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Construction Site Safety: Six Building Blocks to Mitigate Potential Loss

By Rob Cruickshank

Accidents on construction sites continue to affect the success of major construction projects across Canada. The following outlines six key risk factors and the steps you can take to mitigate potential losses:

For low-rise residential projects, fire is a leading cause of severe property damage. When working on a heat-applied rooftop, for example, fire extinguishers must be within easy reach and a team member should be tasked with “fire watch” once work is done for the day. The same applies to welding work or cutting operations.
Home builders are now using an increased number of indirect heaters outdoors where heat is ducted into the home or temporary enclosure. It is critical to maintain ample space between heating appliances and combustible materials, such as tarps used for temporary enclosures, or waste lumber and combustible insulation. A portable fire extinguisher should be readily available.

High-rise residential projects bring with them several inherent property damage and injury loss exposures. These include fall hazards within the structure, material handling over public areas or buildings, and the use of heavy equipment on a project site, such as tower or mobile cranes, excavators, loaders and trucks, each of which present unique hazards. Equipment operators must be adequately trained and all workers or visitors should be aware of equipment operations and their inherent hazards, such as blind spaces behind equipment and trucks and overhead hazards during hoisting operations.

Water Damage
High-rise residential projects are more exposed to potential water damage losses, for example, from mechanical or plumbing systems containing water and leaks. The use of full-time, qualified guard services can identify and notify key personnel of leaks that become apparent afterhours or on weekends.
Testing and commissioning of the above water systems is critical for preventing water damage should testing fail; failure of a large diameter pipe under high pressure can result in thousands of gallons of water per minute escaping into the building. All workers must be advised when sprinklers are fully charged during weekly safety meetings, and an emergency call number should be posted on each floor. Key site management staff should be aware of emergency shutdown procedures for each building area.

Construction sites and heavy equipment are magnets for adventurous children and curious neighbours. Adequate security, signage and fencing can ensure your site is keeping these members of the public safe in the surrounding areas. Post signs that require visitors to wear proper equipment, such as hard hat and safety footwear; this is key to protecting against liability claims, should an accident occur. To minimize risk, visitors should be prevented from wandering around the construction site.

Loss control consultants pay special attention to housekeeping on a construction site. Housekeeping is a very simple thing to control and one of the easiest safety measures to put in place. It is recommended to establish this as a best practice on site. Clearing out piles of debris can help prevent flammable materials from lying around. Flammable liquids such as gasoline need to be stored safely and securely.

Site Safety Management
One of the key methods of ensuring site safety is to appoint a site safety manager to oversee all protocols and conduct routine inspections, including the proper inspection of machinery and heavy equipment. To supplement the annual inspections of a qualified engineer, and the inspections required after a repair has been done, cranes must be inspected and reported on a daily basis. All of this due diligence should be recorded in a log book for review during any site inspection. 

We’ve been experiencing weather turmoil in all parts of Canada, from damage due to storms, snow, and ice build-up. Sites become more vulnerable with these severe weather patterns. Strong winds and hurricanes can cause steel frame buildings to collapse under extreme wind, putting projects on hold and resulting in major business implications for project owners. Such incidences can be easily prevented by assigning a team member to monitor the weather to ensure the site is properly braced before a storm.

A comprehensive site safety plan should be at the foundation of all construction projects. A good plan will address everything from fire prevention and weather events to site security and housekeeping, and should outline a schedule for routine inspections. Get to know the guidelines and be a champion for site safety on your worksite. Improved safety experience typically results in an insurers’ stamp of approval—potentially at a better rate.

Rob Cruickshank is the Underwriting Director for Property, Construction and Engineering Insurance at RSA Canada, a leading home, auto and business Insurer. Rob has over 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance sector and is a member of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), Canadian Construction Documents Committee (CCDC) and Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada (NIAC). Additional site safety information can be secured from your local chapter of the CCA.

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