Health, safety and environment (HSE) practices in the construction industry

Introduction

Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, incurring more occupational fatalities than any other sector in both the United States and the European Union. In 2009, the fatal occupational injury rate among construction works in the United States was nearly three times that for all workers. Fall is a most common cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among construction workers. Proper safety, environment and health measures can help curtail the risk of occupational injuries and death in the construction industries. Some major causes of fatal injuries in the construction industries include electrocution, transportation accidents and trench cave in.

The first huts and shelters were constructed by hand or with simple tools. As cities grew during the Bronze Age, a class of professional craftsmen like bricklayers and carpenters appeared. Occasionally slaves were used for construction work. In the middle ages these were organised into guides. In the 19th Century, steam-powered machinery appeared and later diesel and electrical powered vehicles such as cranes, excavators and bulldozers.

Construction includes creating awesome structures that can show the beauty and creativity of the human intellect in translating designs into reality.

Asogwa (2007) states that workers in construction companies are usually faced with injuries and the situation is increasing due to lack of awareness of the potential risks surrounding construction job sites.

The complex nature of the present day industries is due to the need to meet the requirement of increased production rate, high efficiency and optimization. Negligence at any stage from concept of design erection operation can result into disaster (Jain and Sunil, 2011).

Today, health, safety and environment is an integral part of any industry, whether agriculture, manufacturing or construction industry. It is important that safety, health and environment systems be designed, incorporated and people trained adequately, checks and counterchecks made to ensure implementation. Safety, health and environment are interrelated and affect each other. If an employee health is not given due regards, it may lead to accident. If the environment around workplace is polluted by an industry, this will affect the health of the employee and in turn affect production.

Health, safety and environment is important for sustainable development in modern societies especially in work places where accidents and hazards occur more frequently.

Accident rates have increased as industrialization and technology continue to be the focus of nations in economic growth and development in modern society. Health, safety and environment measures/ management are necessary at all stages of industrial operation or processes (from equipment design, manufacture or construction, testing/quality control to delivery and operation at work site (Amadi, 2010).

The management of hazards and risks in industries is key to the promotion of workers’ health, safety and increased productivity.

Furthermore, health, safety and environment form important links associated with unsafe acts/unsafe conditions that result to diseases, accidents and injuries in workplace. Industries have a major role to play in monitoring the health of workers because a healthy workforce is an asset or valuable resource to productivity of a company and national economy in general.

Health, safety and environmental measures in construction industries should be a major concern for everybody but it is a pity that in this part of the world, especially in Nigeria, it is not so. In the civil and building construction works which involves excavation and/or demolition, concrete work, painting, roofing, operation of machines, plant and equipment, use of hand tools and many other operations. There is need for relevant authorities, regulatory bodies, societies, scientists, professionals and businessmen to establish safety, health and environmental management programme and laws governing construction work activities.

Studies have shown that there are increased rates of accidents resulting in injuries, death, disability and damage to property in recent years. The industries activities of companies in polluting the environment in their areas of operation have equally increased. This impact negatively on communal life, leading to protest, hostilities and civil unrest in the community. Health and safety has not been given due attention in the construction industries in Nigeria and thereby making workmen on site prone to accident and even death and many disabled. This study will help the researcher in creating solution to the problem encountered in the provision of health, safety and environmental system for worker on site.

The important of health, safety and environment practices in industries cannot be over emphasized.  According to Ikechukwu, Digwu and Ahemi (2012) failure of employers to provide conducive environment, personal protective equipments or the inability to use these facilities appropriately has resulted to different occupational hazards such as the loss of lives of four workers and about 100 innocent souls in an industrial accident both in Abuja and Ijejun (Segun, 2013). Therefore the adaptation of health, safety and environmental practices demonstrates the readiness of an industry to minimize the frequency and severity of work related sickness, accident and damage to property and environment.

