Safety in Construction Sites

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“Everyone who is involved in the construction activity should shoulder the responsibility of identifying the potential hazards and make all efforts to eliminate them from the construction sites.” – R. R. Nair

1.0 INTRODUCTION:

Construction sites are dangerous places where injury or death or illness can cause to workers. These can happen due to electrocution, falling from height, injuries from tools, equipment and machines; being hit by moving construction vehicles, injuries from manual handling operations, illness due to hazardous substance such as dust, chemicals, .etc. Even a nail standing up from a discarded piece of wood can cause serious injury if trodden on in unsuitable shoes.

Statistics of accidents in the construction industry in India are scarce. The rate of accidents on construction industry is very high not only in India but also in many other countries including the developed. Statistics of UK, USA and some other countries indicate that the industry has a very high hazard potential and high incidence of fatal accidents. For example, the average yearly rate of accidents for 1000 worker in the construction industry in UK is approximately 4 times the corresponding average rate of all manufacturing industries. This article will focus on various aspects of safety in construction sites. However, it does not deal with the aspects relating to the use of personal protective equipment in construction sites, which will be dealt in a separate article.

2.0 Indian Scenario:
The construction is the second largest economic activity in India after agriculture. It has accounted for around 40% of the development investment, during the past 50 years. Around 16% of India’s working population depends on construction for its livelihood.

The Indian construction industry employs over 35 million people and creates assets worth over Rs.200 billion. Construction accounts for nearly 65% of the total investment in infrastructure. Investment in construction accounts for nearly 11% of India’s GDP. The market size of the construction industry for the 12th Five Year Plan period indicate that the aggregate output of the industry during the period 2012-13 to 2014-17 is likely to be 52.31 lakh crores.

The construction industry is expected to pick up further momentum during the 12th Five Year Plan. The plan aims at accelerating the process of implementation of the provisions of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment) and Conditions of Service Act 1996. Indian construction industry comprises about 200 firms in the corporate sector. In addition to these firms, there are about 1,20,000 Class A contractors registered with various government construction bodies. Also, there are thousands of small contractors, which compete for small jobs or work as subcontractors of prime or other contractors.

The National Crime Records Bureau, of the Government of India compute some data on the accidents reported in India for the construction industry. The data revealed by them for year 2012 & 2013 are given in Table below.

CAUSES OF DEATHS IN THE CONSTRUCTION SITES IN INDIA FOR YEAR 2012 & 2013
Sr. No. Causes of Deaths Total Number of Deaths % to Total Deaths
2012 2013 2012 2013
1 Electrocution 8750 10218 2.2% 2.6%
2 Falls 12319 12803 3.1% 3.2%
Fall from Height
Fall into Pit/Manhole, etc.
10567
1752
10822
1981
2.7%
0.4%
2.7%
0.5%
3 Fire (Short Circuit) 1439 1690 0.4% 0.5%

It may be seen from the above Table that “Falls” accounts for highest causes of deaths in construction sites i.e. 12803 deaths in 2013, which is about 3.2% of the total accidental deaths reported in India for the year 2013. It may also be seen from the above Table that during the year 2013, about 10218 persons died due to electrocution, which had shown an increase of 1468 deaths compared to the year 2012. During the same period about 1690 deaths occurred due to fire, which had caused due to short-circuits.

Safety in construction is a matter of concern in India. The construction sector is the most vulnerable segments of the unorganised labour in India. It is estimated that about 165 per 1000 workers get injured in the construction sector. The rate of fatal accidents in construction sector is 4 to 5 times that of the manufacturing sector.

A large number of construction workers are exposed to the risks of workplace accidents and occupational health problems such as manual handling, noise and vibrations, exposure to various hazardous chemicals in particular cement, asbestos, welding fumes, etc… Accidents and illness can be extremely costly for a construction firm. A worker who becomes ill or injured as a result to unlawful negligence can sue for compensation, which could turn into a significant amount, if it is proved as a serious injury or illness.

