The construction sector in Sri Lanka has tremendously grown in the recent past. It has developed into an important sector of the national economy. However, the occurrence of accidents (eg: due to electricity) is higher in the construction industry when compared to other industries. Accidents result in heavy loss of time, money, and other resources.
According to Annual Reports of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the construction industry is growing at an increasing rate. But, the number of fatal accidents is also increasing at a higher rate than that. It clearly shows that there is a lack of attention to health and safety aspects with the progress of the industry.
Accidents of work
Accidents are unplanned and uncontrolled events. In terms of operational probability, it is a class of events that incur a low level of expectancy, avoidability, and intention (Laufer & Ledbetter, 1997). The term Accident has been defined by Laney (1982) as an uncontrollable occurrence that results in injuries or damages. Combining above and other definitions, an accident is an unexpected, unplanned, unforeseen, event in a sequence of events. It occurs through a combination of causes. For instance, it may be due to substandard conditions and/or substandard acts. It may result in an interruption of work, physical harm such as injury or disease to a person or persons, damage to property, a near-miss, or any combination of these effects.
Impact of accidents
Construction worker injuries have broad and adverse impacts. It includes personal suffering of the injured worker. In addition, it causes construction delays and productivity losses incurred by the construction contractor. And it may cause higher insurance premiums that result from costly injuries and possible liability suits involved in the project. There are other impacts such as revenue losses for the owner of the project due to late project delivery, reduced morale of the workforce, etc.
A research carried out on Construction Accidents in Sri Lanka shows electrocution and exposures to harmful substances are considered to be significant causes for fatal accidents following falls. It further states major causes of electrocution are direct contact with live wires, ladders contact with power lines, crane boom contact with power lines, and materials hit with power lines.
Electricity as Energy Source at Construction Sites
Electricity is the most used energy source to power machinery, equipment, tools, office equipment, and illumination at construction sites. We normally cannot see, smell, taste, feel or hear electricity when safely contained in an insulated conductor. It powers an endless list of laborsaving appliances and life-enhancing and support systems that have become such an assumed part of our lives. Therefore we give little thought to its potential for causing harm.
Whenever we work with power tools or electrical circuits, there is a risk of electrical hazards, especially electrical shock. Anyone can expose to these hazards at work. Worksites are cluttered with tools and materials, fast-paced, and open to the weather. Therefore workers are exposed to more hazards. Risk is also higher at work because many jobs involve electric power tools.
Coming in contact with an electrical voltage can cause current to flow through the body. It results in electrical shock and burns. Serious injury or even death may occur. As a source of energy, we use electricity without much thought about the hazards it can cause. Electricity is a familiar part of our lives. Therefore often do not treat it with enough caution.
Is Electricity a major source of accidents at Construction Sites?
To prove anything, we must have records and data. Maintaining and analyzing accident data is very useful in proving the source of accident, frequency, and severity.
There are many formats to display safety performance in the workplace. Some examples are the safety tree, the safety green cross, etc. Most commonly used safety performance charts display information such as today’s date, the last date of occurrence of the lost time accident (LTA), count of LTA free working days thereafter, the maximum count of LTA free working days achieved without interruption by a LTA.
However, this does not display the cause of the accident. Parallel with the above safety performance display, we have to maintain a separate Accident Register with additional information and have to update this register in parallel with the preparation of the incident investigation report. There should be a separate column in the accident register to show the Cause of Accident. After some predetermined time period, we have to analyze the data to see the effect of electrical energy as a source of accidents at a worksite and can use a very simple calculation for this purpose. Calculating the percentage of accidents due to electrical energy versus total accidents occurred during that particular period will gives an idea about the effect of electrical energy as a source of accidents at a worksite.
Practical Methods to reduce accidents as a result of Electricity
In order to control accidents due to electricity, first, we have to create a safe work environment. Then we have to introduce how to work in a safe manner.
Safe work environment
We can create a safe work environment by controlling contact with electrical voltages and the currents they can cause. A safe work environment reduces the chance of fires, burns, and falls. We have to guard against contact with electrical voltages and control electrical currents in order to create a safe work environment.
Simple practice such as turning off the power supply before working on a circuit creates a safe working environment. Then we have to lock the switchgear. Then none can turn back power on inadvertently. It is better to tag out the circuit with an easy-to-see sign or label. It lets everyone know that somebody is working on the circuit.
Selecting correct type
Most of the time at our worksites, we use the wrong size or type of wire. We have to select the right size wire for the amount of current expected in a circuit. The wire must be able to handle the current safely. The wire’s insulation must be appropriate for the voltage. And it must be tough enough for the environment. But at the worksite, frequently workers use wires whatever available at the site.
