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Look Twice, Act Once - Site Emergencies Part 1: Fire

Published on: Thursday, 10 November 2022

Welcome to November – that means we are nearly at the end of 2022!

This month we are going to be looking at emergencies on site, what they can look like, and what to do if there is any kind of an emergency. And don’t forget there will be a short quiz at the end of the month which will allow you to win credit at your local MM Electrical store!

This week, we are looking at fire – and specifically what happens and what to do if you’re involved in a fire outbreak on a construction site.

Fire is not something to be trifled with. It can cause severe burns, maiming, long term health issues, and death. And, whilst there is often a lot of focus on residential fires and fires in completed buildings – a fire on a construction site can be just as, if not, more deadly.

This is due to the unfinished nature of a building – no doors or walls to slow down outbreaks, plenty of oxygen to fuel it, and possible contact with volatile and combustible material on site from rubbish through to chemicals which may make the fire much, much worse.

The causes of a fire on a site can be numerous – from sparks due to grinders, to an electrical fault (which is what caused the burn down of the Notre Damme cathedral in 2019), hot work, and of course smoking on site. The bottom line is that it can be dangerous, and come form a multitude of different places.

So what should you do?

Before a fire even starts, you should be familiar with the emergency exit strategy. This is not just for fires, but in the case that you need to get out of the dwelling in an emergency, then you will need to make sure you know where the rally point is, and where you’re all going to go. You should also be making sure your assessment of the work site is including clear walkways in the case of an emergency. The last thing you want is to be on the move away from danger and trip and injure yourself on a stray piece of lumber. This also ties into the notion of keeping a clean work area and building site – with less refuse around, there is less fuel for a fire to use and spread. Remember, fire needs Heat, Fuel and Oxygen to function – we can’t get rid of oxygen, but we can mitigate the fuel and the heat.

In the event of a very small fire (no bigger than a small dinner plate), you may like to try and stop if from becoming a larger fire. You can do this by removing the fuel, removing the oxygen, or extinguishing the flame. However, depending on the type of fire, this may not be achievable. Electrical fires are better handled by professionals and cannot be put out by water, whereas a fire caused by a cigarette butt might be able to be put out with water from your canteen, for example. Fire blankets are particularly effective for this, and we recommend that you should have one on hand.

In the event of an outbreak of fire, you should immediately cease what you are doing, and if it hasn’t already been done set off the fire alarm. If you are the one who has set off the fire alarm, you may decide to attempt to fight the fire – you must only attempt to fight a fire if you are competent to do so, meaning you know how to use a fire extinguisher, and understand the immediate risks. You must make sure someone is aware of your whereabouts. You must ensure that you never turn your back to the fire, and always stand with your exit closest to you. This is so you can get out if you need to. And, if the fire begins to get larger than you’re comfortable with, immediately head to the evacuation point.

If you must evacuate, and smoke has started to occupy the room you’re in or moving through, stay low to the ground to avoid inhaling as much smoke as possible. If need be, you may need to crawl to safety.

Once outside, make sure you speak to your boss or tradesperson, to ensure they can mark you as safe and sound.

Fire is highly dangerous. We cannot stress this enough. Fire does not take any prisoners, and will ravage a building site in minutes. It will not show you grace, nor mercy, and the best opportunity you have is to get away from it as quickly as possible. Remember, your safety is your own responsibility, and it is also paramount. So, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

In the event that you do catch on fire, remember to stop, drop, and roll. (AE44996) That is STOP where you are, DROP to the ground, and ROLL backwards and forward to smother the flames.

It’s been a big post this week – but we’re glad you got through it! Next week we will be talking about Drilling errors.

Look Twice, Act Once - Site Emergencies Pt. 2: Drilling Errors

Published on: Thursday, 10 November 2022

This week, we are going to be looking at what happens/what could happen if you drill through something you’re not supposed to. This includes water pipes, sewer pipes, gas pipelines, and electrical wiring.

Accidents happen in site. The best thing about being in construction is that they’re usually fixable. Sometimes it’s an expensive fix, but you’d likely be surprised how many excavators hit sewer lines or existing plumbing. The point is – it happens, and it’ll likely happen to you at some point of your career.

However, because they’re more common than you think, don’t think that they aren’t dangerous. Drilling through live power cables can be lethal, so too can drilling into gas pipelines, and main water pipes can cause a lot of damage.

