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Construction site Source: iStock | hanohiki

Occupational health and safety for construction and assembly work

Information on the Construction and Assembly Work programme developed by the GDA

Employees in the construction sector are at higher risk of accidents and damages to their health; the accident ratio in construction is more than twice as high as that of the entire industrial economy.

Even “conventional” conditions at construction sites lead to an increased hazard potential, including

  • the type of work, e.g. working at heights, lifting and carrying heavy loads, work in confined spaces, hazardous substances
  • non-stationary, temporary work
  • climatic influences
  • time pressure, e.g. due to project and process planning and contractual requirements that are not ideal

These “hard” and “soft” influencing factors can cause employees tremendous physical and psychological strain, and often result in accidents, particularly when combined with insufficient occupational health and safety measures.

Work programme objectives

The Construction and Assembly Work programme was launched to reduce the frequency and severity of work-related accidents on construction sites, and focused on two fields that are particularly prone to accidents:

  • scaffolding work and the use of scaffolds
  • demolition and dismantling work

Experience has shown that the causes of accidents at construction sites are often to be found in the organisational field, e.g. when work is poorly planned and coordinated. To ensure that the higher risk potential at construction sites does not lead to an increase in the number of accidents, the work programme activities pursued the following goals:

  • Improving systematic awareness of occupational health and safety
  • Improving the planning and coordination of work processes at construction sites
  • Increasing safety awareness among the parties involved
  • Reducing mental stress on employees

The Construction work programme was planned and implemented by the regional authorities responsible for occupational health and safety, the statutory accident insurance institutions, and the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA). Activities were carried out between 2009 and 2012 and were supported by partners that included the German construction workers’ union IG BAU, employer associations, crafts organisations, manufacturers and professional associations.

Target groups

Occupational health and safety can only be effective at construction sites if everyone works together. The work programme therefore addressed any party that plans, coordinates, implements and employs occupational health and safety measures at construction sites, including

  • employers and managers (e.g. site managers and foremen)
  • employees at construction sites
  • architects, engineers and coordinators
  • owners
  • work equipment (e.g. scaffolds) manufacturers and/or distributors

In order to reach the various parties involved, the work programme developed and implemented a range of tailor-made activities.

Activities at construction sites

Between July 2010 and June 2012, inspectors audited more than 65,000 construction sites. Using a standardised model, they assessed potential occupational health and safety shortcomings and identified presumable causes, from which they were then able to derive further measures, such as conversations with owners and site managers.

Consulting construction companies

Taking the shortcomings identified during construction site inspections as a starting point, the inspectors held targeted prevention conversations at the respective companies’ offices. The consultation aimed to motivate companies to organise suitable measures to ensure the safety and health of their employees.

In these conversations, inspectors presented tools to strengthen occupational health and safety, pointed out the necessity of risk assessments and the resulting measures that need to be taken, and highlighted the benefits of these changes for the company as a whole.

Conversations with owners and coordinators

If in the course of the construction site audits inspectors identified owners as the “cause” of occupational health and safety shortcomings, they held targeted prevention conversations with the owners and/or coordinators.

With regard to the shortcomings they had identified, these conversations focused on the owners’ legal obligations in accordance with the Construction Site Ordinance; inspectors also pointed out the training and information events offered as part of the work programme.

Qualification and training measures

The work programme achieved one positive result that is particularly worth mentioning, namely the qualification and training measures on expert occupational health and safety knowledge. Due to the high demand, the programme was able to offer more than double the number of seminars.

These addressed managers at construction companies, employees of scaffolders, scaffold constructors and demolition companies as well as owners and coordinators. In total, 20,000 people took part in over 1,000 events.

Information material for companies and construction sites

The programme developed and distributed a range of new information materials to the target groups, namely scaffolders, scaffold constructors and demolition and dismantling companies. The materials included

  • warnings to be attached to the scaffolding
  • scaffold banners with warnings for scaffold constructors
  • information folders with checklists for supervisors in demolition/dismantling
  • wallet cards on building contaminants in demolition/dismantling

The short Sturz vom Gerüst – Was nun? [roughly translates to “What to do when someone falls from a scaffold”] was produced as part of the work programme and instructs employees on how to use personal protective equipment to prevent falls from scaffolds. At the same time, the short provides detailed information on necessary measures in the event of an emergency.

The Planning and Executing Construction Projects guidelines developed by the GDA

In future, the tried-and-tested cooperation procedures between the regional authorities responsible for occupational health and safety and the statutory accident insurance institutions are to be continued.

The GDA has developed new guidelines, entitled Planning and Executing Construction Projects, which contains regulations on collaborative procedures and the exchange of information between regional authorities and statutory accident insurance institutions in the construction sector. This allows for future use of synergy effects and stabilises cooperation among inspectors.

An efficient dual system in occupational health and safety

Available results indicate a decline in work-related accidents on construction sites during the project period, as can be seen in the reduction of the cost of accidents (in relation to salaries) in the scaffolding and demolition/dismantling sectors of the statutory accident insurance and prevention association for the German construction industry.
At the same time, these results illustrate the productive working relationship between inspectors employed by statutory accident insurance institutions and the regional authorities responsible for occupational health and safety with regard to construction site audits. The dual system in occupational health and safety works and is both efficient and effective.

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