Millions of people can be found working in the construction industry on hundreds of thousands of jobsites every single day. Many of these construction sites are very hazardous places to work.
Laborers and other individuals who work in the construction industry, structural iron and steel workers, and roofers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Falls from heights, trench collapses, scaffolding accidents, crush injuries, being struck by an object, being caught in or between an object, and electrocution are a few of the more common construction injuries workers suffer on the job.
Fatal injuries in the various construction fields occur at rates between 26.8 and 34.1 per 100,000 workers, with OSHA reporting that 828 of the 4,101 worker fatalities in the private sector in 2013 were in the construction industry.
These deaths account for 20.2 percent of the total work-related fatalities that year.
In many of these cases, lives could have been saved if proper safety procedures or accident-protection measures had been in place. Construction company owners and employers have a responsibility to their workers to keep them safe from avoidable risks and to adhere to federal and state safety requirements for the industry.
Employers who want to keep construction workers safe should follow these six steps:
1. REQUIRE THE USE OF HELMETS, SAFETY GLASSES AND OTHER PERSONAL PROTECTIVE GEAR ON ALL JOBSITES
Requiring the use of helmets, safety glasses and other personal protective gear on all jobsites is essential to prevent avoidable accidents and injuries. Employers should make sure employees have approved safety gear, are instructed on how to use it and why its use is necessary. Employers should routinely check whether workers are taking the safety precautions necessary to keep themselves and others safe.A hardhat or helmet could mean the difference between a worker suffering minor head injury and suffering a fatal blow from a falling object. Protective eyewear could help prevent serious eye injuries leading to permanent vision loss. Even the correct shoes, gloves and other construction attire can dramatically reduce the chances of a worker suffering a burn injury, electrocution or potentially catastrophic hit.
2. MAKE SURE TRENCHES AND EXCAVATION SITES ARE SAFE
Unless trenches and excavation sites are made safe for workers, the possibility of collapse is high. Workers must be prohibited from entering an unprotected trench or excavation site. Employers should require all trenches to be built at the appropriate slope, make sure supports are installed and shielding is in place to prevent cave-ins. An easily accessible exit must be provided so workers have a way out of the trench should an emergency arise.
3. ALLOW TIME FOR SCAFFOLDING TO BE PROPERLY ERECTED AND INSPECT AND MAINTAIN IT PROPERLY
Scaffolding has to be erected properly for it to be stable under its own weight and be able to hold up to four times the maximum recommended load (as suggested by OSHA). If erected on uneven ground or without solid footing, the risk of collapse puts workers at risk of serious injuries or death. It can put the integrity of the structure at risk when barrels, boxes, blocks or concrete are used to support scaffolds or planks.
Proper materials must be used at all times when erecting scaffolds, and no shortcuts should ever be taken. All scaffolds should also have guardrails, midrails and toeboards to provide an increased level of protection.
Employers can reduce the potential for accidents and injuries by requiring a trained and competent individual to supervise the erection, moving or dismantling of scaffolding structures. Scheduling and insisting upon the routine maintenance of existing scaffolds and safety features, as well as quickly repairing any damage to the structure or safety features, can help keep workers safe.
4. REGULARLY INSPECT TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT, AND CONDUCT ROUTINE REPAIRS SO ALL ARE KEPT IN WORKING ORDER
Construction workers rely on their tools and depend on equipment being in working order so they can perform their assigned tasks. When workers do not have access to the proper tools, or equipment is allowed to fall into disrepair, it puts lives at risk. Employers need to make a concerted effort to have tools and equipment regularly inspected. Establishing a routine maintenance and repair schedule can also keep tools and equipment in working order, thus minimizing the chance of accidents or injuries caused by equipment failures, product defects or workers using the wrong tools for the job.
5. REQUIRE THE USE OF FALL-PREVENTION EQUIPMENT AND CHECK REGULARLY FOR FALL DANGERS
Falls are one of the leading causes of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry. Employers can significantly reduce the risk of workers suffering serious injuries as a result of a fall by requiring the use of safety equipment and conducting regular checks for potential fall dangers.
Any time a worker’s job requires him or her to work at an elevation, the worker should wear a body harness or other restraint system. Safety nets and covers should also be installed around the area to catch workers or objects that may fall in an accident. Guardrails and toeboards on elevated platforms are required to make the area safer for workers.
The risk of fall injuries can be reduced if employers make sure proper safety equipment and fall protection are in use, and inspections are conducted before work is begun each day.
6. RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS OF CHEMICAL HAZARDS AND COMMUNICATE ABOUT THEM
Construction workers may have to work with or around harmful chemicals and toxic substances as part of their jobs. While many may be aware of the chemical hazards in the work environment, some may not recognize the signs before it is too late. Employers can protect workers by making themselves aware of the hazards associated with chemicals and communicating these hazards to their workers.
Workers must know which chemicals can cause burns, which can lead to respiratory problems as a result of inhalation, what combination of chemicals may cause a fire and what could trigger an explosion.Employers must post clear warning signs, as well as thoroughly train workers on the dangers and proper handling of such chemicals. Spill clean-up kits should be easily accessible in all areas where chemicals are used. Workers should also have a set plan to follow in case of a spill. Employers should assign one responsible individual to make sure all chemicals are stored safely and securely at the end of each day.
By taking these measures, employers will be more equipped and able to protect their workers and minimize the risk of serious or fatal injuries at work.