Why are WHS laws important when working in construction?
Construction sites are extremely busy places with many subbies working side-by-side completing various tasks. The work is strenuous and generally involves heavy lifting and working from heights. Heavy vehicles come and go off-site all day and often there are tower cranes or all-terrain cranes operating in and around the site. It is an environment of productivity but also high-risk.
It is also an environment where consultation, cooperation and coordination are essential to ensure the health and safety of everyone on site but not only so that injuries and deaths are prevented, but as a requirement under the model WHS Act.
Construction work can be defined in many ways. Essentially its any work carried out in connection with the construction, alteration, conversion, fitting-out, commissioning, renovation, repair, maintenance, refurbishment, demolition, decommissioning or dismantling of a structure, or preparation of a building site.
In 2015 an industry profile was complied by Safe Work Australia who found the most common work-related injuries experienced by workers in the construction industry were:
- cuts and open wounds (31%)
- sprains and strains (21%)
- chronic joint or muscle conditions (16%).
It was found that these injuries were mainly due to:
- hitting or being hit by an object (31%)
- lifting, pushing or pulling objects (30%)
- falls from a height (15%).
According to WorkSafe Australia, when it comes to work-related fatalities, the statistics from the Construction Industry Profile show that between 2003 and 2013, 401 workers died on construction sites in Australia, with the majority of those (28% or 112 workers) involving falls from heights. They included:
- 40 involved ladders, mobile ramps, stairways and scaffolding
- 32 involved a fall from a roof
- 17 involved buildings under construction or demolition.
Other fatalities during this period were made up of:
- vehicle collisions 16%
- electrocution 15%
- being hit by a moving object 12%
- being hit by a falling object 11%
- being trapped between or in equipment 8%
- other causes 9%
Site managers are responsible for each step of the process on site and that includes safety, but before work even commences commissioned the site must comply with WHS regulations. This means consulting with the designer of the build about safety matters and giving the designer and the principal contractor for the project information about safety matters.
It is law in Australia that a PCBU who carries out construction work must manage and control WHS risks associated with that work, and ensure a construction site is secured from unauthorised access.
The principal contractor for the project is also a PCBU and under WHS law must be aware of the WHS duties that apply says Safe Work Australia.
Australia has a strict code of safety for construction sites and a very powerful union with the CFMEU but there is also the model Code of Practice for Construction Work, which provides practical guidance to achieve the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the model WHS Act and Regulations.
In order to carry out construction work, it is a requirement to complete an introductory safety-training course called ‘general construction induction training’ or as it is commonly called ‘white card’ training.
Under the Australian WHS Act, a PCBU must also make sure every worker has completed white card training, including those who have completed training in the past but have not carried out construction work in the last two years. Once a person has completed that training they may apply to a WHS regulator for a white card. It is important to note that each state and territory in Australia has different requirements and state recognition for white card training so its always advised that you check with your state or territories Safe Work website. However, white card’s issued in one state or territory or by the Commonwealth are generally recognised Australia wide. Some types of construction work such as operating certain types of cranes or carrying out scaffolding work do require a high-risk work licence.
The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 has identified the construction industry as a priority due to the high number and rate of work-related fatalities and serious injuries. Safe Work Australia recently reviewed the first five years of the plan with recommendations for the next five years.
The Strategy is aiming to reduce the incidences of serious injury by at least 30% nationwide by 2022, and reduce the number of work-related fatalities due to injury by at least 20%.
Since the Strategy launched, Safe Work Australia and all states and territories have been working collaboratively with the industry, unions, relevant organisations and the community to reduce traumatic injury fatalities and injuries in the construction industry.
AlertForce is a recognised RTO and offers white card training in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Check our website for other states and territories. For more information about white card training courses visit https://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/whitecardtraining
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