How to take a common-sense approach to plant, lifting and working at height

by | Nov 9, 2022

The CIF’s annual Construction Safety Week is an opportune time to focus on the role of plant machinery and equipment within the industry.

Safety is a number one priority for all working in the sector – and from safe lifting to working at heights and the safe use of mobile equipment, member companies are encouraged to ensure best practice is followed.

When it comes to safe lifting, national standards for cranes are in place as available from the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

“Any lifting activity requires a high level of competency of individuals, team-work and pre-planning,” says Scott Hunter of the National Construction Training & Safety Ltd.

“When broken down into stages, the planning of a safe lifting operation, no matter how complex, can be relatively straightforward.  A common-sense approach is advised.”

When planning a lift, there is a need to consider everything from the competencies required to site and weather conditions. The size and type of crane, its duties, outrigger settings and loadings, radius for intended work and boom length are all key considerations, alongside ensuring the appropriate load handling equipment, including chains, slings, lifting beams, spreaders and lifting eyes, are selected.

A similar common-sense approach can be applied to working on excavations and within trenches says Peter Mulvihill, Health & Safety Manager at Clonmel Enterprises Ltd.

“As a contractor, your company likely performs work that involves excavation and trenching,” he says. “These tasks are extremely dangerous, and without proper preparation, supervision and control measures they can prove to be deadly. Don’t allow an excavation or a trench to become someone’s grave.”

According to the Health and Safety Authority, the greatest risk to pedestrians is from vehicles and mobile plant

Hazards associated with Plant according to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the greatest risk to pedestrians is from vehicles and mobile plant. It is highlighted that there are substantial blind spots on dozers, wheeled loading shovels and excavators, with workers at risk of being run over if they are in the operator’s blind spot.

The HSA highlights that the employer or a person in control of a workplace must carry out a documented risk assessment of workplace transport hazards to include an evaluation and assessment of vehicles and mobile work equipment in use in the workplace.

Additionally, pedestrian activity within the operational areas shall wherever possible be restricted, particularly in hours of darkness, and for certain operations ‘no entry’ zones should be identified and clearly marked.

It’s the sudden stop that causes the damage

Working at height continues to be the greatest causal factor for fatalities and serious injury in construction, predominantly from relatively low heights of two to three metres above ground level.

All work at height must be adequately planned, risk assessed and organised to avoid, or at least reduce, risks as low as reasonably practicable.

The key messaging from the Health and Safety Authority, to ensure safe working at height, is to carry out risk assessments for work at height activities and make sure that all work is planned, organised, and carried out by a competent person.

Michael Murphy is head of Health & Safety at Laois Scaffolding Hire Ltd.

“Steps, or step ladders are one of the most used, and abused, pieces of equipment on a construction site,” he says. “When abused and misused, they have enormous potential to cause accidents and injuries. Falling from a height is a major cause of fatalities in the construction industry.

“More than half of falls from a height of over two metres result in death or a life changing injury. Any fall from a height has the potential to cause serious life changing injuries. Most falls that result in serious injuries are from a relatively short distance,” he adds.

“Fall prevention is much better than dealing with the consequences of a fall from height. Remember it’s not the fall, it’s the sudden stop that causes the damage.”

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