First thing to do, as always, it make sure you know what you’re doing. Whilst this sounds a little asinine, what we mean is make sure you know where you’re drilling, what’s behind what you’re drilling, and make sure you mitigate the risk to yourself and risk of damage to property as best as you humanly can before you start. That means figuring out where pipes are running, where conduits are, and in cases where you’re drilling blind, making the best educated guess you can to avoid as much damage as you can. In the case of electrical outlets, make sure the power to the area you’re working on is disconnected, and locked off. Make sure you follow property EGT procedure for this, and bear in mind that the entire site’s power might need to be turned off for you to complete your work safely. This may also apply to gas mains and water mains, especially if you’re working on a domestic home.

Also, please ensure you know where ALL of the mains supplies are for the home you’re working on. That means Gas, Electricity, and Water.

When you’re ready to start – check your working again. And if need be, have someone else check it with you.

Now that you’re ready to drill, start drilling. But, take your time. You are not paid by how quickly you can finish a job – and if you don’t finish the job safely at all it might cost you more than the extra five minutes you had to take with your drilling device.

Lets say however, that you hit a gas pipeline.

The first thing you have to do is STOP what you’re doing. Do not keep drilling, just stop. Leave the machine in the wall. The next thing is to inform the head builder on site and your superior, and then immediately isolate the energy supply – in this case the gas – to ensure there is no leaking. You can either turn the tap off at the front of the property, or inform the correct trade to isolate it for you. Leaking gas can cause large issues, leaking water can cause massive damage in walls, and electrical damage can cause a plethora or issues including fires and electrocution.

Assuming the gas was turned off, then it is likely you will be asked to go on with other work whilst the damage is rectified. However, if the gas has NOT been turned off, you will likely be asked to evacuate the area and possibly the site, whilst the appropriate trades attend to the building.

However, this isn’t necessarily true with all of the forms of energy supply. It is unlikely that you would be asked to stop work if there is a water leak, unless it is creating a different danger such as being energised by an electrical current. And likewise, if there is an electrical danger, you may be asked to isolate that room, and ensure no one enters it, however the site may still be safe to operate on. For more information on this, please ask your tradesperson, or field officer.

As we mentioned, these things can happen from time to time. But that doesn’t mean that you should be lax with the response to hitting a pipe or a conduit. And, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all response to any of the scenarios. The best thing to do is remember your safety is paramount, and be as safe as you can be. Isolate, and remove the danger as best you can without putting yourself in harms way, and make sure you inform the correct people.

Look Twice, Act Once - Hazardous Materials p. 3 - Other Materials

Published on: Friday, 21 October 2022

We’ve mentioned these hazards in passing before – but we wanted to talk a little bit more about hazardous materials you might find on a worksite. These can range from materials used in your general work duties, right through to foreign bodies/substances on site (the latter is particularly a problem if you’re working on a building site without security fencing or barriers in place).

Some common hazardous substances you might encounter are things like acids, glues, paint, pesticides, solvents, or more caustic substances. Some of these might be in a tradesperson’s toolkit (for example flux in a plumber’s tool bag), or you might find some around a home you’re working at – for example hydrochloric acid in a pool house, or bleach in a laundry area.

The good news is, that generally speaking these acids and substances can be easily avoided, (AETZ99) and aren’t usually a hazard. But, accidents can – and do – happen. Someone might accidentally spill a bottle of mineral turpentine on the floor, or you might accidentally touch a can of mortein. In all these cases, it’s helpful to know the proper procedure for exposure.

Firstly, it’s worth knowing that a hazardous substance can be inhaled, splashed on you, or swallowed. And, this can cause things as simple as nausea or a headache, right through to much more severe issues like chemical burns, or death. Don’t just assume that because the substance spilt of the floor is over the other side of the room that it won’t hurt you. Alert someone to the spill, and ascertain the risk. If there is a strong smell, attempt to ventilate the area by opening windows or doors. If this feels like it will not work, feel free to leave the area.

Secondly, you should always have on hand a safety data sheet on how to safely (and correctly) dispose of any hazardous material that you might be working with. This is so you can safely proceed with your work, and make sure the work area and work site is safe for you – and everyone else.

Finally, if you do happen to come across, or accidentally create a hazard with a hazardous material, make sure you report it to the relevant people on site, and make sure you can make the area safe – whether that is by cleaning up the issue, securing the area/cordoning it off, or evacuating (if need be).