Also, connections need to be reliable and protected. Electrical cords supplement fixed wiring. It provides the flexibility required for maintenance, portability, isolation from vibration, and emergency and temporary power needs. We can use flexible wiring for extension cords or power supply cords. Power supply cords are removable or permanently attach to the appliance. The size of the wire in an extension cord must be compatible with the amount of current the cord expected to carry. The amount of current depends on the equipment plugged into the extension cord. In addition, we have to fix wires firmly to socket outlets with suitable plug tops. Our construction workers’ usual practice is to loosely fix flexible wires to socket outlets.
Training of Workers
A safe work environment is not enough to control all accidents as a result of electricity. Workers must have the training and need to work safely. Safe work practices help a worker to control the risk of injury or death from an electrical accident. And workers must wear personal protective equipment. There are many types of PPE. It includes rubber gloves, insulating shoes, boots, face shields, safety glasses, hard hats, etc. Workers must wear protective footwear when there is a risk of electrical hazards present.
Other than practical methods to reduce accidents due to electricity, it is very important to have a safety program policy for the organization. The policy should cover the responsibilities of all employees. That includes supervisors, employees, and the specialists who inspect, install, and maintain the electrical systems and equipment. The policy should stress management’s concern and support. Individuals who are responsible for applying and enforcing the electrical policy should have standards of performance that include a periodic assessment of their electrical safety performance.
Basic areas of safety program
In addition to policy and implementation procedures, the electrical safety program should include four basic areas such as training and education, hazardous condition reporting, work practices, and housekeeping. All employees must be responsible for being aware of and reporting unsafe electrical equipment.
All workers should be trained to assist in discharging the electrical safety program responsibilities for their specific areas. If a worker use, install, repair, or modify electrical equipment and/or appliances, the supervisor must ensure that they have received the proper training. The supervisor should also monitor the worker and assess their performance against the established facility safety program policy.
Reporting of electrical hazards
A written procedure promoting the observation and reporting of electrical hazards should be implemented. Also, have to include an employee recognition program in conjunction with the hazard reporting program. Employees who help to locate electrical hazards must be recognized. It will help in ensuring the elimination of hazards in a timely manner.
A supervisor who handles a work gang must ensure that his workers follow safe work practices. Workers should be rated on their performance in following safe work practices. Areas around electrical equipment, such as circuit breaker panels, disconnects, and fixed power tools, should be kept free from stored items, debris, and any liquids or material that would create slippery floors or obstruct access to the equipment for maintenance or emergencies. When hazards of this nature are reported, it should be recorded. Then we have to issue necessary work orders for corrective actions.
All workers who employed to use electrical equipment should be trained in electrical safety work practices and equipment operation. Any changes in job duties will require additional safety training. The causes of many accidents are workers’ lack of knowledge of the equipment or its operation.
Workers should always report unsafe equipment, conditions, or procedures. Repairing equipment should receive top priority, even if that means rescheduling a process or project. Under no condition, defective electrical equipment causing electrical shock shall not be used.
How to assess the results of recommendations / Suggestions
The Management Guru Peter Drucker once said “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. Therefore to find out where we are going, we have to always assess our results. It shows whether we are in the correct path or deviated.
The primary task of assessing results is creating a path to receive information on the progress and current status. This information must be accurate and complete. They must be enough to analyze how the electrical hazard management system operates in practice. It must identify areas where remedial action is necessary for continual improvement.
Implementation of accident investigation system
We have to implement an accident investigation system under a responsible person in the organization. The investigation officer should have a thorough knowledge of the processes, materials, machinery, equipment, etc., in the organization. He should have a very good knowledge of the safety performance procedures. For example, when investigating an accident due to electricity, he must have thorough knowledge about the safety practices followed by the workers. The person investigating should question himself and find a solution whether substandard or unsafe conditions created the situation. Or whether a substandard or unsafe act created the situation.
In his recommendations, he has to compare whether there are any variances with the given instructions that have created a particular accident. If so he has to recommend new procedures/act.
Likewise, periodically we have to analyze after every accident and find out any practical deficiencies in suggested methods. Statistical methods such as Injury Frequency Rate (IFR), Injury Severity Rate (ISR) or Sickness Absence Rate (SAR), etc., can be used to compare improvement/deficiencies in above suggested Electrical Accident Preventive Systems.
- Laufer, A., Ledbetter, W.B., (1997), Assessment of Safety Performance Measure at Construction Sites, The Journal of Construction Engineers, 112 (4), pp 530 – 541.
- Laney, Z.C., (1982), Site Safety, 1st Edition, Longman Inc, New York.
- Rameezdeen, R., Pathirage, C., Weerasooriya, S., Study of Construction Accidents in Sri Lanka, Built Environment – Sri Lanka – Vol 04, Issue 01:2003