Site safety is critical in construction projects, providing the balance between progress and protection. Beyond the blueprints, heavy machinery and engineering designs lies the safety of the people who work hard to make these big projects happen — the construction workers. Prioritising the safety of workers isn't just a legal obligation; it's a basic responsibility and fundamental duty of care for employers and contractors.

Safety protocol documentation on high risk construction projects is now mandatory under Safe Work Australia regulations.

A safe work method statement (SWMS) is required, which is "a document that sets out the high risk construction work activities to be carried out at a workplace, the hazards arising from these activities and the measures to be put in place to control the risks".

There is an interactive SWMS tool1 that provides guidance on preparing, using and reviewing documented safety plans for high risk construction work. It also includes a comprehensive list of high risk construction work, from heights to dangerous materials and confined spaces.

A business or employer that carries out high risk construction work has a duty of care to employees that includes preparing, keeping, complying with and reviewing SWMS protocols.

The need for safety awareness on construction sites

Worker injury claims in the construction industry on average cost $20,000 per person, totalling $29 million per year. Each year about 12,600 workers compensation claims are lodged by the construction industry for injuries and diseases involving one or more weeks off work — amounting to 35 serious claims each day, according to Safe Work Australia data2.

The construction industry recorded the second largest number of fatalities across Australia in 20233, and Safe Work Australia data shows machinery operators and drivers tend to be at increased risk4.

Obligations for construction sector employers and contractors

Providing health and safety training for workers is not optional, Australian legislation states that employers are responsible for providing health and safety information and training to employees.

Safe Work Australia guidance states that the law requires employers to provide and maintain:

  • a safe working environment
  • safe systems of work
  • equipment in a safe condition, and
  • mandatory employee education and training via information, instruction and supervision to ensure that each employee is safe from injury and risks to health.

These are the employer's duty of care, and failing in duty of care responsibilities can result in substantial fines, as well as the critical risk of compromising employee safety.

It is a core requirement for proper information, instruction and training to be provided to employees:

  • who do hazardous work, before starting the work
  • who could be put at risk by changes in the workplace, before the changes occur
  • as managers and supervisors to ensure employees are safe from injury and risks to health while at work.
One-size-fits-all safety messages and one-time training don't cut it in high-risk industries like construction. The diverse landscape necessitates tailored communication strategies.
Nayeli De la Fuente
Gallagher Workplace Risk

Challenges for businesses in maintaining safety awareness on site

Despite recording the second-highest fatality rate and several studies showing that comprehensive training programs significantly improve safety, the industry has low training investment levels, a gap that puts workers at unnecessary risk5 .

There are many challenges to successful site safety knowledge and education:

  • High turnover: The construction sector is subject to high worker turnover, making consistent safety training and awareness difficult.
  • Communication gaps: Ineffective communication between employers, contractors and workers can lead to misunderstandings and unsafe practices.
  • Resource constraints: Tight deadlines and budget constraints can create pressure to prioritise production over safety and lack of investing in employee training and safety equipment.
  • Language barriers: Changes in operating rules for construction have resulted in an influx of new workers to the sector who may be at greater risk of injury. Diverse workforces require inclusive communication strategies.
  • Complacency: Routine tasks can breed complacency about managing risks.
  • Climate exposure: Increased wet weather and flooding add new challenges.

Business benefits of active workplace health and safety training

Providing health and safety training is good for business because the investment it requires saves money in the long term and provides many added benefits.

  • Enhanced safety awareness: This helps prevent accidents by ensuring that workers are vigilant and know how to identify and avoid risky situations.
  • Productivity and efficiency: A safe work environment increases productivity and efficiency. Workers who feel confident in their surroundings can focus on their tasks and perform more effectively.
  • Reduced costs: Accidents and injuries can result in significant financial losses. Medical expenses, legal fees, compensation claims and project delays can be avoided or significantly minimised.
  • Positive work culture: A safety culture fosters a positive work environment where workers feel valued and find greater job satisfaction, resulting in higher morale and employee retention.
  • Company reputation: A construction company that prioritises safety demonstrates its commitment to the wellbeing of its workers may be more attractive to potential clients, partners and employees.

How Gallagher can help

The Gallagher Workplace Risk specialism provides safety education content that caters to diverse learning abilities, promotes long-term knowledge retention and reduces the risk of compliance lapses.

We design flexible and engaging programs, including online safety training, for employers, employees and contractors, on SWMS awareness and implementation, covering all critical areas to ensure worksites are meeting and ideally exceeding workplace safety obligations.

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