23 July 2019

Cover Story

Safe construction


As India increasingly goes vertical in its building ambitions, the thus far largely neglected area of construction safety is expected to draw much attention from project developers. ROHAN AMBIKE writes on the trends in the construction safety industry and the need to be aware of the shortcomings.


India’s construction industry is the country’s second largest employer and contributor to economic activity, after agriculture. According to government estimates, it grew by 80 per cent in the last four years, from $78 billion in 2015 to approximately $140 billion this year. But there is a darker side to this explosive growth. For all the big money involved, the sector has scant regard for the safety of those who work in its lowest rungs.


Every year, hundreds of men and women workers either fall to their deaths, or are electrocuted, or are buried under rubble. A pervasive lack of safety, poor knowledge and poor inclination punctuated with government oversight subjects almost 30 million people employed in the construction sector to a daily risk of injury and death. Most injuries and even deaths go unreported. Apart from accidental deaths, construction workers in India are constantly exposed to hazardous chemicals like asbestos, cement and welding fumes as well as noise and vibrations.


The situation assumes gigantic proportions when you consider just how endemic this problem is in India – a recent research quoted by Tata Housing suggests that the average fatal accident frequency rate in Indian construction sector is 15.8 for 1,000 employees as against 0.23 in the US.


The recent heightened safety standards have been spurred by the rising tide of accidents over the years – workers falling to their deaths from tall structures, a 70 tonne crawler carrying a 22 tonne load crashing down at a metro site, a lift hurtling down from a building under construction, near fatal injuries due to absence of safety gear like say, a construction hat…and so on..


In a sector that is largely unorganised there is very little to track down the actual number of accidents that take place year on year. It is revealing that in the two years preceding 2013, close to 100 migrant workers died on construction sites in Chennai alone.


Another human challenge of safety training is the concept of safety is very subjective. Everybody’s threat perception is shaped differently by factors including personality, knowledge, behavior, and situational biases. In addition to this, there is no proper standardization of safety procedures as workers travel from one site to another, where they are exposed to different hazards or where hazards are being managed differently.


Safety is rather an evolving approach than a fixed construct. While workers in India continue to face daily risks mainly on account of poor planning and gross negligence, worldwide the aspect of safety is becoming an legitimate industry in its own right.


As construction becomes a vital constituent of any economy, it becomes our responsibility to ensure the safety and health of its most important constituent, labour. Solid planning coupled with adherence to strict safety measures and adoption of evolving technology solutions can transform the construction sector to a safer and more productive space for all its stakeholders.


Construction work is one of the most dangerous professions. And work on the job site is where most accidents occur. Employers do need to mitigate safety hazards to construction workers, but workers need to keep in mind a lot of precautions themselves when working in such hazardous conditions. Thus, construction industry leaders must strive to safeguard their employees — if not for ethical reasons, then for the economic ones.


Here are some ways construction businesses can reduce workplace accidents and promote construction site safety.



Provide Fall Protection Systems


Falling from unsecured heights is one of the biggest contributors to worker deaths and injuries in India. Employers need to better access job sites and invest in safety equipment that secures a worker. This includes both securing the worker to a safety line and provide safety helmet to not risk an injury from falling objects.



Scaffolds Should Be Installed By Professionals


More than 65 per cent of the risky construction jobs are done in scaffolds. Consequently, workers are more at risk of falling and electrocution. It is important that all scaffolding jobs are done by trained professionals who are knowledgeable about the specialized safety equipment. This also includes the maximum amount of load they carry while working on scaffolds. Scaffolding should be designed so as to offer a solid footing for workers, be completely planked and away from any dangerous power lines.





Accidents are more likely to occur when workers are unsure what to expect. Direct discussion of the day’s goals and activities will cut down on surprises that could cause bodily harm. Construction firms would be wise to equip workers with devices, like smartphones, walkie-talkies, or headsets, which allow fast and efficient communication among team members. Without proper communication between everyone on the construction site, workers won’t know what to expect. Clear and concise communication with everyone not only makes the project go by faster but also helps keep each person informed. Informing the staff and making sure everyone is doing their job is a proper way to communicate and make sure they understand construction site safety.





To enforce construction site safety, you have to make sure you have proper documentation of everything that is going to be done on-site. There are some legal hoops most construction companies must jump through to begin building, and it is essential that all proper registrations and licenses are earned before work begins. Supervisors and contractors who will be charged with particularly difficult tasks, like blasting, certainly should provide evidence of their certification well in advance of their employment on the job site. Not only does this prevent accidents due to improper training, but it protects the construction firm from legal action and public scrutiny. Any safety hazards that make their way to the media will look bad for construction firms.


No construction worker wants to work for a construction firm that doesn’t put its worker’s safety first. Any news of workers getting hurt on the job due to lack of safety practices will have new prospects running away from your construction firm. Implementing measures to practice construction site safety methods will prevent such things from happening. Also, documenting all work in the field using cloud and mobile technology is making it easier than ever before to mitigate future lawsuits.



Proper Equipment


To create a culture centered around construction site safety, you need to give workers the proper equipment and adequate work area for the job at hand. Without the proper equipment, you can’t have construction site safety because there will always be an opportunity to get injured using the wrong equipment. Construction workers equipped with improper gear are bound to make fatal errors. Not only should each piece of equipment on the job site be ideally suited to the task at hand, but construction firms have to make sure that all machinery and material are well maintained.


Construction companies must also consider equipment that doesn’t directly contribute to the construction project. Workers should have plenty of water available on-site as well as a shady place to prevent dehydration and exposure-related illnesses. Longer construction projects may even benefit from fabric structures to store equipment and cover incomplete sites. Such simple things can be easily overlooked, and if they are, they increase the chance of on-site injury. Proper construction equipment ensures that there is at least some level of construction site safety within the construction firm.





