Construction safety should be of higher priority for all Civil engineers, Structural engineers and all Site engineers. We all visit construction sites at some point in time and it is very important we give more time to manage construction safety.
I am sure, that so many accidents could have been avoided if the site safety aspects are planned, managed and followed more carefully.
Most structural consultants, Architects and Civil engineering consultants believe that they have no role in site safety related aspects. Many also believe that site safety is related to accidents occurring at site. In fact, all engineering consultants have a bigger role in planning and avoiding accidents. Of course, a responsibility to follow safety rules whenever they visit construction sites. Also note that site safety is also related health and environment aspects and not just limited to accidents.
In this blog, let us discuss things that consultants should do to plan and mitigate risks for others and themselves. Here I want to point out the importance of ourselves being safe not just others. We always tend to think, accident happens to others and not to ourselves. This false conception is a major reason for accidents at site. Also note that, consultants are not at site on a day-to-day basis at site and hence their understanding about safety issues and site hazards are lower compared to site engineers.
All consultants should identify risks associated with their work and then indicate it in the drawings initiated/originated by them. It can be in a dedicated area and in a box called SHE box. SHE stands for Safety, Health and Environment.
If you are a structural engineer and when you know that there is a cut out in the floor slab, it needs to be marked / clouded in the drawing and also indicated in the SHE boxes as a safety risk. Adequate and visible notes shall be provided in the drawing so that the risk is prominently highlighted. Doing this helps in two different ways.
1) Site engineers will get an additional notice about the risk as it is in the drawing and any visitor referring your drawing will also be informed and warned and they can take the needed safety precaution.
2) You or your team member visiting the site for checking will be informed and can notice your own notes and be informed about the risk and take precaution.
This SHE box should be introduced by all consultants associated with the project and not just structural engineers. MEP consultants and Architects also should identify the area of risks and highlight it in their drawings.
Also, if there is a usage of a hazardous chemical like an adhesive or a water proofing compound, that should be highlighted as a health hazard and even as an environmental hazard if that is the case. Proper method to handle the material and store and dispose unused balance or its package shall also be indicated or cross referred to manufacturers catalogue.
More importantly, adequate warning and communication shall be made to site engineers who are more subjected to risk. You as a consultant, should also observe and follow standard safety practices for your own safety.
STANDARD SAFETY PRACTICES
In addition to the SHE box, it is better if you ensure that your site has a safety in charge who is looking in to all aspects of safety though this may not be your responsibility. Also in smaller site, there may not be a safety in charge and in that case, the site engineer is responsible. Occasionally discuss standard practices at site.
All aspects related to concreting and props removal should be discussed more seriously as some safety aspects may directly affect the strength of structures as such.
Carry your drawings
Always carry your drawings with you related to the area where you are inspecting. You would have already identified some risks such as cut outs and level differences in your drawings. Referring drawings and SHE box should be your standard practice to avoid accidents and falls.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Always be ready with your PPE kit. Always wear your good quality helmet. Carry your personal one than hoping the site will have one for you. By having your own, you can always ensure quality and availability. Also ensure you wear it the right way.
Also use gloves and goggles if needed as per the risk estimated at your site. The point to note is that, accidents are accidents and it can occur any time. Safety practices need to be religiously followed in the correct manner.
Don’t use phones at site
We are so much used to use phones these days. Speaking on phone is a clear distraction and any absence of mind can cause fatal falls and trips. Avoid using phone in any forms when you are on inspection. Don’t click selfies or group pictures or try to send pictures or messages unless you are 100% sure you are really safe when doing it.
You will discuss so much on the mobile so that you may forget that you are at the edge of a sunshade or a cutout. Always do the calls after you finish inspection and in full presence of mind.
If you are using mobile as a torch or if you are just holding, remember you may not be able to support yourself with just one hand.
If your phone slips out of your hand, your spontaneous reflex may be to get hold of it and you may lose your balance and may have a fatal fall.
Before even climbing a ladder, ensure to check props n joists are intact and in place. The ladder shall always be firmly supported and fixed in place at bottom and top. One pole of the ladder should be above the slab by 1.5 m so that you can hold on to it while stepping on the form work. Ensure your wear the right cloths and shoes and equipment that will not hamper your movement or create any accidents. Ladder must be clean. All steps shall be tight and fall protection should be there on each step.
Say NO to risk
If you feel the site is not safe refuse to inspect. It is ok to say no and visit again. Your life is more important. If you see water stagnated or a loose and steep ladder or any thing that is risky, just walk away. You need to respect your safety.
Don’t be alone
Don’t go to a risky area alone even if it is for a short inspection. You need to seek help when needed. It is not bad to have a person accompany you to risky area so that in case of any accident there is quick help.
Do not crowd near a hazardous area. This could be an edge of a slab or a cut out or any other hazardous area like that of a lift pit or a place where machines are used.
Respect your age and condition
Understand that regaining balance reduces as you age. So, the best thing to do is to ensure you don’t lose balance.
Researches have shown that balance begins to decline as you age. If you are above 50, surely you should be mindful of this and take extra precautionary measures.
In case you have medical conditions that leads to reduced mobility or diseases or even a fear of heights, respect your condition and take necessary precautions. You should hire competent people for inspections if you are not 100% fit to do it.
Educate with safety aspects
All consultants should educate themselves about risk and safety aspects. There should always be a communication with the site team to understand the risks and safety measures. It not just ensures safety at site; we will also be educating ourselves about the risk and mitigation. In addition to speaking to construction and safety professionals and learning from them, we can also enroll in courses to understand more about it.
In spite of taking all precautions, accident can occur and sometimes serious accidents do occur. In case of such an unfortunate situation, we need to be able to have funds for treatment. Consultants and engineers should cover themselves with a life insurance and also with personal accident policies. These policies shall be in addition to any employer’s policy. Also note that normal policies do not cover accidents and partial and permanent disabilities. It is very important to cover disabilities. Consult a good fee only financial planner for this requirement.
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As sites are flooded with non-skilled workers without any basic knowledge, they may be setting hundreds of traps in every form they create. We should be more careful than usual in educating them and also identifying risks and mitigating.
A consultant is generally not so mindful about safety during inspections and this apathy should change. We should take safety very seriously and adhere to standard practices.
We should discuss safety matters more frequently and also take it up with authorities to ensure site contractors and builders stringently follows the standards. Government also should fix the responsibility of accidents and take actions against defaulters. We also should cover ourselves with adequate insurance so that in case of any accident, we do have enough money for our own treatment.