3.0 Indian Regulations:
There are a number of Indian regulations dealing with the working conditions of construction workers. The main Indian regulations are:

  1. Building & Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1996.
  2. Building & Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Central Rules, 1998.
  3. Building & Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.

These rules came into force on 19-11-1998. These rules apply to all buildings and other construction work relating to any establishment in which appropriate government is the Central Government. Some of the other statutory provisions/codes in force to take care of the working conditions of the construction workers are:

  1. The Fatal Accidents Act, 1885,
  2. The Factories Act, 1948,
  3. The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923,
  4. The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948,
  5. The Central Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970,
  6. The National Building Code of India, 2005

4.0 Site Preparations:
Preparation of a construction site is an important aspect which should focus on a good site layout, easy access to the site and easy movement of vehicles in the site.

4.1 Site Layout: A badly planned and untidy construction site can lead to many accidents at construction sites, which may arise from: (i) fall of materials, (ii) collision between the workers, (iii) plant or equipment. To avoid the above causes of accidents, a good layout of the site is a must. While preparing the site layout, at-most care should be taken to avoid overcrowding the site. Also enough space should be provided for the movement of men, material and construction equipment within the site.

4.2 Easy Access: The construction sites should have easy and safe access. In this respect, the following parameters should be taken into consideration:

  • Everyone should be able to get into the work site safely.
  • Edges of Scaffolds/Platforms from where people could fall are provided with double guard rails or other suitable edge protection.
  • Holes and pits are protected with clearly marked and fixed covers and barricades to prevent falls.
  • Site should be kept tidy and good housekeeping should be practiced.
  • Provide good/adequate lighting in all locations of the site.
  • The site should be fenced off from the public.

4.3 Movement of Vehicles: It is a common sight on the construction site that many vehicles (trucks, cranes, fork lifts, etc.) carrying construction materials move criss-cross on the construction site, which results in a number of accidents and mishaps. Construction sites often operates on ground, which is muddy and uneven, and where driver visibility is poor. People walking on the site are injured or killed by moving vehicles especially reversing ones. Many workers, particularly drivers and operators are killed by overturning vehicles. Hence, at-most care should be taken for the movement of vehicles on the construction sites. The following points should be taken into consideration, while moving the vehicles on the construction site:

  • Vehicles and pedestrians should be kept apart on site, i.e. separate them as much as possible using barriers.
  • Adequate clearance should be provided around vehicles.
  • As far as possible, avoid reversing the vehicles. It is better to use one-way system.
  • Vehicles used on the sites must have reversing alarms/sirens.

5.0 Site Operations:
The type of operations/activities carried out in a construction site are many (See Fig.01) and they vary from site to site. However, all of them should be carried out only with due regard to safe operations. Some of the routine work/operations carried out in construction sites are listed below:

  • Excavation Work
  • Scaffolding Work
  • Crane Operations
  • Hoisting Operations
  • Forklift Operations
  • Ladder Safety
  • Electrical Safety

Fig 01 - A typical view of a construction site – Courtesy: The Hindu
Fig 01 – A typical view of a construction site – Courtesy: The Hindu

5.1 Excavation Work: Excavation work is an important activity in the construction sites. However, many fatal accidents do occur in excavation work, if proper precautions are not taken. Many lives are lost being buried alive in the trenches. It should be remembered here that there is no safe ground that will not collapse and therefore, any trench sites can collapse without any warning.

  • All excavation work deeper than 1.25 meters must be shored or battered.
  • Excavation deeper than 2 meters must be guarded by rails or barriers.
  • Vehicles working, too close to the side of the trench or rubble piled on the sides may cause collapse and therefore at most care should be taken.
  • Vehicles tipping into the excavation work must use stop blocks, so as to avoid the collapse of the trench.
  • Make sure that the excavation work is inspected daily.
  • Make sure that you know where the position of underground pipes and electric cables are laid in the site, so that you will not hit them during the excavation work.

