Night construction, lack of PPEs key safety concerns in the built industry

 

A police officer controls a crowd after a six-storey building collapsed at Tasia in Nairobi’s Embakasi area. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Night-time construction is one of the key safety hazards identified by players in the built industry, who recently met to deliberate on ways to improve health and safety standards in the sector.

The continuous professional development session organised by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) - Construction Project Managers Chapter, deliberated on construction safety equipment, sources of hazards, and training of health and safety experts.

They also discussed best practices and the role of the National Construction Authority (NCA) in the matter.

The experts also identified several gaps in health and safety sectors, which include a lack of standardisation in personal protective equipment (PPEs) and awareness of the needed safety measures among construction workers.

It was also noted that the informality of the sector partly contributes to the non-adherence to the necessary safety standards despite the existence of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2007. 

 Apart from nighttime construction, the other risky practices raised in the session include poor workmanship and the use of substandard materials.

This was mentioned by the National Construction Authority as documented in the session’s rapporteur report.

Manager in charge of compliance at NCA Stephen Mwilu in his presentation said safety is not a major reason the majority of the sites are suspended.

Data shared by the authority shows a lack of compliance certificate as the leading reason at 92 per cent.

It is followed by a lack of NCA-accredited skilled workers and site supervisors (88 per cent), a lack of NCA-registered contractors with valid certificates (86 per cent) and lack of board showing all approvals and professionals engaged (84 per cent).

Safety issues then follow with lack of hoarding, fencing and netting (80 per cent), lack of safety signs (80 per cent) and lack of personal protective equipment (78 per cent).

To ensure safety measures are adhered to, NCA’s focus this year will include joint inspections and a review of the criteria on how contractors are vetted.

“Some of the areas of focus NCA seeks to pursue in 2024 include the finalisation of the Contractors' Evaluation Criteria, review of the existing quality assurance checklist, increased information sharing, joint inspections and audits for interagency taskforces, collaboration on public awareness campaigns, and development of cross-agency training programs,” said Mr Mwilu in the presentation.

The authority does note the outdated Building Code with the new one awaiting parliamentary approval. Others are poor construction practices due to rogue professionals, poor workmanship, use of sub-standard materials and poor structural design, inadequate maintenance, and non-compliance with statutory requirements.

“Collaborative and individual responsibility is crucial in maintaining rigorous safety standards,” said Mr Mwilu.

The rapporteur’s report dated February 14, 2023 documents concerns raised by project managers about night time construction.

It is reported in the document that night shifts in construction have become a persistent problem.

“There should be a night shift plan clearly stating the details, such as the names of the workers,” the report states.

“Day workers should not work at night; hence, adherence to the eight-hour work shift should be observed.”

The report also indicates that neighbours should be informed of the night work schedule during the public participation sessions so that they agree and are aware of this. 

“Night work can also be limited to lighter work instead of operating heavy machinery,” reads the report titled Creating a Culture of Safety and Promoting Hazard Reporting in the Construction Industry in Kenya.

Project managers should also obtain permits from the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

The idea of professionalising the construction sector was also addressed with this role falling on the designer.

A designer, as explained by Erick Odongo, Director of Varel Engineering Co Ltd, is an organisation or individual, who prepares or modifies a design for a construction project (including the design of temporary works); or arranges for, or instructs someone else to do so.

He says designers can be architects, consulting engineers, quantity surveyors interior designers, or anyone who specifies and alters designs as part of their work.

They can also be principal contractors, specialist contractors, tradespeople or even commercial clients if they get actively involved in the design work for their project.

“A designer's decisions can affect the health and safety of all those involved in constructing a building, those who use it as a workplace, and those who maintain, refurbish and eventually demolish it,” he said.

Wearing PPEs, the report says, is one of the ways to ensure safety during excavation.

“Some of the trench and basement excavation hazards and risks include the collapse of excavations, falls and falling objects, materials or objects falling on workers, exposure or injury of underground services, lack of safe access, and water inrush, among others,” the report states.

“Common measures to prevent excavation collapse include planking and strutting, battering, soldier piles and timber laggings, soil nails and shotcrete, sheet piles, rock bolting, and others.”

The report notes a lack of guidelines in Kenya that comprehensively stipulate the PPE standards. “However, international standards can be used to check whether what is in the market fits the purpose of their intention,” it adds.

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