 Concepts of health, safety and environment

According to World Health Organization [WHO] (1948) (as cited in Unuraye, 2011) “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing of an individual and merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Every occupation has its health problem, for instance construction workers are prone to falls from height which result to injury and also the inhalation of dust such as sand and asbestosis which result to silicosis and asbestosis a respiratory disease.

Safety refers to being safe from danger or situations that can cause harm or injury(Phil and Ferret, 2011). It is also refer to as precautions people take to prevent accidents, dangers, harm, or loss of properties (Okeola, 2009). When safety consciousness is not displayed, when performing any activity in the work place, accident is bound to occur.  Nwanchukwu (2000, as cited in Unuraye 2007) defined Accident as a sudden and unforeseen event that can occur anywhere and anytime resulting in injury, sickness, deformity and sometimes death to humans. Therefore “SAFETY FIRST” must be the watch word amongst workers.

Environment as stated by Phil et al (2011) refers to the surrounding in which an organization operates including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans and their inter relationship. There are certain factors present in the immediate environment of every occupation which influence the physical and mental health of workers.  

Types of occupational hazards

According to Olorunda et al (2013) and Nigeria Institute of Safety Professionals (2003) the following are different types of occupation hazards;

  1. Physical hazards

These hazards are the most common source of injuries and will be present in most workplace at one time or another. They are perhaps unavoidable in certain industries such as construction and mining industries. They are  caused by physical agent since their activities can be perceived or felt before the damage and they include; heat, cold, radiation, dusts, noise etc and their effects are skin burn, discomfort, heat stroke, fatigue, cancer, pneumonia, temporary and permanent deafness, silicosis and asbestosis etc.

  1. Biological hazards

These types of hazards are also known as biohazards and it refers to biological substances that pose threat to the health of workers. It is caused by the direct exposure to any infectious agents or pathogenic organisms such as bacteria, viruses, protozoan, fungi, yeast, spores; vectors such as stinging, biting and blood sucking insects including worms and reptiles form filthy substances/equipment, vaccines industries etc. its effects includes ringworm, eczema, dandruff, gastrointestinal infection, tetanus and foot rot etc.

  1. Chemical hazards

These occur when there is the preparation, use or reaction of chemicals at the work place and they could exist as solids (silica, zinc) liquids (mercury) and particulates (sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide). There are three (3) main routes of entry of these agents into humans which includes; inhalation (through the nose), ingestion (through the mouth) and skin absorption (through contact with the skin). In other for an agent to exert its toxic effects, it must come in contact with the body cells and the various effects include skin/dry burn, fainting, damage to internal and external tissues and death.

  1. Mechanical hazards

These hazards are centered on machines in the industries and most industries require machines for its day to day operations. It is caused by powered operation of equipment, machines or tools such as protruding and moving parts, sharp pointed edges, hot surfaces with potential to crush, burn, cut, stab or cause wounds to workers if used unsafely.

  1. Electrical hazards

Electricity is needed by industries for its daily operations hence the workers are exposed to electrical hazards. It has been recognized as a serious workplace hazards that results from live and exposed conductors of electricity (metals and electrolytes); activities involving the manufacturing, installation and maintenances of electrical equipment. The mode of transmission is by body contact and its effects include; burns, fires, electrocution or shock depending on voltage of electricity and explosion which can result to death.

  1. Psychological hazards

Psychological hazards are related to the ways work is designed, organized and managed. It may result due to sour relationship between fellow workers and the management, feeling of job insecurities, aging workforce, work pressure, boredom of working, delayed/denied promotion, poor welfare package, queries from boss etc and the effects may include; headaches, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, sickness, loss of concentration, reduced personal output, aggressiveness and rapid aging.

Causes of occupational health hazard

According to Amadi (2012), the various causes of occupational hazards can be grouped into; unsafe act and unsafe conditions.

