Construction sites are the riskiest work environments in the UK. And one of the most risky aspects of construction is working at height. So, it would seem logical that the most effective way to make the industry safer is to do as little work onsite as possible and minimise the need for people to work at height.
That’s a reasonable assumption, but does it stand up to rigorous analysis by experts? Well, it seems it does according to a study commissioned by Stewart Milne Group for the Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) research project.
The study assessed the differences in risk exposure looking specifically at floors and window installation. The first system in the study (GEN 1) is built on site using manual assembly techniques with the aid of a forklift. This method is also typical of masonry-built homes.
The other system (GEN 3), uses higher levels of prefabrication and relies on craning panelised units such as floor cassettes into position on site. The study found that there was a 20% reduction in risk exposure with GEN 3 methods compared to GEN 1.
These operations were deemed to be indicative of the overall risk profile. Floor cassettes remove risks such as trips and falls, manual handling and material movement. There’s also no need to install safety decking, which makes the installation process faster.
Loose joist and flooring installation involves all of the above risks.
In the case of window installation the study assessed the risks of installing windows in a closely managed manufacturing environment compared to onsite installation. Offsite significantly lowered the manual handling and working at height risks.
The results reflect the positive picture painted by our own safety reporting systems. Perhaps it’s not surprising. Injury rates on construction sites are 42% higher than in manufacturing. Additionally, the crane-erect panelised MMC methods were calculated to reduce safety risks and hazard exposure on site.
There are many options for making construction a safer industry. The research suggests that adopting a panelised system such as I-SIP or i-FAST is one of the most effective.