Eight ways to improve construction health and safety

Why 'safety first' should be practised by all industry stakeholders

Eight ways to improve construction health and safety

Construction has long been one of Canada’s most dangerous industries. With the amount of different tasks happening on a jobsite, and all that heavy machinery around, there are a number of hazards that employers and safety officers have to contend with.

According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), in 2018 there were 199 occupational fatalities in the construction sector. Though efforts are being made to improve safety in the industry, construction is typically top of the board when it comes to injury and fatality rates.

And while some of the risks may be inevitable, there are a number of things that OHS pros and employers can do to improve health and safety on construction sites to reduce unnecessary incidents.

Heavy equipment should be maintained. Having the right equipment on-site is obviously a must for any employer, whether primary contractor (or constructor), or sub-contractor. But it’s not just enough to invest in the equipment, you should be making sure that it is properly maintained. Does it need to be cleaned? Repaired? Replaced? These are things you should be keeping track of through regular inspections because equipment that isn’t up-to-date or is faulty can be deadly.

Jobsite safety must be the top priority. While “safety first” is a mantra often repeated on jobsites, it’s not enough to simply say those words. If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk. Safety needs to woven into every process at work, and communicated effectively with workers.

Read more: How do we level up construction safety?

Train workers properly. With the amount of different tasks on jobsites, there are a lot of different roles to be assigned. From working at heights to confined space safety, workers need to be given the proper training. Workers also need to trained on the equipment that they’re using. And this isn’t just a one-time thing, training needs to be refreshed when necessary, or complemented to ensure compliance with new regulations.

Make employees involved and invested. This relates back to the previous point on making safety a top priority. Employees will only be involved and invested in health and safety processes if they feel like their voices are being heard – and if the importance of OHS on jobsites is discussed (during toolbox talks for example). At the end of the day, workers on the frontlines know what works best for them, so safety officers shouldn’t be afraid to ask them for their input.

Read more: Construction director and officer liability from COVID-19 workplace exposure

Hold everyone accountable. Check in with the workers to ensure preventive measures are effective. As mentioned before, workers have the best grasp of what they need for their jobs. If you introduce safety measures without consulting with workers, they may not be adapted for the role, so workers won’t end up doing them. Worse, they could actually create more hazards for workers.

Practice good personal hygiene on the construction site. During the pandemic, we saw how important good hygiene was (e.g. washing hands, cleaning surfaces, etc.). Just because the pandemic is winding down, doesn’t mean that we should simply stop practicing good personal hygiene on-site. Outside of COVID, even common health issues such as colds or flus can have a negative impact on jobsite safety.

Plan for construction projects carefully to avoid and minimize hazards. Before anything, a risk assessment needs to be conducted to make sure that all hazards are accounted for, and all adequate controls are in place to eliminate or mitigate risks. Health and safety should always be front and centre when planning any project.