Ideally, construction workers would fully understand the ramifications of inadequate safety precautions and thus act in a manner to ensure site-wide well-being — but this is not a perfect world. Every site must have a strong supervisor who is willing and capable of enforcing safety standards with no exceptions. This foreman must keep tabs on all employees throughout the day and correct those who fail to commit to proper construction site safety procedures.





The accident rate would be even higher than it is today if it wasn’t for construction firms willing to devote extra resources to keep their employees safe. These additional resources not only lower the rates of workplace accidents and injuries but also helps develop new ideas for keeping construction workers safe. The development of new practices that will enhance security should always be encouraged, and companies should avoid speaking against legislation aimed at improving safety protocols. Perhaps with enough innovation, all construction sites can maximize their construction site safety practices and can be 100 percent accident-free.





The worst thing any construction firm can do for its reputation is attempting a cover-up. Hiding accidents from the press and the public not only lowers the opinion of a single endeavor — it paints the building industry as a whole in a negative light. Ultimately, people understand that accidents happen, and as long as contractors are doing their best to foster a safe environment for their workers, any accidents that do occur will only contribute to the growing need to augment modern safety techniques.


Transparency, along with the other seven practices on this list, will help construction as a whole become a safer industry in which to work. A safer construction industry is an industry of fewer injuries, fewer workplace accidents, and fewer deaths. A construction industry that fully utilizes its construction site safety practices is the kind of industry we should be working towards.



Growing Personal Protective Equipment Market


Over the last few years, greater awareness has pushed the demand for fire safety systems and equipment market. According to a report by Research and Markets, India’s personal protective equipment market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 13.29 per cent during the period 2017-2021. Besides offering protection against loose equipment, chemical and biological, sharp objects, electrical dangers and noise, protective gear can also prevent other common injuries like hand lacerations, abrasions, and chemical exposure.




Let’s look at some of innovations shaping this sector:


Virtual and Augmented Reality


It’s a blistering Wednesday afternoon and you are slowly making your way to the building site office with your lunch bag and suddenly you hear an odd rumbling. You look back to see a huge 20 metre scaffolding tipping over and to your horror making its way for you.


Virtual reality has that power to plunge the viewer head along into an experience vis a vis merely tipping his feet in it. It immerses him/her in an alternative but ever-present reality allowing the user to interact with his space while alerting them to what needs to be done to prevent catastrophes. Many construction companies are adopting VR technology to improve site safety, provide virtual safety training to workers.


One such example of virtual reality tech is the Daqri Smart Helmet. This helmet is a wearable augmented-reality system being developed for use in especially the building and construction industry. It empowers builders, engineers, and designers to carry their BIM model to the construction site, wear it on their heads, and experience it as an immersive, full-scale 3D environment.




BIM & Digitization


Poor assessment, leading to ineffective planning and coordination between different site elements can lead to significant oversights and accidents. Here is where increasing digitization and BIM can play in integrative role. Besides consolidating plans, identifying costs and project oversights, BIM & Digitization can help engineers creates a seamless picture of the entire project at one place, allowing projects to be more transparent and hence more accountable. A manager on-site can see the progress of operations in real time and accordingly decide the flow of resources, as well as alert the teams to possible risks in time. As a result, construction jobs are accomplished more safely and efficiently.




Internet of Things


With IoT, you can enable construction machinery, equipment, materials and structures to communicate with each other through a central data platform, enabling them to capture and highlight critical performance and safety parameters. Sensors, near-field-communication (NFC) devices, and other technologies can help test the reliability of structures, monitor work progress, detect and communicate maintenance requirements and safety requirements. Wearable bands can send alerts to drivers and operators to risks in their environment as well as jolt them awake if they fall asleep or if a moving equipment is inactive or nonoperational.



New Awakening


Admittedly India has woken up to the importance of the safety culture. There are problems though associated with non-availability of trained man power and lack of construction procedure awareness. Tall buildings also have their limitations. Not only do they require a proper design they also have to be equipped with special building skin to keep the buildings maintenance free. Although provisions are made for fire fighting, sprinklers and other equipments, it still does not absolve the risk of fire fighting on higher floors as government fire fighting equipments have a small reachable range. Also in India, there is the constant risk of disrupted power supply.


Hence a very high level of dependence would be required on alternate generation electricity. Tall buildings cannot afford to risk non supply even for few seconds irrespective of the cost. There is also the issue of a serious lack of preparedness which needs to be addressed. Matters like work facilities, maintenance, repairs and demolitions, disaster management plan require to be factored at the planning stage itself. The biggest issue to be sorted out is large scale worker awareness of the merits of safety.






As construction becomes a vital constituent of any economy, it becomes our responsibility to ensure the safety and health of its most important constituent, labour. Solid planning coupled with adherence to strict safety measures and adoption of evolving technology solutions can transform the construction sector to a safer and more productive space for all its stakeholders.



Broadly, Safety Hazards For Construction Workers Include


•             Working at heights

•             Driving/operating heavy machinery

•             Performing tasks in enclosed spaces

•             Conducting work in/around falling debris

•             Executing duties in close proximity to moving traffic

•             Handling /working near electrical wires and electrical equipment

•             Being at risk of back-overs from construction vehicles

•             Welding items that can cause burns/fires from arcing

•             Exposure to toxic chemicals

•             Inhaling potentially harmful airborne substances

•             Extended exposure to noise of 85 decibels or more



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