From rooftop projects to high-rise construction, any project that involves working off the ground greatly increases the risk of accidents and the severity of the injury that results from them. Fortunately, there are numerous practices and tools which can help to significantly reduce the risk of such accidents. We will present several of these practices and frameworks, describing how they can be used to your greatest benefit.
Why workplace safety is so critical
Construction work of any type is one of the most hazardous jobs on the planet. The combination of heavy equipment, machines, large amounts of heavy or dangerous materials and dangerous locations all add up to a scenario just begging for disaster to strike.
Unfortunately for many, disaster does strike on too regular of a basis. While some accidents are purely random and unavoidable, the vast majority of accidents are not. On the contrary, most workplace accidents are completely preventable. This only stands to make such incidents that much more tragic, as lives are changed, ruined or even lost for wholly avoidable reasons.
Main reason for workplace accidents
Studies have shown that the vast majority of preventable accidents occur due to inadequate training and insufficient resources regarding safety procedures. The more training regarding safety procedures and precautions that construction personnel has, the less likely they are to experience on the job accidents. Likewise, the more resources that construction sites have with regard to safety procedures and equipment, the more likely that site is to remain accident-free. However, when training is lax and safety resources are scarce, the chance for accidents increases exponentially. Not only will the number of accidents increase in these conditions, but the severity of the accidents themselves will increase.
The benefits of safety training and equipment
Proper training and resources help to mitigate the risk and severity of injuries to construction workers. It is therefore critical for anyone overseeing a construction operation of any type to ensure that the proper amount of training and equipment is made available to any and all personnel on the site. This will ensure that injuries, as well as being kept to a minimum in number, will also be kept to a minimum in severity. The ultimate gain from this is the reduction in lives lost due to accidents on the work site.
A great many accidents can cause serious damage to equipment and the site itself, resulting in large sums of money being needed for repairs and the like. Proper training will help to prevent damage to equipment, materials and the site as a whole. After all, while the safety of the crew is the paramount concern, the construction business is just that—a business. Thus, any accident or injury, as well as being measured in terms of human cost, can also be measured in terms of financial cost. Taking the extra time and effort to prevent workplace accidents will thus not only benefit the workers, but it will benefit the company’s bottom line as well.
Who's responsible for workplace safety?
The burden of responsibility for workplace safety does not rest squarely on the shoulders of the person in charge. While the head of any construction company is responsible for anything and everything that happens on the site, the fact is that all members of the construction team can share in ensuring that safety is made the number one priority. Supervisors can ensure that necessary materials are made available, both in terms of certified reference materials as well as safety equipment and the likes. Additionally, supervisors can make sure that safety meetings and even drills are held on a regular basis, guaranteeing that everyone is up to date on the latest safety procedures.
Perhaps the ultimate burden of responsibility lies with the rank and file of the construction crew. While instructional meetings and materials can educate a person to perform their job more safely, only the willingness to follow safety protocols will actually allow them to have any impact on the safety of the job site. Therefore, it is critical that a certain amount of oversight be given to each worker, ensuring that they are following the highest safety standards at all times. Any worker failing to adhere to those standards not only poses a threat to their own safety, but they pose a threat to the safety of others as well.
How Careful Planning Increases Safety
An axiom used often in the military is: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” While this is true of just about any scenario, it probably can best be applied to scenarios involving safety. After all, as mentioned earlier, the vast majority of accidents that occur on construction sites are completely preventable. The reason they still occur is in no small part due to a lack of careful planning before the first brick was laid or the first nail was hammered. The most successful construction teams in terms of safety and performance are those who take the extra time to thoroughly plan out all angles of the task at hand. Not only do these teams suffer fewer on-site accidents, but they also have a better overall reputation for the reliability of their work.
Needless to say, the higher a construction job goes, the more dangerous it is. Thus, working on roofs is one of the most dangerous and accident prone construction jobs there are. While you might expect that most accidents involving roof work occur on long jobs or complex jobs such as roof construction, it turns out that the opposite is true. A great many roof-related incidents happen on small jobs, usually requiring few workers and a minimal amount of time. In fact, jobs such as replacing roofing tiles are one of the biggest contributors to construction site accidents. The reason for this is that proper planning is all too often skipped due to the simple nature of the job at hand. Therefore, no matter how big or small the job may be, careful planning should always be step number one.
The first goal of any planning is Risk Assessment. Before a single person begins work, the safety of the roof itself should be ascertained. Any weaknesses or other dangers should be discovered and well noted, both on paper and verbally to all team members. Other variables to consider are the roof type, the angle of the roof slope, the height of the roof and the time the job is expected to take. After all, the longer a worker is on the roof, the longer they are exposed to danger.
Careful inspection before starting a project
Careful planning should also be given to the roof access itself. Whether you are using ladders or full-fledged scaffolding, the same attention to detail should be given. Things such as gaps between scaffolding and the roof need to be noted and addressed. All personnel needs to know where to be the most careful. Proper handholds should be available, no matter what kind of access you are using. Ladders should exceed the height of the roof by at least one meter, and scaffolds should have a safety railing to prevent falls.
