Improving construction site safety

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Falls from height remain the most common cause of fatality for those working in the construction sector in the UK, while slips and trips remain one of the most common causes of major injury. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers helpful advice and practical guidance on the measures that can be taken on construction sites to avoid these preventable incidents.

In the construction sector alone, there were ten fatalities and 1,764 major injuries caused by slips trips and falls from height across 2008-2009. A further 2,156 of these types of incidents resulted in workers having to take more than three days off work. Combined, the cost to society of all slip, trip and fall incidents in all workplaces is around £800 million per year − costs which can be avoided if the correct health and safety measures are in place.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched the latest phase of its ‘Shattered Lives’ campaign in a bid to encourage duty holders to do more to prevent these types of incidents from happening. Failing to manage risks effectively can shatter lives, leaving workers and their families to pick up the pieces and businesses paying a heavy price.

Best practice

The simplest, yet often most effective method of minimising slips, trips and falls is to keep the site in good order and work areas as tidy as possible while work is being carried out. Ensure there are separate pedestrian and vehicle traffic routes on site and that these are level, stoned up if muddy, and gritted when icy.

Planning deliveries to minimise the amount of materials on site and ensuring there are designated storage areas will contribute significantly to keeping a site in order; as will clear arrangements for the removal of waste and a reporting system for any order problems which may occur.

Making small, simple changes during bad weather can make construction sites significantly safer for workers. In icy, windy or wet conditions, ensure that work at height is not carried out if it is likely to compromise the health and safety of workers. Where possible, access equipment should not be used in wet weather; and it is important to check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific advice. Moreover, saturated or uneven surfaces can compromise stability of access equipment – workers should always check that the surface is able to bear the load placed on it.

Falls from scaffolding are a major cause of accidents in the construction industry. To safeguard workers on site, ensure that scaffold platforms have suitable edge protection (in the form of double guardrails and toe boards at every edge) to prevent people and materials from falling.

Working platforms should also be fully boarded, with no gaps through which a person could fall and scaffolding should be regularly inspected. Overlapping of scaffold boards should be avoided to prevent people tripping and falling over the uneven surface. Effective barriers or warning notices should be in place to stop people using incomplete scaffolding. If anything is out of place or damaged, bosses should advise workers to report it immediately – a simple yet effective way of keeping on top of health and safety.


Working on roofs and Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWP), can also present risks. To prevent falls from roofs, make sure there is always a safe route onto the roof, for example, by using a general access scaffold with secured ladder or stair tower. Always ensure there is edge protection to all elevations to prevent people or materials falling and avoid tiling work in wet or icy weather.

When using a MEWP, all work should be properly planned out, ensuring that the correct MEWP has been chosen for the job and the operator is fully trained. The MEWP should have an emergency stop at ground level and the work platform should have suitable barriers, such as guard rails and toe boards. Also, wearing personal fall protection such as harnesses and short work-restraint lanyards should be considered when using a boom-type MEWP.

Getting the know-how

Effective training in health and safety at the start of a career will embed good practice and awareness of risks. This will go a long way towards improving safety across the industry.

To help ensure this happens, the National Construction College (NCC), which is the largest construction training provider in Europe, provides a range of training to more than 30,000 learners each year across its seven sites. Health and safety is a key part of the training delivered by the college, which equips both new students and those already working within the industry with the ability to recognise dangers in the workplace and know how best to avoid them.

Meanwhile, to combat preventable slips, trips and falls from height, the HSE has launched a new website:, which includes free e-learning tools; the Slips and Trips E-learning Package (STEP) and the Work at height Access Equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT).

NG Bailey

Buildings services and systems providers NG Bailey has been developing installation techniques and strategies to reduce the risks associated with working at height.

In the four years the company has been working on the St Helens and Knowsley PFI Hospitals scheme there have been no such incidents despite the size and complexity of the project. This can be attributed to a new way of working involving Off-Site Manufacturing (OSM) techniques.

To manage the risks posed by the significant amount of mechanical and electrical installation work that was needed at height, the associated manual handling issues and the potential for slips, trips and falls, the project team looked at many different options and decided upon a modular system.

NG Bailey designed a system whereby sections of cable containment and pipe work are assembled together with their associated support systems in a box frame. These modules are then fitted with the aid of mechanical straddle stackers to lift and support them while they are being fixed to the structure of the building. Work is then undertaken to connect the services on these modular segments together and install the associated wiring onto the pre-fitted cable containment systems.

The benefit of this type of module system is that it eliminates the need for workers to install individual components to the building structure thereby reducing the need for many repeated manual handling operations. The overall result was that the workers were able to dramatically reduce the time spent working at height and, therefore, greatly reduce all associated risks.

David Lynch, safety health environment and quality manager for NG Bailey, said: “The box frame module concept totally changed the way we worked at height on the project making it far safer for all concerned as well as increasing the workers’ productivity.

“The fact that there have been no incidents relating to working at height demonstrates the success of using an OSM technique.” By putting these simple and cost-effective measures in place, NG Bailey was able to significantly reduce slip, trip and fall incidents.


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