ANDY DIX, CHAIRMAN OF THE PRECAST FLOORING FEDERATION REPORTS ON THE LATEST HEALTH & SAFETY CODE OF PRACTICE
Mention Health & Safety to the man in the street, and it is quite likely these days that he will see it as a good idea that has occasionally been pushed too far, as when playing conkers is labelled as unsafe. The reality on construction sites, however, involves far more dangerous hazards. This is why the Precast Flooring Federation (PFF) has over many years spent a considerable amount of time and effort in conjunction with the Health and Safety Executive in publishing and revising its Code of Practice for the Safe Installation of Precast Concrete Flooring and Associated Components, the third revision of which was launched on Thursday 23 May 20313 at the British Precast Awards luncheon at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, by Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive. Members of PFF believe this code is of such importance that they have voted that adherence and independent audit to the code is a mandatory condition of membership of their federation.
In general, industrial safety has improved over the past 20 years, with significant reductions in the number and rate of injury to workers in the UK. However, construction still remains a high-risk industry and continues to see more deaths than any other sector. Although it represents only about 5% of the employees in Britain, construction accounts for 27% of fatalities and 9% of major injuries. In 2011/12, there were 49 fatalities – a rate of 2.3 deaths per 100,000 workers. This compares to an average of 59 deaths in the past five years and a decrease from the 50 recorded the previous year.
Falling from height continues to be one of the most common causes of fatalities and major injuries, with more than five incidents recorded every day. The Work at Height Regulations require suitable and sufficient practicable steps to be taken to prevent falls. Where they cannot be prevented but only minimised, measures must be taken to mitigate the consequences of any fall and where the potential fall could lead to injury the Regulations lay down a hierarchy of control measures to be taken. Top of the hierarchy is the planning of the work so that work at height is prevented, followed by the use of working platforms. The use of collective protection systems is next in the hierarchy as they are designed to minimise the consequences of a fall, whilst fall arrest systems are at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Since its launch, the PFF Code – which details the measures mentioned above and more – has been acknowledged as a best practice document for the industry, covering planning, organising, managing and carrying out work safely. It provides useful and often vital information for architects, structural engineers, main contractors and subcontractors as well as for managers, supervisors, foreman and operatives of the precast flooring specialists. This edition of the Code has been several years in preparation assisted throughout by members of the Health and Safety Executive. The new 106-page Code is available as a free download from the PFF website.
Most of the revisions in the new Code involve aspects not previously covered. For example, the manual handling operations regulations have been expanded to incorporate noise at work (with figures on limits for exposure levels in dB) and vibration at work. Hand-arm vibration transmitted from work processes into workers’ hands and arms can typically be caused by hand-held power tools such as portable disc cutters. Another introduction is a reference to the regulations for silica dust, the reader being referred to the HSE guidance publications CIS 36 Silica dust and CIS 54 Dust control on concrete cutting saws.
As regards design, there are now specific provisions for installing precast concrete flooring onto steelwork. In addition, the installation of precast concrete floors on masonry now include guidelines for thin joint construction.
Section 10 has been considerably modified with regard to lifting equipment. Responsibilities of contractors, employing organisation, and the crane owner are all detailed in the revised Code. There are now requirements for planning the lifting operation – including risk assessment and method statements – and the selection and duties of personnel are clearly defined. Section 10.7 presents guidelines for selecting cranes and, as documentation for cranes is now required, the specific information called for is set out in Section 10.8.5.3. The siting of cranes is also dealt with and there is a new requirement for the principal contractor to confirm the hardstanding bearing capacity and for a ‘Permit to lift’ confirmation.
Operating machinery near overhead cables is always a danger and the Code now includes consideration of such proximity hazards. In particular, distances when working near electricity lines and in the vicinity of aerodromes/airfields are stated. Of course, crane designs vary enormously and so guidelines for different types of crane have been added. The new Code also covers the new Notification of Conventional Tower Cranes Regulations 2010.
In comparison to the previous code, there are now notes on other lifting devices, along with additional guidelines on barring and jacking when moving components and materials.
Finally, as regards additional on-site works, the use of in-situ concrete has been changed from the previous code to include further details along with provisions for cutting units on site.
The updated Code is perfect for the training of erectors, foremen and supervisors to ensure that all have the skills and competence to carry out their roles in a safe manner. The PFF gratefully acknowledges the help and guidance provided by the Health and Safety Executive in the preparation of this Code and has also received support and comment from the Major Contractors Group.