Unsafe act

Unsafe act is an unsatisfactory behavior which is significant in initiating a hazardous event. It is also refer as a performance or action that is conducted in a manner that may threat the health and safety of workers in the work place and examples includes; failure to wear personal protective equipment or improper use of personal protective equipment without qualification or authorization, failure to adhere to safety warnings, removal or by passing of safety warnings, horse play such as throwing of objects, teasing which may  cause distraction, use of tools other than their intended purpose. These result to occupational hazard.

Unsafe conditions

It refers to an unsatisfactory physical condition existing in the workplace environment which is significant in initiating the hazardous event. It can be simply put as a condition in the work place that is likely to cause property damage and injury to workers. Examples includes; working in a poor illuminated area, congestion in the workplace, the use of worn, broken tools and equipment, poor housekeeping, improper storage of chemicals , the designing of structures and buildings contrary to specification, deviation from accepted procedures by the workers. The above examples all lead to occupational hazards.

Effects of poor implementation of health, safety and environmental practice

According to Arslan and Serkan (2012), poor implementation of health, safety and environmental practices lead to various effects which can be grouped into the following.

  1. Effects on the worker

There are various effects of poor implementation of health, safety and environmental practices such as poor adherences to safe warnings, lack or improper use of personal protective devices and working in a poor illuminated room on the workers. The effects results to physical pain and injuries which results from accident, disabilities which discourages the workers from doing certain types of jobs as a result of injuries sustained, loss of earning power due to his incapability of doing certain jobs, loss of leisure activities such as hobbies and recreation, extra expenditure for services he can no longer render for himself, possible loss of lives and other effects of death of the worker on the family which may include burial expenses etc

  1. Effects on the environment

Most industrial activities /practices such as deforestation, gas flaring, discharge of untreated waste water into land and water bodies, incineration of solid wastes, drilling and construction activities  such as excavation of the earth has different effects on the environment and these ranges from ozone layer depletion as a result of emission of harmful gases such as chlorofluorocarbon, sulphur iv oxide etc., flooding due to global warming, erosion due to excavation of the earth by construction companies, extinction of biodiversity due to deforestation and contamination of land and water bodies which can result to loss of aquatic life and environmental degradation.

  1. Effects on the company

Companies which are known to have high occurrences or causes of accident and environmental pollution usually have a bad reputation in the eyes of the public which will results to the quitting of skilled and experiences workers, income generated in such companies will be loss or spent on burial expenses in case of death, salary while workers is still ill for zero production, compensation for disabilities, likely court cases, replacement of damaged equipment/property and cleaning up of environmental pollution.

Health and safety  in environmental policy

This a legislative instrument put in place to ensure that at all times , the safest and healthiest working conditions is provided at a work site using measures of international standard. It also states the responsibilities of the top management to the general workforce.

Safety arrangements of the policy

  • The management will make known all the risk and health hazard as far as the construction site is concerned.
  • The management of the firm will ensure a qualitative training of personnel as regards safety on site.
  • The maintenance manager / safety manager will identify the main hazards on the construction site and set additional rules and regulation.
  • In the case of accidents, the procedure laid down for accident reporting willbe followed and the result of accident analysis will be available to management and the health and safety committee.

Health and safety training

In order to promote safety awareness on maintenance site, the operators of the site at all levels should be trained for the safety and health on site. This training programme is to be arranged at least once every month and must be compulsory for all site operators.

The issues to be treated are listed below;

-Causes of accidents

-Cost of accidents

-Accident preventions

-Health and safety regulations

-Duties and responsibilities of participants

-Emergency procedures

-Machine and equipment testing, inspection and maintenance

Tools used in health and safety administration

  • Health and safety register
  • Health and safety briefing sessions
  • Minutes of meeting of health and safety committee.
  • Dates and names of participants of health and training programme.

