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Building or renovating? Consider your builder’s safety practices

I’ve been musing today over why complacency is so rife within the residential construction injury when it comes to safety. How many builders do you know, who snigger at the mention of safety, or simply avoid it as much as possible? Who are happy to get the odd nail through the hand, or cut requiring stitches, it’s all part of the job mate!

Well those sorts of minor injury might be considered part of the job, but how about a life-changing (or life-ending) injury? Think it won’t happen to you? You’ll never fall, you’ve been doing this your whole life, your balance is great! Nah mate, it won’t happen to me! And if it does I’ll deserve it, ’cause I’ve been an idiot.

If builders aren’t valuing their own lives, then we as home owners need to force them to. It’s not the building company owner you should worry about, it’s the new kid who started as an apprentice last week and doesn’t know any better.  It’s for him or her, that you should care.

What do most people think about, when considering builders for a renovation project?

1) Will they do a quality job;

2) Will they screw me for variations;

3) Will they get the job done on time? (a.k.a. by Christmas!).

When we did our renovation project in 2015, I must admit that I never asked myself how would I feel if one of the workers died on our job. But I should have. We should have checked that our builders would nurture their young workers and have a culture of active risk management on our job.

What would I ask second time around?  Well I wouldn’t want to badger or sound like an arse, obviously.  But I have 2 simple questions that any builder should be able to answer, to show they’ll do it right:

  1. How will you make sure your workers will be safe on this job – particularly the young / inexperienced ones?
  2. What will you do to ensure a fall from height won’t happen on this job? (falls from height being at behind the majority of builder fatalities)

Now I would hope that a builder would answer question 1 with something like “we plan every day’s work and look ahead at what could go wrong. We make sure we have controls in place to keep workers safe.  Young / inexperienced workers are actively (i.e. constantly) supervised by somebody competent.”

For the second question, here’s where the dollars come in so it’s a tricky area for all builders.  But I’d need to know that they will work from the ground if possible, and if not, they will use edge protection (e.g. scaffolding), they will cover up building cavities, they will use elevated work platforms, and only if really necessary would they use fall prevention / arrest systems (i.e. harnesses etc.) or safety nets.  I would want assurances that they would never walk across unprotected roof beams or work on those hideous 5m tall trestle work platforms – both things I regularly see tradies around here doing.

As a home owner you don’t have a duty of care under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.  However, your builder does. They should be complying with the law. If they don’t, don’t be surprised to find that SafeWork NSW or WorkSafe NZ (or whoever the regulating body is in your area) has slapped them with a fine while working on your job.

So for your next reno or new build, do your homework and check that the job will be done without sacrificing worker safety.