5.2 Scaffolding Work: Scaffolds are temporary structures of steel work, timber or bamboo. The criteria for their erection are the same as those for permanent structures. The strength of the scaffolding depends upon the combined strength of individual members. Failure of one or two of them can result in the collapse of the entire structure. Modern scaffolds are invariably made of steel tubes, pre-fabricated in convenient units.

They are safer and turn out good quality work. Of course, the steel scaffolds are too costly, but, it would be cheaper in the long run. In spite of the fact that the steel scaffolds are much safer, many of the smaller and medium size builders in India, neglect the safety aspects and prefer to use timber or bamboo scaffolds (See Fig.02) in order to cut the cost. In any case, while erecting the scaffolds, the workers should be forced to wear necessary safety belts with fall arrestors and helmets, so that the fall accidents can be avoided.

Fig 02 - A typical view of bamboo scaffolding used in Kolkota – Courtesy: Rana Banerjee
Fig 02 – A typical view of bamboo scaffolding used in Kolkota – Courtesy: Rana Banerjee

5.3 Crane Operations: Various type of cranes are used in construction sites, which includes (i) Portable Cranes (See Fig.03) (ii) Tower Cranes (Sig Fig.04). A number of accidents are reported in the use of cranes, and many of them could be averted by adopting safe methods of operations. Some of the methods to be adopted for safe crane operations are given below:

  • The weight of the load intended to be lifted by the crane must be carefully estimated.
  • The crane must be fitted with an automatic safe load indicator.
  • The crane must always work on a hard, level base.
  • The load must be properly fixed and secured.
  • The signal man must be trained to give clear signals.
  • The ropes, hooks, chains, slings, etc. used in the lifting operations, must be inspected regularly for their worn out.
  • When mobile cranes are used, care must be taken to prevent overturning of cranes.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

Fig 03 - Demonstration of a typical mobile crane in operation – Courtesy: AIMS Tech Management Institute
Fig 03 – Demonstration of a typical mobile crane in operation – Courtesy: AIMS Tech Management Institute

Fig 04 - A typical view of tower cranes – Courtesy: cwmag.com
Fig 04 – A typical view of tower cranes – Courtesy: cwmag.com

5.4 Hoisting Operations: Hoists are used to move heavy objects and equipment. The Fig. 05 shows various parts of hoists. As the hoists consists of various components, failure of any one component can lead to disastrous accidents. Therefore these components should be inspected daily.

Fig 05 - Parts of a hoist – Courtesy: disabilityworktools
Fig 05 – Parts of a hoist – Courtesy: disabilityworktools

The thumb rule is: if there is any doubt about the working conditions of a hoist, do not use it. The hoist inspections should cover the following aspects: (i) The hooks on all blocks, including snatch blocks, must have properly working safety latches, (ii) All hooks on hoisting equipment should be free of cracks and damage, (iii) The maximum load capacity for the hoist must be noted on the equipment, (iv) Electric cables and wiring should be intact and free of damages. When using hoists, some basic safety rules should be observed, which are given below:

  • Never walk, stand or work beneath a hoist.
  • Isolate hoisting area with barriers, guards and signs as appropriate.
  • Never exceed the capacity limits of your hoist.
  • Wear gloves, helmets and other personal protective equipment as appropriate, when working with hoists and cables.
  • Ensure that hoists are inspected regularly.
  • When the work is completed, always rig the hoist down and secure it.
  • When the load block or hoist is at floor level or its lowest point of travel, ensure that at least two turns of rope remain on the drum.
  • Be prepared to stop operations immediately of signalled by the safety watch or another person.
  • Ensure that the hoist is directly above a load before picking up. This keeps hoist from becoming stressed.
  • Picking up loads at odd angles may result in injury to people or damage to the hoist.
  • Do not pick up loads by running the cable through, over or around obstructions. These obstructions can find the cable or catch on the load and cause an accident.
  • Do not hoist load when any portions of the hoisting equipment within 6 feet of high-voltage electrical lines or equipment.
  • If you need to hoist near – voltage electrical lines or equipment, obtain clearance from your electrical supervisor first.