Prevention and control of occupational hazards

There is need for the prevention and control of likely hazards in the work place. The different prevention and control measures can be grouped into the following;

1.Administrative control

This control alters the way work is done or organized including; provision of basic infrastructures, medical examination, provision of first aid facilities, health education, monitoring and surveillance, rest and relaxation, shift duties,   annual leaves and incentives.

Formulation of laws/policies

The formulation of polices, laws and regulation is very vital in an organization. Laws on Health, safety and environment should be promulgated and enforced strictly in an organization and failure to adhere to such laws and regulations should attract fines and punishment such as; deduction of salary, working extra hours or suspension of workers.

Provision of basic infrastructures

Industrial management should ensure basic infrastructures such as waste disposal facilities, canteen services, sanitary conveniences and portable water supply needed for the optimum health of workers should be provided for. There should be provision of good illumination both natural and artificial. The building should contain an emergency exit doors that can open outward and inbuilt fire alarm system, wide passages, strong staircases and fire extinguishers in case of emergencies.

Medical examination

The management should ensures that workers are given medical and examination form time to time like the pre-employment medical examination before employment is granted, periodic examination from time to time after the worker is employed, pre placement medical examination of the worker before be placed in a new working division and pre – retirement medical examination before the worker retires for any occupational diseases.

Training and health education

Health education and training should start before the worker enters the factory. All risk that is involved in the industry were the workers are employed and the measures/prevention taken should be taught form time to time in order to remind them about the damages and effects of not adhering to safety policies using charts, posters, seminars, workshop, handbills etc.

Monitoring and close surveillance

Management should ensure regular inspection of working environment to ensure that physical hazards like heat, vibration, cold do not exceed the maximum tolerant levels. Also they should keep up to date medical statistics of accidents and injuries in the working environment and also ensure workers comply with laid down rules and regulations.

Rest and recreation

Administrative of various industries should ensure that a time is set aside  for rest and recreation in order to kill boredom and fatigue associated with long hours of working and this in turns increase high productivity of workers. This also creates a more relaxed atmosphere that enhance the development of inter personal relationship among workers.

Good house keeping

Poor housekeeping can result to accident in industries. Therefore management should ensure that there is an effective housekeeping in order to ensure that workplace hazards such as tripping over loose objects on floors, cutting or puncturing of workers are eliminated.

Annual leave and incentives

Administrative of companies should ensure that incentives should be given to workers to encourage them on a work well done and also to encourage others to imitate such persons. It is also necessary for employers to grant workers annual leave at least once a year to enable them rest from long periods of work in order to boost their health status.

2.Engineering control

This method is the preferred way to reduce occupation hazards because they minimize the chance of exposure due to accident but can be expensive. It is the methods of designing or modifying plants, processes and equipment so as to minimize workers exposure to hazards and they includes;

Isolation

Employers should develop this aspect of prevention in order to isolate workers who are working directly with the hazards from those who are not. It should also be accompanied by appropriate controls to ensure that those faced with the hazards are not exposed to these effects for long.

Substitution / modification

Employers should ensure that those chemicals, equipment and machines known to cause occupational hazards are substituted for others that result to lesser hazards. Equipment and machines know to cause more hazards can also design or modified in such a way as to present lesser effects.

Process control

This is done to change the way a job activity is done in order to reduce risk. Employers should also monitor this process to ensure that the changes implemented results to less exposure.

Personal protective equipment

Management of industries should ensure that personal protective equipments are made available for workers in order to prevent or reduce the risk of occupational hazards. Examples of personal protective equipments are; face shield, eye goggle, ear mugs, helmets, hand gloves, nose mask, safety boots, belts and harnesses, life jackets etc. Also personal hygiene should be carried out by the workers to prevent disease outbreak or other occupational hazards.

Benefits of adherence to health, safety and environmental practices

There involves high productivity or outcome and it can be achieved when health, safety and environmental practices (HSE) in industries and they includes;

Increase efficiency and productivity

This involves high productivity or outcome and it can be achieved when health, safety and environmental practices are strictly adhere to such as, the provision of basic necessities like good illumination and ventilation (both natural and artificial), provision of personal protective devices, provision of portable water supply etc needed to promote the workers state of health thereby leading to job satisfaction which in turns leads to high efficiency of the worker.

