Since construction workers are at high risk of losing their health or lives, employers should take all possible measures to ensure maximum protection of their lives and health. Below we present the most important issues related to the occurrence of accidents at work on construction sites.
What are the causes of work accidents on construction sites?
In the Polish construction industry, there are still many irregularities in terms of ensuring safe working conditions by employers. Because of this, the construction sector is often inspected by the State Labour Inspectorate.
Labour inspectors point out that the most common causes of accidents include employees' failure to use personal protective equipment (PPE), lack of supervision over work performed, lack of compliance with procedures, lack of employee training in occupational safety and health (OSH), and the employer's tolerance of deviations from OSH regulations. Therefore, during their inspections, the inspectors focus their attention, among others, on whether the employees use collective and individual protection equipment, whether dangerous places are properly secured and marked, and whether proper supervision over the performed works is carried out. Inspectors also check the validity of medical examinations and OSH training of construction workers. They also check whether the employees have appropriate qualifications to operate specific machines or perform specific work.
Employers should continuously analyse the causes of accidents and implement solutions to avoid similar situations for the construction workers they employ.
The employer is responsible for health and safety on the construction site. Therefore, he must not only organise working conditions in a manner consistent with OSH, but also constantly check whether these rules are actually being observed.
Before allowing construction workers to work, an employer is required not only to refer them for a medical examination, but also to provide them with appropriate training in OSH. The training should include elements and reinforce the employees' awareness of how to eliminate threats present in the work environment. The necessity of carrying out proper OSH training is regulated not only by the Labour Code, but also by the construction law. The employer is obliged to send employees on periodic training courses, during which they have a chance to consolidate their knowledge and learn about innovative solutions that allow them to perform their duties in an even safer way.
Employers hiring construction workers must remember that it is absolutely unacceptable to allow anyone to work who does not have a valid medical exam, proper safety training, or qualifications to work with specific machinery.
In addition to referring employees for medical examinations and providing employees with initial and periodic training, employers have many other OSHA responsibilities, which include:
- Marking danger zones appropriately,
- Equipping employees with efficient tools,
- Preparing workstations in a manner compliant with OHS regulations,
- Providing employees with PPE (such as helmets, vests, harnesses, protective goggles, ear-defenders).
Responsibilities of construction employees
The fact that the employer remains responsible for health and safety on a construction site does not mean that construction workers do not bear this responsibility. On the contrary, analysing the causes of accidents at work on construction sites in Poland, one may conclude that many of them were caused by employees' negligence of health and safety rules.
Maintaining the highest possible level of safety on a construction site requires cooperation between the employer and employees. The mere fact that the employer provides PPE is not enough if employees do not want to use it (failure by construction workers to use PPE such as helmets, protective clothing or goggles is a frequent cause of accidents at work).
Construction workers must remember that compliance with health and safety rules and regulations is one of their primary responsibilities. They are obliged to cooperate with their employer and superiors in fulfilling their work safety duties.
Employers should therefore constantly monitor the behaviour of construction workers and promptly draw attention to any observed violations.
Who controls the level of safety on the building site?
When it comes to health and safety on a building site, the construction manager plays an important role. According to the construction law, they are obliged to prepare or ensure that a so-called ‘safety and health plan’ is prepared. This plan is created for each specific construction site. The content of the plan should allow for the identification of safety hazards in the workplace and for the implementation of solutions to prevent them at the stage of the project.
The construction manager is also directly responsible for compliance with health and safety rules on the construction site. The provisions of the construction law indicate that they perform the function of coordinator of activities for safety and health protection. They have the right and duty to enforce the observance of health and safety rules and regulations by employees. They should control whether the employees use PPE and whether all collective protective equipment is in working order.
When organising work, the site manager is obliged to check whether employees are properly protected against accidents at work. This term is to be understood in a broad sense. Therefore, the site manager is obliged to take care of the technical equipment on the construction site and ensure that dangerous areas are properly marked. Given that the carelessness of employees is the most frequent cause of accidents at work, the site manager must above all ensure that all employees comply with health and safety regulations and rules.
In conclusion, the level of occupational health and safety on construction sites is still not satisfactory. Despite numerous inspections by the National Labour Inspectorate, there are still serious and fatal accidents. The National Labour Inspectorate pays attention to these situations and more and more often decides to inspect construction sites – not only those of large investors, but also of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.
With corporate clients increasingly concerned about their ESG (environment/society/governance) footprint across their supply chain, working with construction firms that have a poor health-and-safety record is a risk they are unlikely to want to undertake.