Inspecting Occupational Safety and Health in the Construction Industry

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The International Labor Organization

Summary Statement

International Labor Organization handbook is designed to help provide information and training for inspectors. It contains information on key safety and health concepts and occupational safety and health issues, including managing an inspection program and performing on-site inspections.


The construction industry is one of the most dangerous sectors. The incidence of fatalities, injuries and illnesses to construction workers are among the highest in most of the countries. With a view to preventing accidents and diseases among workers in the construction industry, in 1988 the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Safety and Health in Construction Convention (No. 167), and Recommendation (No. 175).

As like other ILO conventions and standards on occupational safety and health (OSH), these instruments are essential points of reference to develop national standards, to set forth the principles, tripartitely agreed, that should govern the OSH in the construction industry at both the national level and to provide guidelines to the construction enterprises. To support the practical implementation of the standards, in 1992 the ILO published the code of practice, Safety and Health in Construction, containing technical guidance, recommendations and know-how for all those who have responsibility for OSH within the construction sector. The ILO has worked in numerous countries to carry out its programme of promoting the implementation of these standards. However, laws are only as good as their enforcement.

A system for the supervision of the implementation of the labour standards into the workplaces is also necessary. The inspection of OSH in the construction industry has many common issues with the OSH inspection in other industries, but there are also many specific sectoral issues. This handbook “Inspecting occupational safety and health in the construction industry” deals with these specific issues on OSH in the construction industry as a tool for information and training for the inspectors.

It has been specially designed for the managers of the labour inspectorates and for the field inspectors. It seeks to inform them on key concepts and OSH issues of the construction industry as well as to upgrade some specific competences that they both will require in order to fulfil their functions: mainly managing an OSH inspection programme in the construction sector in the case of the managers, and performing on-site OSH inspection visits in the case of field inspectors.

In addition to the managers in labour inspectorates and field inspectors, this handbook may also be of interest to other people involved in the construction industry. These could include trainers and advisers on OSH issues belonging to government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, professional or industrial bodies, training institutions as well as the internal staff of enterprises of the construction sector, managers, OSH specialists, supervisors or workers.

This document was elaborated for the International Training Centre of the ILO by Mr. Luis Alves Dias, Professor of the Department of Civil Engineering and Architecture of Instituto Superior Técnico - Technical University of Lisbon and an international OSH expert in construction. We thank Mr. Luis Alves Dias for the preparation of this handbook and the Government of Italy for the financial support which made this publication possible.

Mr. Félix Martín,
Senior Programme officer,
Social Protection Programme,
International Training Centre of the ILO

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Key OSH and construction concepts

3. The construction industry and OSH 4. Selection of construction enterprises and sites for inspection 5. Planning, monitoring and evaluation of an OSH inspection programme 6. OSH organization of the construction enterprises and sites, including
management of subcontractors
7. OSH hazards/risks on construction sites 8. OSH control measures on construction sites 9. Instruments and methodology for inspection visits

10. Summary and conclusions


a) Example of an Inspection Plan for construction sites
b) Example of a checklist to inspect construction sites
c) ILO Convention C167 on Safety and Health in Construction, 1988
d) Recommendation R175 on Safety and Health in Construction, 1988

Index of Figures

Figure 1 Example of a risk scale (likelihood x severity)
Figure 2 Construction project, construction work and construction job concepts
Figure 3 Organization chart of those involved in a construction project (execution phase)
Figure 4 Construction Management Systems/Models
Figure 5 Distribution of the fatal accidents in the construction industry
Figure 6 Accidents in the construction industry versus all industries
Figure 7 The main elements/objectives to take into account in a construction project
Figure 8 Prevention costs versus occupational accidents costs
Figure 9 The main general provisions of the ILO Convention 167
Figure 10 Causes of fatal occupational accidents in construction
Figure 11 The European Union approach (Directive 92/57/EEC)
Figure 12 A possible strategy for promoting and improving OSH in the construction industry
Figure 13 Example of the distribution of two-monthly inspections
Figure 14 Control and evaluation of an OSH inspection program
Figure 15 Some facts on subcontracting in the construction industry
Figure 16 Subcontracting: limited and controlled
Figure 17 Control of subcontractors and subcontracting chain
Figure 18 Flow chart of the subcontracting chain
Figure 19 Form for controlling of the insurance covering the occupational accidents
Figure 20 Most frequent hazards/risks in the construction industry
Figure 21 The management of construction projects and their resources
Figure 22 Form for recording the distribution of PPE and information on hazards/risks
Figure 23 Form for monitoring materials and permanent equipment
Figure 24 Form for monitoring the support equipment and accessories
Figure 25 Form for monitoring construction operations/elements
Figure 26 Example of a MPP of a construction operation/element
Figure 27 Classes of temporary guardrails (EN 13374:2004)
Figure 28 Technical characteristics/specifications for temporary guardrails (EN 13374:2004)
Figure 29 Classification of a working scaffold
Figure 30 Width, Headroom and stair classes of a scaffold
Figure 31 Service load classes of a scaffold and their application
Figure 32 Classification of temporary safety nets
Figure 33 Systems of temporary safety nets
Figure 34 Classes of temporary safety nets
Figure 35 Maximum fall height and minimum catching width of safety nets
Figure 36 Maximum deformation of temporary safety nets and clear height under it
Figure 37 Form for recording the non conformance/compliance and corrective/ preventive actions
Figure 38 Occupational safety and health monitoring
Figure 39 Occupational accident statistics
Figure 40 Enforcement instruments
Figure 41 Results of the inspection of 25000 construction sites in the EU (SLIC, 2005)
Figure 42 Groups of non compliances
Figure 43 Form for a safety and health plan for very small construction projects
Figure 44 Main steps of the inspection process of a construction site
Figure 45 The proposed rating system