Increase in profits

This can be attained when there is high efficiency and productivity of workers in the industries. It can also results when there are less or zero accidents in the work place which will results to no or less money spent on likely court cases , burial expenses, compensation of injured workers, replacement of damaged equipment and cleaning up of environment that is polluted.

Results to no injuries

When the working environment of an industry is safe and conducive and safety precautions such as adherences to safety warnings and signs, personal hygiene, the use of equipment, proper use of personal protective equipment, prevention of horse play in the working place are taken into consideration by the workers, it results to zero accidents which prevent injuries or disabilities.

Prevents environmental pollution/degradation

When Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) practices are strictly adhere to, it prevents the pollution or degradation of the environment by industrial activities such as contamination of land and water bodies, excavation and drilling activities, deforestation, gas flaring and the incineration of solid wastes.

Long life shelf of equipment

This refers to long life span of equipment in the industries. It can  be attained when there is satisfactory design and maintenance of machinery from time to time. It can also be attained when machines are guarded and good housekeeping which prevents accident which may results to damage to the parts of the machines.

Conclusion

Health, Safety and Environmental Practices is very vital for the prevention and management of hazards and risk which can result to accident and injuries in the industries. It is therefore imperative for industries to strike a balance between these three elements so that workers can have optimum health, and general wellbeing.

Recommendations

In order to prevent occupational hazards, the under listed recommendation should be put in place;

  1. Government should formulate policies on health, safety and environment and ensure that it is enforced in industries, failure to adhere to these laws should attract fines and punishment.
  2. Government should ensure mass employment of Environmental Health Officers in various industries in order to ensure the enlightenment of management and staffs on the importance of Health, Safety and Environment practices.
  3. Management of industries should ensure that Health, safety and Environment laws, regulation and policies are implemented in his company.
  4. Industrial workers should also endeavor to adhere to safety warnings and sign.

 References

Amadi,  A.N. (2012).HSE in Modern Environment  Health Practice [lecture Note]; Owerri;  Federal University of Technology, Environmental Health.

Arslan, G. & Serkan, K. (2012). Safety and Health Practice in construction (unpublished). A Seminar work from Anadolu University, Turkey; Civil Engineering Department.

Ikechukwu, P., Diugwu, .G., Dorothy, M. & Ashem, C. (2012). Effective Regulation and Level of Awareness; An exposure of the Nigeria Construction Industry. Journal of Safety Science and Technology. 2(1): 140-146.

Nigeria Institute of Safety Profession (General HSE Manual). PortHarcourt :Glory Printing Press.

Olojoba, A.O. (2009). Occupational Safety Service and Public Health Ughelli;Ama Ohoro Printing Press.

Olorunda, J.O., Simeon, O.K., Sanwo, A.O., Mustapha, B.M., Ngorran, S.N., Adjase, E.T.,***, Harouna, A.(2013). Integrated Questions and Answers for Health Students and Professionals in West Africa. Ondo State; His Mercy Press.

Osanyingbemi, B.F. (2007). Basic Occupational Health and Safety at Work [2nd ed].Ibadan; Vertex Media.

Phil, H & Ferret, E. (2011). Introduction of Health and Safety at Work [2nd ed.] Doi: 978-0-08-0970707.

Segun, A. (2013). Construction company loses two workers in industrial accident. Retrieved on 30th October, 2014 from http://eaglenewpaper.org.

Unuraye, L.O. (2011). Issues on Health, Safety and Environmental Concepts And Approach. Ughellii; Kabaka Press.

Wikinews Atom Feed (2008). 100 dead after a road construction bulldozer struck an oil pipeline. Retrieved on 27th October, 2014.

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