Sustainability is a topical issue for every industry and as such, the rate of businesses that are taking part and investing in greener practices and processes is continuing to increase. This is also in line with the announcement from the UK Government of its landmark Green Finance Strategy, which set out plans to drastically increase sustainable investment, and for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
There’s a clear argument to improve sustainability efforts across industries, with research showing that reducing emissions by 42% can result in a growth in the economy of 72%. So it comes as no surprise that the construction and building industry is changing significantly as well; many buildings are now designed to be as eco-friendly as possible, with a portion aiming to produce renewable energy on site through solar panels for instance. But with innovative green construction methods on the rise, how can employers ensure that with these new adaptations, workers and importantly lone workers are safe during the construction and development of such sites?
Materials and methods involved in greener construction and development are brand new to many workers and certainly not as familiar as traditional techniques, which can create safety risks. Research already shows that lone workers, those working at height, and also those in more typical working conditions face increased danger from green construction projects.
It was found that they involved an increased exposure to ‘working at height; with electrical current; near unstable soils; and near heavy equipment for a greater period of time’ than traditional, less sustainable projects. Workers faced with these environments are then also expected to tackle new techniques for construction and handle new, unfamiliar materials as well – potentially a dangerous combination. On top of this, the tasks are typically more high risk as well, such as: constructing atria, installing vegetated roofs, installing domestic or commercial wind turbines, and installing solar panels.
Findings also detailed that there had been a significant rise in injuries, including lacerations and sprains, from working with recycled construction materials, and a sharp increase in eye strain from working with reflective roof membranes, with links to the 24% increase in falls from height. Also revealed, was a rise in exposure to harmful substances as a direct result of workers installing greener, more innovative wastewater technologies.
It’s clear there are unique challenges for employers to overcome to be able to provide improved safety for workers on these sustainable construction projects, particularly as techniques become more commonplace. With this form of development intended to improve and protect the health of its future occupants, it’s imperative that the health and safety of construction workers isn’t sacrificed along the way.
To meet health and safety requirements, employers need to ensure they’re analysing every aspect of the scenario and implementing the best and most suited safety technology to protect all workers, from those working alone to those working at height.
Lone worker devices are a vital resource for those that work in isolation as they operate without supervision or direct contact with colleagues and so the risks are significantly increased. Without team members nearby the speed at which assistance can be provided in the event of an injury, illness or other emergency incident is reduced. Users must rely on these devices, such as robust smartphones with built-in alarms or tilt sensors, and expect them to have a constant connection and work faultlessly; so that if an emergency occurs, they can trust in the technology to raise an alarm and it will be dealt with effectively. To ensure this is a reality, employers need to carefully consult with specialists to ensure the right technology is selected to suit every situation.
There are multiple factors to think about as well, not just the device itself, and the first point to consider is the workplace employees are operating in, to assess which features and format would be most suited. For example, employees on construction sites require hard wearing devices that can withstand being dropped and can be operated by someone wearing heavy duty or wet gloves. There are multiple options available on the market and by working with specialists, businesses can ensure that every working environment has a bespoke setup that is specific to the needs of the employees and the business as a whole, to counteract the increased risks from these greener construction situations.
Functionality vs cost
In addition to the environment, another factor for consideration is employee communication. Lone worker devices can now be multi-functional and address additional communication challenges, as well as worker safety. So instead of carrying a number of devices that serve different purposes, functions such as comms, lone worker and messaging can all be integrated into the same device. Alternatively, if a business has already installed a communications system, but without a lone worker function, the existing solutions can potentially be enhanced to provide lone worker safety functionality. For some organisations this can be a cost-effective solution to the issue of lone worker safety, which in an economically-strained time is beneficial.
However, procurers shouldn’t be swayed by the cheapest options available, as ultimately worker safety relies on these decisions and they need to be able to instil confidence in the workforce it is supposed to help protect. Cheaper overseas devices don’t adhere to the same standards and businesses can’t trust that these have been fully tested and certified.
Clearly businesses need to make these changes now to streamline employee safety in line with the shifting landscape and innovative procedures, but they need to make the right decisions that suit these environments. By working with a supplier that is an expert in the market, they can help to evaluate a business’ requirements in detail and recommend a suitable solution that fits their specific needs within a greener construction environment, while focusing on integrating systems where possible to save on costs; rather than adopting a ‘one device fits all’ approach that doesn’t suit the increasingly sustainable future.
Klaus Allion, Managing Director, ANT Telecom