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PRODUCTS: ELIMINATING HEALTH RISKS BY DESIGN

Innovative product eliminates key hazards for CDM 2015 designers

Construction activity on the UK highways network accounts for a significant proportion of construction sector work. The immediate dangers to the ‘safety’ of highway workers and the public are obvious e.g. a bridge collapse causing multiple fatalities or the death of a workmen struck by a vehicle during minor road works.

Highways England, Local Highways Authorities, Contractors and HSE have been working together to effectively reduce the toll of death and injury caused by such traditional ‘safety’ hazards.

The hazards remain but the risk has been reduced and the UK highways system is much safer for the workforce than it was 25 years ago.

HSE pushes health risks up the agenda

HSE SHIFTING FOCUS TO HEALTH

Safety is only one part of the ‘danger equation’. There are less obvious and more insidious hazards which damage the health of those involved in or affected by work on the highways.

HSE has in recent years shifted its priorities and efforts towards hazards which cause damage to health e.g. dust, manual handling, stress, noise and vibration. These hazards are now at the centre of HSE targets across all parts of the construction sector including highways projects. The regulator will be looking for action by designers under CDM 2015.

The Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) require that project clients must appoint a ‘Principal Designer’ (PD) responsible for overseeing project risk management during the pre-construction phase (planning and design).

All designers must seek to eliminate risks during design and the PD is required to check that those designers are meeting this obligation. The terms ‘Design’ and ‘Designer’ are very widely defined under CDM 2015 and ‘design’ includes the preparation of drawings, design details, specifications and calculations prepared for a design.

Silica dust and manual handling hazards

The key roles of Designers and the Principal Designer are illustrated by the hazards of silica dust and manual handing which can result in serious harm, namely:

  • Lung Disease – caused by the inhalation of small particles of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust released when concrete and other silica containing products are drilled and cut etc. using power tools.

The Lung Cancer Association found that 450 deaths a year are a direct consequence of exposure to RCS in the construction sector.

LARGE AMOUNTS OF DUST RELEASED

HSE reports that the construction industry had the largest number of occupational cancer deaths. Most of these cases were caused by past exposure to asbestos (2,600) and silica (600).

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders – caused by the manual handling of heavy components e.g. blocks, kerbs, lintels and plasterboard etc

HSE has reported that (annually) around 69,000 construction workers in GB suffer an illness caused or made worse by their work and that 45,000 of these cases involved musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). A third were new conditions.

Contractors struggle to control health risks

There is specific legislation requiring action on silica dust and manual handing by contractors and others on site. However, the risk from both these hazards is very difficult to manage on site.

Silica dust control involves water suppression and/or dust extraction equipment and both require regular maintenance and formal inspection. The levels of dust released are so great that RPE is also required and the workforce subject to routine health surveillance. Silica dust can also pose a danger to nearby workers and the public.

The manual handling of heavy components is equally problematic and must be thoroughly assessed. Expensive lifting equipment and handling aids are required which need proper maintenance and inspection. In addition, effective use of the equipment must always be strictly supervised.

ELIMINATING HAZARDS = NO RISK

Contractors are obliged to seek solutions which eliminate the hazards from silica dust and manual handling. However, where others specify the materials and components used the hands of contractors are tied.

Therefore, CDM 2015 requires that project designers, led by the appointed Principal Designer, must take the lead in eliminating hazards through the design (including by product specification). The first question all designers must ask is:

Which risks can be eliminated or reduced by design?

The consequences of acting to eliminate risk can be transformational. The financial and management costs involved in controlling the risks are avoided and the reliability of the protection provided for the workforce and others is 100%.

The outcome is inherent compliance with legislation for both designers and contractors alike. Where a hazard has been removed from the workplace the risk is eliminated.

‘Quick Win’ for designers

The scope for risk elimination is limited. Designers will never be able to design to avoid all risks on a construction project and removing one hazard may introduce new hazards e.g. greater assembly at ground level will reduce the need for work at height but may introduce a greater number of hazardous lifting operations.

RISK FREE CARRYING TWO DURAKERBS

So, designers must start by looking for ‘quick wins’ where hazards can be avoided without the introduction of equally significant further hazards.

What about the HSE priority hazards of silica dust and manual handling involved during kerb installation on highways projects?

The traditional standard concrete kerb weights around 60kg and is likely to cause severe musculoskeletal disorders when handled manually.

In addition, when these kerbs are cut to size with a power saw huge quantities of respirable crystalline silica dust are released into the breathing zone of the worker.

Experience shows that controls are prone to fail leaving workers exposed to serious risk and organisations open to enforcement action by the regulator.

One example of very effective hazard elimination is illustrated by DuraKerb – a lightweight kerb manufactured from waste plastic.

The key features are:

  • SILICA DUST FREE AND CAPABLE OF HAND SAWING

    Silica Dust – DuraKerb is not a concrete based product and can be cut to size with a handsaw. Even when cut with a power saw the non-concrete formulation means that respirable crystalline silica dust is not released. Lung disease from silica dust has therefore been eliminated by design

  • Manual HandlingDuraKerb is radically lighter than standard concrete kerbs and weighs 6kg which enables safe manual handling without the need for formal complex risk assessment and the use of specialised handling or lifting aids. MSDs have been eliminated by design.
Conclusion

Designers and Principal Designers have a key role in reducing the harm caused to those working on Highways and other construction projects.

The priority is to eliminate risks through the ‘design’ process, where reasonably practicable, including by the specification of safer products.

Quick wins which eliminate risks without creating other significant hazards are the best option and DuraKerb looks to be one of the best examples of products on the market.

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