Tradies OHS

I see tradies working safely every day. Looking out for each other, making safe choices. On sites that look chaotic, messy, noisy, and busy. Amongst the chaos is a bunch of guys making hundreds of choices every hour. Hundreds of safe choices that go unrecognised until that one choice that goes wrong, ends up in casualty and all over snapchat.  Another tradie statistic.

If we’re talking honestly, safety doesn’t seem a big priority among tradies. Getting the job done on time and on budget so you’re making a profit at the end of the week is a far bigger concern. When faced with a decision to go get the correct equipment to do the job safely or just quickly jump up and get the last couple of nails in, we all know what happens.

It’s all nice and easy sitting in an office but it’s a whole different ball game on site. If you haven’t spent serious time on site, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Rocking up in a fancy pair of boots, shiny hard hat, and banging on about working safely isn’t going to change things. Having all the stuff you’re doing wrong pointed out by some knob doesn’t help at all. What about pointing out all the things that are done well, all the ways safety is being managed well. 

Unfortunately, the statistics paint a pretty rough picture. According to WorkSafe Victoria around 10 tradies are seriously injured at work every day. That’s 10 mangled hands, smashed fingers, stuffed backs, messed up eyes, bung knees. Every day, 3,560 compo claims every year.

Let’s hear what WorkSafe’s top dog has to say,  "The number of deaths, injuries and safety breaches prove that everyone – builders, contractors and workers – must do more to make sure workers get home to their families safely every night," WorkSafe Chief Executive Denise Cosgrove said. "The injuries caused on sites are not always life threatening, but are often painful, costly and result in long periods off work," said Ms Cosgrove.

During these long periods off work another major issue pops up. Mental Health. For tradies, the job’s not just a job. It’s so much more. When you can’t go to work a whole bunch of stuff starts going through your head. “How am I going to pay the bills?” “When am I going to be able to go back to work?” “Will I be able to get back to full strength?” You start to doubt yourself.

Being away from the boys is hard. You might hang shit on each other all day and have a whinge and sook every now and again but when you’re not part of the crew anymore, it starts to take its toll in your head. Statistics released on the official Tradies' Health website reveal that 18 per cent of injured workers sought mental health services after six months off work. After a year off, that number increased to 30 per cent.

That’s nearly 1 in 3 who go and seek help. What would the number be if you included all the ones who don’t speak up? The ones who just grunt it out alone. This all starts with attitudes towards safety on the job site. The most common one is, 'it won’t happen to me'. Of course not. Not me. Some other bloke sure but not me. We’ll get back to attitudes later, but for now let’s explore the 5 most common hazards for you.

The Top 5

1. Working at Heights

We’ve all heard of the bloke who fell off a roof, slipped off a ladder, stumbled off a scaffold. These types of hazards and the resulting incidents make up 25% of all workplace fatalities. That’s a quarter of all workplace deaths because of falling from heights. There are many simple strategies that you can use to reduce the risks involved. Fall arrest & restraint systems and solid working at heights training go a long way to making this type of work a hell of a lot safer. Organising scaffolds, setting up edge protection and putting on a harness requires time, planning and extra effort. You can weigh up the pros and cons for yourself.

2. Asbestos Exposure

If you’re working on a house built before 1990 then every time you smash into a wall for a demo or cut a new opening out, there is a significant risk of being exposed to deadly asbestos fibres. Each time you inhale some dust containing asbestos you run the risk of developing an asbestos related lung condition. Now, if you’re already chugging through a tonne of darts every day you might not care. But what about the fella working beside you or in the room next door? It doesn’t take much to find out about and act on the information needed to manage the risks. Older buildings should have an asbestos register, get some asbestos awareness training so you know what to look for and get things tested if unsure.

3. Electricity

Hazards due to electricity comes in many forms, some of which you can see. Problems with extension leads, power tools, and exposed wires are easy to manage. Underground services and dodgy wiring hidden behind walls are not so easy to spot. Dial Before You Dig is a great service to help with locating underground services and taking appropriate action to work safely in the vicinity. Another simple way to increase safety around electricity is having your electrical tools and equipment regularly tested.

4. Heavy Lifting

Musculoskeletal disease, more commonly known as muscle strains and sprains are another common injury for tradies. If you permanently injure your back, you could lose your entire income due to not being able to go to work. Often these injuries are due to lifting more than you should, or in a way that increases the strain. Back pain and muscle sprain are a result of poor lifting habits. It is important that things are done to promote safe lifting techniques. Another thing that would make a big difference to the number of injuries is asking for help. Some people might think that asking for help would make them seem weak – however, asking for help shows you know your limits. Injuring yourself and letting the team down due to ego, now that’s weak as piss.

5. Excessive Noise

Using loud equipment and machinery is an everyday part of the job. Excess noise is a risk when operating a heavy vehicle and working close to other construction work. Unfortunately, once you feel pain the damage is already done, and noise-related hearing damage is permanent. So, taking action to prevent the damage is important. This can be as simple as wearing earmuffs or plugs whenever you are using a hand drill or other loud piece of equipment.

Creating a positive attitude towards safety starts by talking about it. Knowing what to say and how to say it requires access to solid, no-bullshit information. This is where we come in. We’ve had years of experience on site and understand that attitudes aren’t going to change overnight. We can provide you some simple strategies to get the conversation started and the move safety in the right direction.

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