scaffolding beneath the opening was removed and the scaffold boards placed over the opening were removed in order for the waterproof membrane to be placed, therefore leaving no safety mechanism in the event of a fall.
The following excerpt from PPConstructionSafety.com highlights what happened:
The court was also told:
RAMS – were unsuitable and insufficient (failed to refer to the installation for the vent);
Confusion – surrounded who was the site supervisor when the incident occurred and,
Lack of action – manager observed persons near opening but did take action.
HSE established that Tego Roofing failed to provide adequate supervision or instruction to its employees and Wates Construction failed to plan, manage and monitor the work and did not ensure there was a risk assessment in place.
Incidents such as this one occur on a daily basis, all it takes is a momentary lapse of judgement and a worker can be rendered paralysed or worse, dead. The worker involved in this case was lucky to escape with his life, however it will never be the same again. In addition to his pain and suffering, his employability has been drastically altered and the field of his expertise is no longer within his reach, if he is ever able to work again.
Hopefully this incident encourages other employers and contractors to implement the necessary safety plans especially when work from heights is being undertaken, to ensure employee safety.
This principal contractor failed to plan, manage and monitor work processes on the site and also failed to implement risk assessments, all of which played a role in the sad accident. Another thing this incident highlights is the need for employers to ensure that work is being adequately supervised on site and that they implement a safe system of work as per their mandatory duties according to WH&S law.
In England falls from heights are the number one cause of fatalities in the construction industry as it is in Oz. In the UK in 2012 more than 6300 workers were seriously injured due to falling while working from a height, highlighting the importance of good planning and supervision on site.