Construction sites are known high-risk workplaces where workers are exposed to a broad range of situations that could potentially put their lives in danger.

Construction workers face risks from heights, machinery, moving objects, falling objects, slips, trips and falls, noise, vibration, materials handling, manual handling, collapsing trenches, hazardous materials, electricity and more. Given the high-risk environment, it’s important for project stakeholders to ensure there are clear plans in place to deal with any emergency.

According to Safe Work Australia, 401 workers died on Australian construction sites during the period 2003-2013; there’s no doubt most of these deaths could have been avoided if the correct safety protocol had been followed. This is why construction sites are governed by WHS laws and regulations that mandate that emergency procedures should be in place.

High risk work

An employer working in the high risk construction industry has additional WHS duties; the employer is required to ‘Prepare, Comply, and Review Safe Work Method Statements (SMWS)’ to the principal contractor.

High risk work:

  • involves the risk of a person falling more than 2m
  • involves tilt-up or precast concrete
  • is carried out in an area of a workplace where there is any movement of a powered mobile plant
  • is carried out on, in or adjacent to a road, railway, shipping lane or other traffic corridors in use by traffic other than pedestrians
  • is carried out in or near a confined space
  • is carried out in or near a shaft or trench deeper than 1.5m or a tunnel
  • is carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services
  • is carried out on or near pressurised gas mains or piping
  • is carried out on or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines
  • involves demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing
  • involves demolition of an element of a structure that is related to the physical integrity of the structure
  • involves, or is likely to involve, disturbing asbestos
  • involves structural alteration or repair that requires temporary support to prevent collapse
  • involves the use of explosives
  • is carried out in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere
  • is carried out on a telecommunication tower
  • is carried out in areas with artificial extremes of temperature
  • is carried out in or near water or other liquid that involves risk of drowning
  • involves diving work

Ways to minimise risk

Some ways to minimise risk on site include:

  • Create a risk management culture
  • Identify hazards
  • Manage hazards using hierarchy of control
  • Follow your company’s Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)
  • Ensure all workers are competent and trained in the task they are doing
  • Clear communication
  • Clear signage throughout the site
  • Maintain entry and exit points
  • Site security
  • Compliant storage of hazardous materials
  • Monitor environmental conditions
  • First aid training and resources
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Conduct a WHS audit
  • Implement a first aid alert call point system
  • Implement an evacuation system
  • Implement an emergency plan, should an accident occur

Hierarchy of Control

One of the most effective methods in reducing risk once a hazard is identified is to apply the Hierarchy of Control (in order of effectiveness):

  • Eliminate – remove the hazard/ risk altogether
  • Substitute – replace with an alternative method
  • Isolate – separate the hazard from the workers
  • Engineer Controls – physical changes
  • Administrative Controls – e.g. training, signs etc.
  • PPE – Personal Protective Equipment, e.g. eye protection, gloves etc.


Safety risks at construction sites can be greatly minimised by having effective WHS procedures in place. Comply with your company policy and get a qualified WHS auditor to assess all aspects of your site safety, to make sure everybody can get home safely from work.