The safety of any roof access equipment must begin from the ground up. All the safety railings and proper heights are for nothing if ladders aren’t properly secured or scaffolds aren’t properly anchored. Thus, before a single person ascends to their lofty job site, time and effort should be spent inspecting every detail of the ground safety of any roof access point.
Next, every element of the job, from the roof access to the tools used, to the roof itself, should be inspected for damage or wear. Any cables or ropes that are frayed could give way, causing materials to fall and potentially injure personnel below. Additionally, any weak joints in a ladder or scaffold could cause a person to lose footing and fall, causing serious injury or even death. Thus, every item, including the site itself, should be gone over with a fine tooth comb in order to find and eliminate any potential dangers.
Safety training prior to entering work site
Finally, training is just as important as any other element in the planning stage. In fact, it is at this time that training is most effective at preventing accidents. After all, once a person enters the work site, they become exposed to the dangers and risks inherent in the site itself. Thus, if they aren’t already trained on safety issues, then the chances of them being involved in an accident are exponentially higher. Take the time to make sure all workers know how to safely use any roofing access points, ladders and scaffolds alike. Additionally, make sure that everyone knows the right way to traverse the rooftop itself. Ensuring proper training in this area will go a long way to preventing the vast majority of roof work accidents.
Administrative Resources for Increasing Safety
The role of supervisors, overseers and other administrative staff in ensuring safe working conditions on any job site, let alone high-risk sites such as roofs, cannot be overstated. In fact, certain legal restrictions have been put in place to help guarantee that the highest of safety standards are followed while working in areas where the risk of falling more than 3 meters exists. The penalty for not following the legal guidelines can be severe, including heavy fines, withdrawal of permits from the company or even jail time. However, the greatest risk involved in not following the proper procedures during rooftop projects is the human cost involved in any accident. It is critical, therefore, that the administrative controls be followed as they are in the best interest of both the company and the workers.
Applying for a Permit to Work in Singapore
There are two main administrative resources to increase the safety levels of any work at heights job location. The first of these is what is called the Permit-To-Work (PTW)system. This system requires the company to apply for a permit before starting their project. A local government official known as the Safety Assessor (SA) is responsible for issuing this permit, but only after performing a careful inspection of the work site to ensure that all safety measures required for the permit are in place. This inspection takes place with the supervisor of the job, thus enabling the SA to raise any doubts or concerns in real time. Only when the SA is fully confident that all required safety precautions have been taken will the permit be issued, allowing the work to take place. Failure to meet any of the conditions will result in a delay of the permit being issued. Only when an inspection is 100% will the work be allowed.
Since the inspection has to be perfect, applications for a PTW should not be submitted until the site is considered completely prepared. This is not only the case with first-time permits, but it is also the case for extensions of existing permits. PTWs are only issued for a duration of 7 days. Thus, any work that requires a PTW, but which cannot be performed within 7 days, will require additional PTWs to extend the period of time until the project is completed. Each extension application will be treated as a first time application, meaning that the inspection will be conducted with scrutiny each and every time. Failure to meet the inspection’s requirements will result in delays in work, resulting in extended wages and equipment costs as well as the overall loss of time. Therefore it is critical to meet the requirements completely on every inspection.
Implementing Safe Work Procedure
The second administrative resource for ensuring safety on a high construction location is what is known as Safe Work Procedure (SWP). These are strictly internal, requiring no outside oversight or permissions. In short, the SWP of a company is gathered together and presented as part of Risk Assessment. These will include but are not limited to ensuring the proper inspection of sites for hazards, the proper issuance and use of PPE, placement of warning signs around any known danger areas, and the placement of safety equipment such as handrails, safety nets and the like. In short, the SWP is the basis of the safety standards that will guarantee that any risk of fall or injury due to high-level working conditions are reduced to an absolute minimum. While the SWP is not the same as the PTW, the fact is that they operate hand in hand. Unless effective SWP is in place, there will be no chance in acquiring any permits for any type of project.
Maintaining daily inspections
Daily inspections are required for maintaining a PTW for the duration of the job, or until the PTW expires. Likewise, daily inspections are necessary to ensure that all SWP are in place and achieving the desired results. While inspecting the same site day in and day out may seem to be a waste of time and resources, the simple truth is that when these inspections are skipped or ran through in a careless manner, accidents are almost guaranteed to take place. The significance of these inspections, therefore, is beyond measure. When done right, accidents and injuries are kept to an absolute minimum, meaning that workers are effectively protected from any unnecessary danger. Additionally, financial losses are kept to a minimum as well. Effective inspections can discover the potential for problems just before they occur. Equipment that is worn or damaged can be repaired or replaced before any serious incident causes harm to a person or the site in general. The money saved by preventing accidents more than makes up for the time and money spent on the inspections themselves.