Small sub-contractors also exposed to danger on building sites

On site, Kevin Bates Albert Carpets fitters wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure maximum safety during installation. On site, Kevin Bates Albert Carpets fitters wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure maximum safety during installation.

Smaller sub-contractors, who may not work with the heavy vehicles and towering equipment of major contractors, need to be equally concerned about the health and safety of their staff on building sites, says Kevin Bates Albert Carpets (KBAC), winners of a Master Builders Association (North) Health & Safety Award for 2014.

KBAC this year triumphed in the “Sub-Contractor without Site Establishment during Building Operations” category, one of two new categories for sub-contractors introduced to the prestigious annual MBA North awards in 2014.

Louise Ross, KBAC’s Health and Safety Representative in Johannesburg, believes safety on building sites depends on total commitment by every member of a company’s staff – irrespective of the size of the equipment employed or the scale of a contractor’s or sub-contractor’s involvement.

‘Although, to the uninitiated, the installation of flooring would appear to be a straight-forward and safe operation, KBAC is constantly exposed to many risks - particularly when involved in large, fast-paced commercial projects where we have to work in close contact with other trades such as ceiling contractors, painters, shop-fitters, and builders.

“KBAC is dedicated to meeting all Health and Safety requirements and ensuring that staff members are fully aware of changes in the regulations. We attend all H&S Forum meetings at MBA North, Department of Labour briefings, and ensure that all our staff have the required training. Health and Safety is a team effort which starts when material arrives and ends only when another injury-free day is achieved,” she explains. 

Here Ross lists some of the Health and Safety measures adopted by KBAC – at both its Johannesburg operations and in Cape Town at KBAC Group member, Albert Carpets - which helped scoop top honours in the MBA North awards category:

1. KBAC forklift trucks used to off-load material arriving from suppliers’ trucks are checked daily, regularly serviced, and all drivers has to have valid licences.

2. While moving and storing material in the KBAC warehouses, constant care is taken to ensure boxes are not dropped which can cause serious injury or even death.  KBAC offices /warehouses have their own safety processes from clearly marked fire signage, fire escape doors, floor markings, safety checks on ladders, appointment of risk assessors, first-aid officers, availability of fire extinguishers, storage of all hazardous glues and chemicals, proper ventilation and lighting.

3. While loading the vehicles in the morning, the warehouses are very busy, leaving room for accidents.  It is also essential that the fitters do not overload the vehicles. Once on site, KBAC has to ensure that its fitters are not exposed to fumes from adhesives. The vehicles are serviced and maintained 100% to prevent unnecessary accidents or injuries.

4. On site, fitters need to wear full PPE (overalls, safety boots, bibs, hard hats, gloves, and masks if required).

5. Health & Safety files have to be taken to site. These vital documents contain the relevant Safety Plan, Workmen’s Compensation Letters of Good Standing, Accident Forms, Emergency Contact Information, Method Statements, Risk Assessments, Toolbox Talks, Mandatory Appointments, Checklists etc.

6. All KBAC fitters/Contracts Managers undergo a full OHS medical examination annually. Team leaders have a First Aid Kit available and KBAC has also started First Aid training for team leaders.

7. Before the job can start, the fitters have to carry out a full risk assessment of the area they will be working in. This includes limiting the number of boxes carried individually, deciding which staircase or lift to use, and whether to hoist or carry material.  Should there be other contractors working in the same area, the company’s risks are much higher and questions such as ‘are we working near open edges’, ‘are there missing panels of access flooring creating hazardous holes’, ‘is there overhead work taking place’, ‘what fumes are emanating from the painters’, ‘are there electricians working perhaps exposing KBAC staff to live wires’, ‘are there tripping hazards’ etc. have to be asked.

8. Once floor fitting starts,  the health and safety risks to consider range from exposure to adhesive fumes/flammable adhesives (rare now as KBAC does not use hazardous glues), cutting hands with trimming knives, injuries while grinding screeds, slipping on wet screeds, and gas-related accidents  when using welding guns.

Ross adds, “Although KBAC mainly does flooring fitting which seems very basic, we are still exposed to many risks. MBA North carried out a comprehensive safety audit on our work at ABSA Towers North – the site we entered into the competition – as well as our warehouse, offices and vehicles. The KBAC Contract, Site and Warehouse management are very proud of winning a top award in the MBA North’s competition – and all deserve maximum praise for their cooperation in the KBAC safety drive.”

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