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Best practices in site occu­pational safety


Occupational safety is a perennial issue. Construction sites are usually associated with higher risk than ordinary working places. These sites often have several different companies’ employees working together for the first time. The environment is stressful and a host of activities is commonly ongoing in parallel. In Europe and Scandinavia occupational safety levels are constantly rising, but increased safety efforts incur additional costs. The challenge is to find the right balance between achieved benefits and cost minimisation. As such, this is not only an economic question, but also an ethical one. This article aims to provide readers with some interesting ideas and tools that facilitate selecting safety investment targets that deliver the most value.

In theory, ensuring a safe site is the simplest thing in the world; just avoid accidents. In a nutshell, safety is a matter of identifying the risks related to the work (Awareness) and positioning oneself to these risks in a manner that enables safe working conditions (Attitude).

In practice, it means that all persons working at the site need to follow a common framework; a common set of (safety) rules. Everyone at the site must be made aware of the rules through training. It should be ensured that the rules are followed by supervising work habits and using personal protective equipment (PPE). Deviations – and what is often forgotten, exceptionally good working habits – should be recorded and finally the organisation should be able to learn from these and gain new awareness.

Best safety practices – do’s and don’ts

A safety culture is not about implementing ‘tricks’ by which safety is suddenly raised to a perfect level. It is a systematic and long-term commitment from management to ensure that everybody leaves the site in the same shape they arrived. A good safety culture is good business conduct, i.e. caring for your subordinates and fellow workers:

  • Require thorough safety planning for the site before construction work commences.
  • Every organisation, including subcontractors, involved at the construction site should appoint its own safety staff who are responsible for the workers’ safety.
  • Do not grant workers access to your construction site without proper training regarding the site itself and the safety rules to be followed.

This training should be conducted in such a way that it conveys the most important message: “We care about your safety and we expect you to do the same!”

Another form of training is to plan the daily safety activities at grass-roots level together with the persons involved in the work tasks. Everybody appreciates it when you ask their opinion – and listen to it. This method also ensures that nobody ‘forgets’ about safety in their daily work.

Preventing near misses a key activity  

Preventing near misses is key to overall safety. Generally, statistics suggest that there are hundreds of near misses and perhaps 10 small accidents for each serious injury. Reporting accidents only is thus not a very efficient way of preventing accidents. Many companies have realised the importance of reporting near misses. This equates to having an alarm level in a process system that is set to provide an alarm before the process is out of control. The ability to see where safety issues are likely to come up provides safety staff with valuable information as to what corrective actions could (and should) be taken. The only drawback is that it relies on the employees’ willingness to report their near misses. Therefore, the site culture should promote an open reporting culture. Do not forget to implement the improvements in future training sessions and daily activities.

Recognize and reward good behaviour. According to statistics from the Finnish Work Environment Fund, the average cost of an accident at work is approximately 6,000 €. Why not treat your workers to a cup of coffee and a bun every second week?

Constantly communicate site safety and related statistics (both good and bad) on a common bulletin board to all workers.

By following the afore-mentioned recommendations organisations are well on their way to success regarding site occupational safety.

HSE manual for standardised safety instructions

Organisations’ safety knowledge should ideally be compiled in an HSE (Health, Safety and the Environment) manual. The manual should include standardised instructions for several HSE-related issues associated with working at construction sites. An HSE manual is the perfect tool for persons responsible for site safety and can include instructions, forms, and a training section.
It should consist of site-specific instructions and general guidelines, covering areas such as project management, reporting of accidents and hazardous situations, site and safety inspections, risk assessments and special sections for different kinds of hazardous work. Refer to diagram 2.

It would not be surprising if we saw a CE marking for construction sites in the future. All the elements required for obtaining a CE mark are already present; planning, risk assessments, evaluating and documenting the equipment and scaffolding used, as well as appointing responsible persons, etc.

Is zero tolerance achievable?

A common objective today is to have ‘zero tolerance’ regarding accidents. There are two schools of thought regarding whether this is possible to achieve or not. In the end, though, it is not a question of whether zero accidents can be achieved or not, it is a question of providing safe working conditions for workers, so that everyone leaves the site happy and in perfect health.


Author: Tony Lönnbäck

Contact Tony Lönnbäck  

Best practices for site occupational safety
We care about your safety and we expect you to do the same!

Diagram 1.The safety life cycle.

How many “Oops!” are there in an accident?

Diagram 2. Certain work types are associated with larger risks, thus being more hazardous to the worker or persons working close to him/her. Usually employers therefore require written risk assessments for such work tasks.

TIP! Find a safe site at a glance! Look for a site where the workers wear their PPE as required,and where the order & tidiness is at an exceptionally good level.