5.5 Fork Lift Operations: Fork Lifts are very commonly used in construction sites for movement of many construction materials and stacking them at heights. The Fig.06 shows a line diagram of a Fork Lift with various parts. While operating the Fork Lifts, the following general safety guidelines should be observed:

Fig 06 - Parts of a fork lift truck – Courtesy: wiki.vpa.mtu.edu
Fig 06 – Parts of a fork lift truck – Courtesy: wiki.vpa.mtu.edu

  • Do not walk, stand or work under the elevated portion of a fork lift even if it is not loaded.
  • Ensure that the fork lift has an overhead barriers to protect the operator from falling objects.
  • Do not allow riders on the fork lift.
  • Do not raise people on a fork lift.
  • Always work within the capacity limits of your fork lift.
  • Before modifying the operation or capacity limits of a fork lift, consult with the manufacturer.
  • Do not operate a fork lift in an area with hazardous concentrations of acetylene, butadiene, hydrogen, ethylene or diethyl ether, or other explosive environment.
  • Never lift a load while moving a fork lift. Wait until you are completely stopped before raising the mast.
  • Be sure, the top load sits squarely on the stack. Remember uneven load could topple the fork lift.
  • When you want to travel with loads, slightly lift the loads back to provide stability.
  • Make sure that you travel with loads at the proper height. A stable clearance height is usually 4 to 6 inches at the tips and 2 inches at the heels of the fork blades.
  • When preparing to leave the fork lift unattended, lower the mast, neutralise the controls, shut the power off, and set the brakes.
  • If you cannot see over the load, drive in reverse. Do not try to look around a load and drive forward.

5.6 Ladder Safety: Ladders are one of the most popular item used in the construction sites for working at heights. However, if not used safely, it can kill a lot of people. The Fig.07 & Fig.08 will depict the wrong and right way of using the ladders. The following safe methods should be adopted while operating ladders:

  • Always have a firm grip on the ladder and keep a good balance.
  • Never allow more than one person on a ladder.
  • Use tool belts or hand line to carry objects when you are climbing the ladder.
  • Do not lean out from the ladder in any direction.
  • If you have a fear of heights – don’t climb a ladder.
  • Do not allow others to work under a ladder in use.
  • Do not use a defective ladder.’

Fig 07 - Wrong way of using a ladder – Courtesy: eavestroughkits.com
Fig 07 – Wrong way of using a ladder – Courtesy: eavestroughkits.com

Fig 08 - Right way of using a ladder – Courtesy: eavestroughkits.com
Fig 08 – Right way of using a ladder – Courtesy: eavestroughkits.com

5.7 Electrical Safety: Electricity can cause great damage to both people working in the construction sites and property. Contact with the electric current can trigger other accidents, like falls from ladders or scaffolding. Electrical shocks or flashes can cause serious injuries such as burns. Electric shock may also cause the victim to stop breathing and nerve centres may be temporarily paralysed.

The heart beat may fluctuate or the heat rhythm may actually be interrupted, thus causing a stop in the circulation of blood throughout the body. Apart from human injuries like shock, burns or falls, another major hazard is the situation in which an electrical fire or explosion may occur. Fires and explosions generally cause extensive property & equipment damage. Electrical Fires often start when an overloaded circuit becomes overheated – igniting the insulation around the wires. If cords and cables are frayed or worn out, bare wires might touch each other, thus causing a short circuit that could spark a fire.

If the workers find a fault or malfunctioning piece of equipment, they should take it out of operation, and make the necessary arrangements to have the equipment repaired. Make sure that the workers at the construction site understand the importance of electrical safety and recognise, that abusing or misusing electrical equipment is an invitation to an accident. The workers should also make sure that the work area is safe and free from all electrical hazards. Provide necessary personal protective equipment in particular, electrical gloves & breathing apparatus.

