When poor safety affects mental health

By improving anti-collision safety practices, employees work-related health can improve for the better

It’s no longer taboo to discuss the effects of mental illness, or stress on a person’s health.  Stress at work has become one of the top reasons for absenteeism in the work place, across various sectors.  Statistics from the 2018 Cigna 360° Survey show that 84 percent of workers in the UK have suffered with mental health issues due to stress- now prioritised as a burgeoning issue in the UK.

We all know that the construction industry’s health and safety record has had its challenges and shortcomings.  It still requires continuous attention, initiatives and changes to practice and legislation to promote change. Thousands of injuries and work-related health and safety failings are reflected in annual Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) reports.

The Office of National Statistics recorded that of the 13,000+ work suicides recorded between 2011-2015 in the UK, 13.2% of those were in the construction and building trades industries. Pressure at work in a high risk industry should not be exacerbated by fear of collision in an elevated stress environment. At least this is an aspect that I know technology can help address. .

When fear strikes

Our focus is anti-collision safety. Industries at most risk comprise those with some of the most serious work-related health and safety concerns overall, like construction and the waste sector.

The responsibility to keep workplaces safe rests with employers, no matter which sector you look at.  If there’s something that can be done to improve work-related health and safety conditions, then those channels must be explored.

For example, construction workers are at  risk of being struck by machinery or vehicles. There are big power tools, moving plant, people and occasionally large lumps of material being shifted around.

The construction industry accident figures are still high, and the fatality figures suggest that spatial awareness is not always present when personnel are working in close proximity to vehicles and plant. Between 2016-17, the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) construction industry statistics show that being struck by a moving vehicle was the most common kind of fatal accident.

When considering the field of anti-collision safety, there is often the misconception that drivers and plant operators, being high up in big vehicles have a visual advantage.  We know that this is not the case as many of these large vehicles have blind spots and even the most vigilant operator can miss a pedestrian that’s too close. Plant operators have given us feedback saying that one of their greatest fears is hitting someone that they can’t see hidden behind a blind spot on their vehicle.  It makes their working day much more stressful than it needs to be, trying to function safely with that constant anxiety.

Mitigating one risk at a time

Some of the safety risks that cause plant and vehicle operators anxiety on a regular basis as we’ve discovered, can be addressed with RFID proximity warning alarms.

Large plant vehicles with blind spots: Commonplace on construction sites, plant vehicles can be sizeable with quite a few blind spots as a result. Even though many have cameras installed to aid operators, collisions with people still occur, not to mention numerous near misses. Having spoken to plant operators, the blind spot is one of the most stress inducing aspects of operating a vehicle like an excavator, telehandler, tipping dumper or roller. They just never know when someone might stray into the machine’s blind spot while the vehicle is moving.

Some models have better 360-degree visibility from the driver’s cab than others. Rear visibility is a constant challenge for all models and the use of a signaller may be advised. However, there is always that dangerous margin for error where personnel on foot may unintentionally drift too close to a working machine, undetected by the machine operator. This is of special consideration when the boom is raised, and visibility is hampered to the front right of the machine. If operators overload the bucket, this also presents a risk due to reduced visibility to the front of the machine.

Vehicles and people sharing tight spaces: At busy sites there will always be crossing points where people and vehicles have a higher likelihood of interacting. The HSE makes it very clear that where such points exist there must be robust measures in place – signage and signals. Often, the highest collision risks between vehicles and personnel is when vehicles are reversing and turning, especially in confined spaces. Even though there may be signs, instructions and barriers in place as part of segregation measures, there are occasions where the required safety measures fall short. Lorry drivers, forklift operators and dumper operators are all examples of jobs where, while loading, off-loading, turning and manoeuvring, visibility can be hampered.

By using technology to fill the gaps where errors occur, safety performance on site can be significantly improved. The knock-on effects are reduced collisions and encouraging a feeling of extra security for plant operators and ground personnel almost like having  an extra pair of eyes that see everything that they can’t. If we listen to workers’ concerns as employers and safety professionals, we can help to make working lives better, safer, and happier.

About the author

Gary Escott is the co-founder of SiteZone Safety, he has worked in the field of mobile plant safety for 15 years and has worked on the introduction of technology based safety products across other sectors. His goal is reducing the risk of collisions between vehicles and vulnerable persons using innovative products and technology.

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