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Health and Safety
Taking care with materials, equipment and work procedures and dealing with hazards.
Health and Safety
The construction sector is one of the largest employers in New Zealand – it also has a significant proportion of workplace-related illnesses and accidents.
Trades workers have had the highest number of ACC claims by occupation since 2007. They made 41,900 claims in 2018, almost 1 in 5 of all claims, and slightly higher than the numbers for 2017 and 2016. Construction workers made 37,200 claims in 2018, 400 fewer than 2017.
The majority of injuries in the construction sector occur from falls or falling objects, or while using power tools. Hearing loss is common. Hazardous materials such as lead paint, wood and cement dust and solvents can be responsible for respiratory and other health-related problems.
Most work-related deaths in the building industry are the result of past exposure to asbestos. WorkSafe says that an estimated 220 New Zealanders die from asbestos-related disease each year.
Good workplace housekeeping practices include:
- maintaining a tidy site
- having clear access and egress ways
- following good site management practices
- having designated areas for material delivery and waste storage
- regular maintenance of plant and equipment
- installing barriers where required
- erecting signage as required
- provision and maintenance of sanitary facilities for staff.
Failure to maintain good workplace practices can result in construction-related health and safety issues and inefficiencies such as increased likelihood of injuries, loss of working efficiency due to multiple handling of materials and bottlenecks in work flow and movement around the site.
Facilities required on site
The Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016 requires the person in charge of the business to ensure a workplace (i.e. building site) has certain facilities. They include:
- There is enough lighting and ventilation for workers to carry out work safely.
- Workers doing their job in extreme heat or cold can do so safely.
- Adequate facilities are provided for workers, including:
– drinking water
– hand-washing facilities
– a place where workers can eat and take breaks
– adequate and accessible first aid equipment
– facilities where workers who become unwell can rest if it is not reasonable for them to leave the site.
- An adequate number of workers on site are trained in first aid, or workers have access to other people trained to give first aid.
All these facilities must be clean, safe, accessible and kept in good working order.
The Health and Safety at Work Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act came into force on 4 April 2016.
The law is part of a package of measures that aims to reduce workplace deaths and injuries by 25% by 2020. All businesses, regardless of size, will need to engage their staff in safety issues. The law stresses that everyone at work is responsible for health and safety.
The Act focuses on managing critical risks and taking actions that reduce workplace harm. Businesses have to take steps that are “reasonably practicable”. Action will depend on the level of risk involved and what a business can control.
Regulations have been developed to cover risk and workplace management, asbestos, major hazard facilities, and worker participation.
A serious work injury that requires immediate treatment other than just first aid must be reported to WorkSafe. Examples include serious deep cuts, loss of consciousness, a burn serious enough to require a compression garment or skin graft, a metal fragment or wood chip entering the eye, or a spinal injury.
You can report an incident to WorkSafe by phone (0800 030 040), or notifying WorkSafe online.
Recent statistics indicate that the construction industry has the highest number of notifiable injuries or illnesses of all industry groups.
While physical injuries such as falls from roofs typically come to mind thinking of health and safety, mental health is also crucially important for a healthy workplace. A recent study found work stress behind many suicides in the construction sector. The study by Site Safe reviewed 300 coroners’ files of suicides 2007–2017 by people who worked in building. Coroners’ reports listed workplace pressure as a factor in nearly a third (32.3%) of all cases.
A programme called Mates in Construction has been launched in New Zealand to raise awareness of the issue and to help save lives. A similar scheme in Australia has seen suicides rates drop.
Updated: 19 February 2020