Simple guidelines to ensure workplace safety in the construction industry.
There are over 2.3 million victims of fatal occupational accidents or illnesses each year worldwide. While it is estimated that there 340 million workplace accidents annually, this number is believed to be underreported. The construction industry claims a huge chunk of the cases.
There is a wide range of occupational health risks a worker could face from wet floors to equipment mishaps to hazardous chemicals. In construction, there are multiple risks involved each day on the job. Workers could be dealing with asbestos, extreme temperatures, perilous fumes, sharp tools and machinery, and deadly falls.
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations 2017 and Work Health and Safety Act defined requirements for workplace safety including qualifications or duties for roles dedicated to ensuring adherence to the regulatory conditions. In Australia, OHS compliance is enforced and monitored by Safe Work Australia and each state government. Consequences of failed compliance may vary from state to state but often include hefty financial penalties and operational suspensions.
With the pandemic we’re facing globally, more attention to workplace safety is more needed than ever. Workplace safety is crucial not only for the ethical obligations to your employees but also for ensuring operational and financial continuity of your business.
OHS Requirements Employers Must Implement
The applicable requirements may differ based on the location and nature of the operations. However, on the high level, the employers must:
- Provide a safe system of installing, operating and maintaining plant, equipment and substances
- Assess and minimise potential risks to health
- Ensure adequate space and facilities are in place to mitigate risks (e.g. lockers, first aid, PPE, etc.)
- Provide proper training to workers and oversight of the day to day operations handling risks
- Report any incidents to the proper authorities
- Properly segregate and mark risky areas for workers and non-workers
The employees can report safety concerns to the authorities in which case OHS officers will launch investigations to confirm compliance.
Employee Qualifications Required for Certain Duties
Based on duties involved, the workers carrying out those duties may need to hold proper licenses or certifications to ensure safety. Both employer and employees could be found responsible if unqualified employees carry out duties or operate machines. This is so that the handling of risky equipment and tasks are conducted by those with proper knowledge for the safety of themselves, their coworkers and passerbys.
The licensing requirements often depend on the types of machines in use and working conditions such as working at heights inherent in the nature of the operations. For many construction duties, many of the activities will be high-risk work.
Thus, ensuring all relevant roles have high-risk work licence will be a critical portion of being OHS-compliant.
Resources Available for Guidance
Safe Work Australia provide guidance materials on various topics to help employers practically apply safety laws and regulations.
There are also private entities such as OHS Safety First that advise employers and help write risk mitigation plans. You can also hire OHS safety-trained with proper education as consultants to help set up the right processes. The investment might be worth it if you consider how hefty the fines for violation can be up to $3 million and even jail time.
Regular checks and audits are highly recommended to minimise the risk of missing something. There are also digital solutions available to help you keep track of your assessments, document processes, and engage employees on safety concerns and policies. As employers, you want it to be clearly documented and verified that you have taken every step to ensure safety and eliminate or minimise risks. This helps cover your bases and protect you against liability.