Look Twice, Act Once - Hazardous Materials Pt. 2 - Mould

Published on: Friday, 14 October 2022

You’ve probably been into a café, or a friend’s place, or even your own house somewhere and smelt that dank, dark, musty smell. That’s usually associated with damp – which can be the beginning of mould. In modern houses, mould is usually only found when there’s a burst water pipe, or a leaking roof – some sort of water egress. In older homes however, the same is true but this can be just an effect of time – old waterproofing breaking down, or gutters being ill-maintained for years.

It is extremely rare to find mould in an uncompleted home or building, as it usually requires a damp, dark, and usually enclosed space to grow in. However, that doesn’t mean you cant find mould elsewhere.

The result of it all, however, is usually mould. Mould can cause a whole host of respiratory symptoms, flu-like symptoms, and general irritation of the airways. For those of us who suffer from asthma can also have an asthma attack by breathing in mould spores.

Like Asbestos, the best way to prevent having any kind of reaction to mould and its spores, PPE is key. So when entering a roof space, you should always be wearing a proper mask – sufficient for the job – and protective clothing including shirts, pants, and gloves. However, there are a few things you can do upon initial arrival to a worksite to prepare and ensure that you have a little contact with dangerous spores as you can.

Firstly, use your senses. Smell, and look around. If you think something smells damp, or musty – there’s a chance there may be mould around. If you happen to see mould – whether it be pink in a shower recess, or black on a ceiling – there is a good chance there is more where it came from.

Secondly, ask the owner or tradesperson on site. And, alert them to what you’ve seen – even if you’re unsure yourself. They may already be aware of mould or other hazards, or may be able to educate you on how to avoid the issue altogether, or show you the difference between mould and something that isn’t. It may also not be impacting your area of work for the day – but the tradesperson might need to know about it.

Finally, if you are not convinced that you would be safe around the spores, feel free to voice this and remove yourself from the situation. It is, after all, better to be safe than sorry.

Remember – safety is everyone’s responsibility – so stay alert, follow the procedures and you too will be safer at work!

Look Twice, Act Once - Hazardous Materials Pt. 1 - Asbestos

Published on: Friday, 7 October 2022

Asbestos. You’ve probably all heard about it, and you might have even seen it by now. You probably also know it is one of the leading causes of workplace cancer and lung issues, and is highly dangerous due to its almost stealth-like approach. Most of the time, you don’t know if you have been affected by it for 15 or even 20 years.

That said, asbestos isn’t radioactive. You’re not going to instantly keel over by being in its vicinity – which is a very good thing considering the amount of asbestos in older homes across Australia. The issue only arises if the asbestos is in what’s called a fibrous state. Namely, the particles which make up asbestos are airborne, and can be breathed in.

This is why it is vitally important when working on older homes (pre 1990 – when Asbestos stopped being used in construction materials) to always have a mask at hand, and the rest of the proper PPE with you. That includes a full-respirator style mask, long pants and long sleeved shirts, and appropriate work boots.

If you happen to spot any asbestos – or even what you think might be asbestos – don’t panic. As we mentioned – it’s not radioactive, but it can still be dangerous. Have your tradesperson assess if there is danger there, and if there is then leave in an orderly fashion.

You must note, however, that the only real, accurate way to prove that something is asbestos is to have it assessed by an accredited laboratory. And this is best performed by an asbestos specialist.

Remember, the best way to protect yourself is to wear your PPE correctly and properly, and to assess danger when you believe it is present. Never be afraid to take yourself out of a situation you believe to be dangerous to your health – after all safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Look Twice Act Once - R U OK Day

Published on: Friday, 9 September 2022

R U OK day is a day dedicated to asking anyone and everyone you know – ‘are you ok?’, and also destigmatising depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

It’s particularly important in our industry – or any trade – where a large section of the workforce is male. And whilst we’d like to admit that we’re all level headed and rational – the reality is that male bravado is still around. And, men generally don’t talk about their feelings, don’t talk about what’s going on, or cover it up pretty well – simply because that’s ‘what a bloke does’.

Well, we’re here to tell you that it’s OK not to be OK. And, it’s ok to talk about it. And that’s the whole point of R U OK Day. But, in case you’re wondering what you should be looking for, some signs of depression of anxiety, and maybe how you can help someone who might be going through that – check out these great organisations – Mates in Construction, and Beyond Blue.

You can find the links to their sites at the bottom of this article – and we aren’t going to go into much more here because frankly – they do a much better job at it than we ever can.

But – just make sure you look out for one another – and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious – or you think something might be wrong – reach out to a friend, family member, or even someone at work. Because it’s OK to not be OK – but we want to make sure you get back to being you.
Life Line on Tel 13 11 14 Website