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5 Ways to Ensure you are Protecting the Public During Construction Projects

Date: 15th February 2024 Building & LandscapingGround Protection

Construction sites inherently involve unavoidable risks, requiring the use of heavy machinery, excavation, and scaffolding to complete projects. The Health and Safety Executive reports that 20% of annual worker fatalities occur in the construction industry. Information surrounding the dangers to the public, however, are often overlooked, with limited data on incidents, injuries, and fatalities. Despite the scarcity of information, it does not negate the existence of risks or past accidents. Legal frameworks, nevertheless, dictate public protection in construction.

This blog discusses five key approaches to protecting the public during construction projects. 

Tailored protection

Diverse demographics require distinct protection methods, each crucial in its own right. Children, fascinated by trucks and diggers, demand strong safety measures such as effective barriers on entrances and clear warning signs to prevent accidents. People with disabilities and the elderly, often with reduced mobility, require safe walking paths without trip hazards. 

The general public, exposed to falling objects and changes in traffic flow and diversions, require good site management with clear signs and traffic controls. 

Visitors, such as clients, inspectors, or delivery personnel not directly involved in the construction work, might not know the site layout and potential dangers. Proper site induction and guidance are imperative, offering visitors information on safety precautions and ensuring their well-being during their time on the construction site.

What are the legal requirements for construction safety?

According to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations), employees have a duty of care to ensure health, safety and welfare of both employees and the public. The CDM regulations emphasises the role of clients, designers, principal contractors, contracts and workers in integrating safety measures into the design and planning of construction projects.

Serious breaches can lead to criminal prosecution, resulting in; fines, imprisonment, or both for the company and responsible individuals. Additionally, affected parties, such as injured workers or the public, can pursue civil liability claims, potentially leading to significant financial settlements.

Here are the 5 key ways to ensure the public is protected from harm during construction projects:

  • Site Risk Assessment and training:

Employers and contractors must assess and manage risks on construction sites, updating these assessments regularly. Workers need to be skilled and well-trained for their tasks, with strict policies in place.

Construction companies go beyond physical safety, conducting regular risk assessments, encouraging workers to report hazards, and developing emergency response plans for various scenarios like accidents and fires. 

  • Ensuring quality equipment is secure 

A critical step is investing in high-quality equipment and machinery instead of opting for low-cost, dysfunctional alternatives. Companies may initially save money, but the long-term consequences of such decisions can be costly.

All equipment comes with manufacturer-provided instructions that must be strictly followed. Handling machinery without consulting these instructions is irresponsible and could lead to potential harm, as employees might lose control.

  • Site access and egress

Construction sites must maintain safe, controlled access and egress points to prevent unauthorised entry and safeguard the public from potential hazards. During non-working hours, it is essential to secure the site using fencing, barriers, and locked gates. 

Access control measures should be implemented to ensure that only authorised personnel with proper training and personal protective equipment (PPE) can enter. Additionally, clear and visible safety signs throughout the construction site are crucial, providing warnings about potential hazards, specifying required PPE, and indicating safe areas. The work environment should be kept clean and organised to prevent slips, trips, or falls caused by clutter and debris. Unused equipment must be stored away to avoid any safety risks.

Site access also extends to machinery and equipment. It is imperative to restrict access to high-risk equipment to individuals with sufficient training. High-risk machinery should never be left unattended or exposed overnight.

  • Safety Signs and Communication: 

Construction sites are obligated to exhibit appropriate signs, ensuring both workers and the public are informed and warned about potential dangers and safe practices. Safety signs play a crucial role as visual communication tools, conveying important information, warnings, and instructions to workers, visitors, and the public. These signs serve to identify hazards, warn of dangers, and guide individuals along the correct routes. Compliance with legal requirements for displaying safety signs in specific circumstances is essential.

Given the significant risks construction sites pose to the public, especially in urban or populated areas, public awareness is key for their safety. Enhancing individual understanding of potential hazards and how to avoid them helps reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries.

  • Reporting and record keeping

Compliance with legal regulations mandates that any accidents, incidents, or near misses occurring on construction sites must be promptly reported and recorded accurately. This rigorous reporting process serves as a critical component in ensuring transparency, accountability, and adherence to safety protocols within the construction industry. By documenting such occurrences, construction companies not only fulfil legal obligations but also contribute to the continuous improvement of safety measures, enabling a proactive approach in preventing future incidents and promoting a safer working environment for all stakeholders involved.

Additional measures to take that focus on the environment

Runoff and pollution from construction sites can harm water bodies, affecting water quality. Similarly, dust and emissions from construction activities can harm air quality, leading to respiratory issues for nearby residents.

Poor planning of landscape changes can cause soil erosion, degrading soil quality and leading to the loss of valuable topsoil and may lead to slippage of land. 

Key Measures for Environmental Protection:

Erosion Control Practices: Use tools like silt fences and erosion control blankets to stabilise exposed soil and prevent erosion.

Stormwater Management: Build sediment ponds and install barriers to manage stormwater runoff and reduce its impact.

Vegetative Cover: Establish vegetation on disturbed areas to prevent soil erosion and stabilise the site.

Dust Suppression: Apply water or dust suppressants, especially in dry conditions, to control dust emissions.

Stabilising Construction Access Points: Implement stabilised entrances to prevent soil tracking onto public roads.

Thomas Vale Construction site incident 

It is evident that the injury of an innocent is terrible, and as a recompense businesses have to face the financial aftermath of its negligence. On May 15, 2012, a fence collapsed at a Thomas Vale Construction site, injuring a 56-year-old woman passing by. Despite a prior collapse two weeks earlier, the company neglected to engage an expert for repairs. An unqualified individual reconstructed the fence without concrete foundations, leading to its collapse in windy conditions, causing the woman substantial harm. Thomas Vale Construction faced consequences, paying £10,250 in compensation and receiving a £20,000 fine for regulatory breaches and failure to ensure site safety.

Prioritising the safety of the public during construction projects is both a legal compliance and an ethical responsibility. Addressing the unique needs of different demographics, ensuring quality equipment, controlling site access, employing effective safety signs and communication, and implementing robust reporting procedures are just some of the crucial easy to uphold public protection. The Thomas Vale Construction incident serves as a stark reminder of the real consequences that negligence can have. Embracing a comprehensive safety mindset, from project inception to completion, is not just a legal requirement but a fundamental commitment to the well being of the public. 

Construction sites should also factor in protecting our plan too. With the increased need for sustainable construction practice to be adopted, a good place to start it with the materials you use. 

Read our blog that covers the  importance of sustainable construction