Now is the time of year when many building owners’ thoughts can turn to sprucing up their properties where they are starting to look a bit tired, and getting those essential checks, repairs and renovations sorted.
If you are a residential landlord, for instance, you may be planning to get some interior alterations done or your flats redecorated – ready perhaps for the next influx of student tenants after the summer break. For larger commercial properties, while a number of your tenants are on their holiday break, it may be the ideal time to have the lifts inspected and tested, and the car parking bay markings repainted. Smaller business owners may be planning to have gutters cleared out, or to get a fresh coat of paint on the office’s exterior woodwork.
Your Health and Safety Responsibilities
As a building owner, user or managing agent, no matter the size of your property or the nature of the work to be done, if you are doing maintenance, small-scale building work or any other minor works, you do have responsibilities to ensure that no-one is harmed during the work, and that your building is safe to use and maintain.
However, many property owners and managers, particularly those who only occasionally have construction work done, are not generally experts in such work. Although you are not expected to actively manage or supervise the work yourself, you have a big influence over the way the work is carried out. And the decisions you make will have an impact on the health, safety and welfare of both workers and others affected by the work. This includes the general public.
So it’s important to go about it in the right way! Effective planning now will help ensure that your work is well managed with fewer unexpected costs and problems.
Plan in Good Time
You will need to decide which designer and contractor will carry out the work and how much money, time and resource is available. That means appointing your main contractor as early as possible so they can help you gather information about the project, engage any necessary subcontractors and ensure all required materials (and any plants to be hired) is available when the work requires it.
Remember, you have a duty to select competent contractors, who have suitable qualifications and insurance cover, and that they are your responsibility while working on your site.
Common Areas of Risk / Hazard
The following are some of the biggest potential causes of accidents and ill health to the workers involved in your repairs and renovations:
Falls from Height: Many repair and renovation jobs require working at height – whether it’s replacing guttering, or a light bulb. Every year falls from height at work result in people suffering serious injury or being killed.
Many of those incidents involve the (inappropriate) use of ladders. Most accidents occur because ladders are not securely placed and fixed. Other common causes are over-reaching and over-balancing such as when workers are climbing ladders while carrying loads, for example.
In other words, using ladders when other, more suitable equipment would have been safer.
Exposure to Asbestos: Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to many diseases, particularly of the lungs and chest lining, which may not take full effect until years later. Trades such as joiners, plumbers and electricians are particularly at risk, during maintenance or installation work.
Unless built after 2000 (when its use became illegal) you must assume there is asbestos present within your premises, unless you can demonstrate otherwise. Common places it is found is in old floor tiles, sanitary wear, artex, roof shingles and flashing, and insulation (around boilers, ducts, pipes, fireplaces).
To protect your workers and those occupying the premises, all existing asbestos-containing materials need to be effectively managed to ensure that they are in good condition and not damaged in any way.
Exposure to Building dusts: Work activities may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, vapour, gas or fume. For example, when:
- cutting a material such as stone or wood
- using a product containing volatile solvents
- handling a dusty powder
- welding stainless steel
Prevent dust by using wet cutting and vacuum extraction on tools; use a vacuum cleaner rather than sweeping; use a suitable, well-fitting mask.
Working in Confined Spaces: Workers may also need to work in areas where oxygen levels are, or may become, low for example in confined spaces. These occur in such places as loft spaces, IT cupboards, plant rooms, and basements.
Note that this includes where internal rooms have little or no ventilation. Only recently a tiler laying floor tiles in a bathroom was found dead by the house owner. The adhesive used to fix the flooring contained a large amount of dichloromethane. It was found that a wholly inadequate face mask was being used and that the young worker had been asphyxiated by the adhesive fumes.
Lifting & Carrying: Of non-fatal injuries sustained by trades workers, but which also have long term effects, 65% resulted in musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). You have a duty to ensure that manual handling tasks are kept to a minimum by ensuring that workers have suitable equipment at their disposal, to lift and move loads.
The HSE provides useful information on the lifting techniques used for certain tasks such as the handling (& installation) of plasterboard, kerbs & paving, and blocks and masonry units.
And talking of “lifts” if you have customer and service lifts on the premises when did you last have them Inspected and tested? And have you checked that stair rails are securely fixed and haven’t worked loose?
Holes and Structures: if your workers are digging inspection holes or to lay new pipework, have they been barriered off or covered to avoid people, including the public, falling in?
If you plan to open up an internal space within the building and are removing walls, beams, chimney breasts, roofs and the like, have you ensured that any props used to support remaining structures have been installed by a competent person?
Care with Electricity: many workers are killed or badly injured each year by electrocution. Check that all electrical supply and other services have been switched off before any drilling into walls takes place! And do not allow any excavators or power tools near suspected buried services.
Planning an effective way to manage your projects now will help ensure that any work carried out is done so safely – and with fewer unexpected costs and problems.