The construction industry has one of the highest levels of risk in terms of workplace accidents, and it is vital for employers in the industry to meet their obligations to health and safety law. While the most common accidents include slips, trips and falls, accidents when working at height and collisions with moving objects and vehicles, there are other aspects of safety that are sometimes overlooked, but which are no less important.
One area that presents a particularly high risk when not managed correctly is the handling and storage of substances and materials that are hazardous to human health. There are many such substances used in all aspects of the construction industry and all types of projects that fall into this category, including solvents, caustic chemicals and glues, and in some cases even paints.
In fact, any material that produces vapors or fumes that can be inhaled poses a risk to human health, and even dust levels need to be carefully maintained. OSHA sets permissible exposure limits for dust along with other toxic and hazardous substances.
This article will detail the best ways to minimize the risk of spills or other exposure to hazardous materials, offer advice on keeping workers safe and suggest some best practices above and beyond the legal requirements that can keep the risk of accidents on your construction site to an absolute minimum.
Storing and Handling Hazardous Substances
If you are intending to store hazardous chemicals on a construction site, there are several factors you should take into account. From a legal perspective, OSHA mandates that workers should be able to access information about the identities and hazards associated with any chemicals they use on the job, meaning that labels, safety data sheets and training are minimum requirements. In terms of storage and handling these products in a way that minimizes risk, consider the following best practices.
Identify an adequately ventilated and spacious area to store any chemicals or hazardous substances. It is always best to ensure that this facility is above ground. Ensure it is well-lit, contains the necessary safety information and that any specific risks are clearly identified. This means not only that individual substances should be labeled and stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but that clear warnings should be visible and general safety precautions should be implemented and followed at all times also.
This includes providing spill clean-up kits for the products you are storing. Not all kits will be compatible with all chemicals, and you should ensure that you have enough kits for every type of substance in your storage area to minimize the degree of risk.
You should store any substances that are incompatible separately from each other, but make sure that any containers, storage facilities and surfaces in this area are resistant to all of the materials that are being stored there. Surfaces should be easy to clean. In many cases, there are storage containers designed specifically for particular substances that will meet these requirements.
If possible, you should reduce the number of potentially hazardous materials you store to a minimum. OSHA provides guidance on replacing the most dangerous substances with suitable alternatives, so you should consult this guide and implement changes wherever you are able to. All of this advice depends to an extent on the types of substances you are using in your construction project, but approaching these considerations from the perspective of safety first, you will be in a strong position to minimize risk and implement effective safety procedures.
Maintaining Health and Safety Policies
Once your storage area is identified and the project is ready to begin, you should perform a careful and thorough risk assessment in order to identify any potential hazards that you could not have been aware of during the planning phases. This should pay particular regard to the storage and handling of hazardous substances, as the consequences of a chemical spill or other accident involving these materials can be extremely severe.
In the UK, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations offer guidance on best practices for risk assessments regarding chemicals and other dangerous materials. While these restrictions do not apply in the U.S., they can offer useful guidance in considering where you can go above and beyond your legal obligations to protect the health and safety of construction site workers.
The final consideration is to inspect your storage areas regularly and monitor your health and safety procedures and precautions to ensure they are effective and are meeting the necessary requirements. You should run safety drills to be certain that your emergency response procedures are effective at dealing with spills and minimizing risks to worker health.
After you have provided training to any employees who need to work with these substances, as is your legal duty, it can be valuable to monitor and ensure that policies are being followed. You may not be legally liable for an accident that occurs when a worker fails to follow the correct procedures, but this can be extremely disruptive to your project and is best avoided. Monitoring for compliance is an excellent way to maintain high standards and highlight any areas where further training or refreshers are needed.
Considering safety a priority and following advice, along with OSHA guidelines and any other resources that you find useful, will help you to minimize the risk of accidents on your construction site and allow your workers to flourish in a safe working environment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Rowe is the Managing Director of SafetyBuyer.com