Index of Tables

Table 1: Content of the Prior Notice
Table 2: Possible criteria for the selection of construction sites (1st Level)
Table 3: Possible criteria for the selection of construction sites (2nd Level)
Table 4: Possible criteria for the selection of construction enterprises (1st Level)
Table 5: Possible criteria for the selection of construction enterprises (2nd Level)
Table 6: Example of the definition of relative weights of the criteria and sub-criteria
Table 7: Classification of construction enterprises by the number of workers employed
Table 8: The nine General Principles of Prevention
Table 9: Identification of hazards and risks of a construction project/site
Table 10: Examples of Personal Protective Equipment
Table 11: Examples of measures to prevent some of the main hazards/risks in construction
Table 12: Possible use of the enforcement instruments in view of the non-compliances
Table 13: Example of a possible structure and contents for the SHP
Table 14: Example of structure and contents for the SHF for a building
Table 15: Summary checklist for the evaluation of a construction site (first level)
Table 16: Detailed checklist of the evaluation of a working scaffold (second level)


The global estimates of occupational accidents published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), based on world figures for all economic activities in 2001, are about 350 000 fatal accidents and 270 million non-fatal accidents (those causing more than 3 days’ absence) every year.

In the construction industry, the ILO estimates that there are about 60 000 fatal occupational accidents (about 17% of the total) a year [Valcárcel, 2003], although the industry accounts for only 5 to 10% of all employment (there are estimated to be about 110 million construction workers in the world). The global figures suggest that the construction industry may also have more than 45 million non-fatal accidents. This means that in the construction industry there is about one fatal accident every 10 minutes and more than one non-fatal accident per second.

These figures are unacceptable from both the social and the human point of view. Although much has been done, and continues to be done, around the world to improve working conditions and prevention measures, there is still much to do in terms of an occupational safety and health (OSH) policy aimed at “zero accidents” and “zero disease” in the construction industry.

The recognition that the construction industry is a highly hazardous industry cannot justify its poor OSH record. In fact, the management of OSH risks and compliance with OSH laws in the construction industry are but two of the main issues that need more attention.

Those involved in the construction industry know the construction processes. They select the most appropriate one for each case, taking into account productivity and, in more and more cases, OSH. In fact, construction professionals, in general, know the hazards involved in each construction process and they also know the prevention measures to take. In spite of this, occupational accidents and diseases continue to happen, and so there is a failure in the management of OSH risks.

Compliance with OSH laws is very poor in many countries. The explanations for this are many, including the high number of existing laws and regulations on OSH to be obeyed (sometimes wide-ranging and very prescriptive, making it hard to apply them), and all the technical standards, specifications and codes of practice related to the construction industry.

Moreover, monitoring compliance with these laws and regulations is sometimes overlooked by enterprises (internal control) and by labour inspectorates (external control) for reasons including limited human resources (not enough well qualified safety experts and inspectors in proportion to the high number of enterprises and sites and their range of economic activities).

While enterprises have a duty to equip themselves with all the resources needed to perform their jobs in a safe and healthy workplace, labour inspectorates cannot have an inspector on each construction site to force compliance with the laws and regulations. Accordingly, there is a need to prioritize OSH inspections of construction enterprises and sites.

This document aims to contribute to an effective OSH inspection in the construction sector. It aims to help labour inspectorates to achieve two main objectives: (i) managing an OSH inspection programme; and (ii) performing on-site OSH inspections in the construction sector. For this purpose, a knowledge of key construction concepts and of the construction industry is of the utmost importance. They are covered in Sections 2 (Key OSH and construction concepts) and 3 (The construction industry and OSH). They may be of interest for both themanagers of the labour inspectorates and labour inspectors themselves.

The first objective (managing an OSH inspection programme) is mainly for managers in labour inspectorates who have to prepare and manage the internal procedures for the selection, monitoring and evaluation of an effective OSH inspection programme and for on-site OSH inspections by the labour inspectors. Sections 4 (Selection of construction enterprises and sites for inspection) and 5 (Planning, monitoring and evaluation of an OSH inspection program) should be of special interest to managers in labour inspectorates.

The second objective (performing on-site OSH inspections) is for labour inspectors who make on-site inspections of construction enterprises and sites. Sections 6 (OSH organization of the construction enterprises and sites, including management of subcontractors), 7 (OSH hazards/risks on construction sites), 8 (OSH control measures on construction sites) and 9 (Instruments and methodology for inspection visits) should be of special interest to labour inspectors.