6.0 Conclusion:
The construction is the second largest economic activity in India after agriculture. It contributes more than 5% of India’s GDP and about 78% to the gross capital formation. The construction sector is the most vulnerable segments of the unorganised labour in India. About 165 per 1000 workers get injured in the construction sites. The rate of fatal accidents in construction sector is 4 to 5 times that of the manufacturing sector. “Falls” accounts for highest causes of deaths, which is about 3.2% of the total accidental deaths reported in India for the year 2013.

A large number of workers are exposed to the risk of workplace accidents and occupational health problems in the constructions sites. Although there are a number of Indian regulations dealing with the working conditions of construction workers, their effectiveness are yet to be felt. No doubt that a worker who becomes ill or injured as a result of unlawful negligence can sue for compensation, which could turn into a significant amount, if it is proved as a serious injury or illness.

It is a fact that in spite of all the efforts taken by some of the elite construction companies and safety enforcement authorities, accidents and illness in the construction sites are still on the rise and lack of awareness was evident in many cases. Hence, more attention should be paid to arouse the safety awareness of construction workers. Above all, everyone who is involved in the construction activity should shoulder the responsibility of identifying the potential hazards and make all efforts to eliminate them from the construction sites. Thus the ‘mantra’ is that every job on the construction sites must be carried out with at-most safety.

7.0 References:

  1. CIS Information Sheet No. 02: The prevention of accidents due to sliding, vertical–lift and up-and-over doors. CIS – ILO, Geneva, 1962.
  2. CIS Information Sheet No. 12: Ladders. CIS – ILO, Geneva.
  3. CIS Information Sheet No. 16: Safety in the construction of reinforced concrete floors. CIS –ILO, Geneva, 1967.
  4. India – Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1996.
  5. India – Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Central Rules, 1998.
  6. India – Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996.
  7. India – National Building Code of India, 2005. BIS, New Delhi, 2005.
  8. India – National Crime Records Bureau: Accidental deaths & suicides in India, 2013. NCRB, New Delhi, 2014.
  9. International Labour Organisation: Safety, health and welfare in construction sites: A training manual. ILO, Geneva, 1999.
  10. Nair R.R. – Electrical hazards: Industrial Safety Review, October, 2012
  11. Nair R.R. – Personal protective equipment: Industrial Safety Review, September, 2013.
  12. UK, Department of Employment – Safety in the stacking of materials (Health and Safety at Work Series 40). HMSO, London, 1971.
  13. UK, Department of Employment – Safety in construction work: Excavations (Safety, Health and Welfare New Series No 6C). HMSO, London, 1967.
  14. UK, Department of Employment – Safety in construction work: Scaffolding (Safety, Health and Welfare New Series No 6D). HMSO, London, 1963.
  15. UK, Department of Employment – Safety in construction work: System Building (Safety, Health and Welfare New Series No 6F). HMSO, London, 1968.
  16. UK, Health and Safety Executive – Health & Safety Series Booklet – HS (G) 19: Safety in working with power operated mobile work platforms. HMSO, London, 1982.
  17. UK, Health and Safety Executive – Highly flammable materials on construction sites. HMSO, London, 1978.
  18. UK, Health & Safety Executive – Safety in working with lift trucks. HMSO, London, 1979.
  19. UK, Health and Safety Executive – Health and safety in construction. HMSO, London, 2006
  20. US, Department of Labour – Scaffolds. National Audio Visual Centre, Washington DC.
  21. Wikipedia – Construction industry of India, 2014

Mr. R. R. NairAbout Author
Mr. R. R. Nair has more than 50 years’ experience in Occupational Safety, Health & Fire Protection. He is author of 15 books and about 70 articles in various topics on Safety, Health and Environment. He has carried out more than 60 safety / fire safety audits in various industries, occupancies including high rise buildings.

 

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