Construction sites pose many risks to employees ranging from contact with dangerous equipment to lifting heavy materials. It’s no surprise then that 19.3 percent of fatal workplace accidents in 2012 (806 of 4175) occurred in the construction industry.
While fatal accidents can happen in a variety of situations, more than half of these accidents at construction sites fall into four main categories: falls (34.6 percent), struck by object (9.8 percent), electrocutions (8.1 percent) and caught-in/between (1.6 percent). If employers in the construction industry focus their attention on preventing these types of accidents, the death toll in construction could be significantly reduced.
Preventing Common Construction Accidents
OSHA provides plenty of educational materials for employers and employees that can aid in preventing the “fatal four” accidents. Let’s examine some best practices for each accident category.
Falls account for many workplace fatalities, and more than half of fall deaths occur in construction, according to OSHA. Within the construction industry, the highest number of deaths also comes from falls.
These accidents can take place on ladders, scaffolds, building structures and any other locations where employees work above the ground. Employers and safety managers should note that fall protection is required whenever a worker is six or more feet above a lower level. Fall protection includes guardrails, warning lines, floor covers and fall arrest systems.
Guardrails are a good choice in construction to keep workers from falling over edges. They must have a top rail that is 42 inches above the work surface and be able to support 200 pounds of force. Guardrails can be made from wood or wire. Warning lines, on the other hand, are less supportive and usually have flags alerting workers to their presence. They must be at least 34 inches above the ground. Floor covers should be used to cover any openings an employee could fall through. Employees can also wear personal fall arrest systems to catch them if they do fall.
Struck by Object
At construction worksites there are many moving objects including falling objects (like a tool falling from a higher level of scaffolding), flying objects (like debris from power tool use), swinging objects (like beams being lifted by a crane) and objects on the ground (like vehicles).
These dangerous objects vary widely, so there’s not one way to prepare for all of them. Some good general rules, though, involve keeping your distance and properly securing and storing materials. For example, if a crane is lifting a load, workers in the area should never work beneath the load because it could slip and fall. Workers involved in the lift should also take precautions ahead of time to make sure loads are balanced and tied down. The same idea applies to simpler situations like materials storage. Tools shouldn’t be left out in the open on higher levels, for example, because they could be bumped and fall.
When working on the ground, workers should not assume people driving vehicles will see them. Personal protective equipment (PPE) like reflective vests can alleviate this problem to some degree. Constructions workers should also wear hardhats and protective eyewear if falling and flying object hazards exist.
Electricity plays a huge role at construction worksites. Without it, power tools wouldn’t operate and overhead lights wouldn’t work. When devices that use electricity are in proper working order, hazards from electricity should be minimal. It’s easy for a damaged piece of equipment to cause a problem, though.
Electrical hazards can be caused by damaged wires and wire insulation, improper grounding, overloaded circuits, damaged tools and wet conditions, according to OSHA.
Construction workers should check to make sure none of these hazards exist before performing a task. They should also never remove a ground pin from a plug, use sharp objects to hang extension cords or use a surge protector (a GFCI outlet should be used instead). If the site is wet, workers should avoid using power tools.
Additionally, power lines create a real hazard for many construction workers, and people should stay at least 10 feet away from these lines.
Finally, caught-in or between hazards need to be considered on both a large and small scale. Cranes and other equipment can cause caught-in accidents, but so can tools with moving parts.
To avoid incidents with large equipment, operators and others in the area must be alert. Before operating a crane, for example, workers should set up barriers to keep people out of the machine’s swing radius. Others in the area should take care not to get too close to the crane.
Caught-in accidents can also occur in large trenches or excavation areas when the side of the trench caves in, so measures should be taken to stabilize these areas, too.
Employees can also get caught in machines with moving parts or power tools. Loose clothing, hair and jewelry can get pulled inside, especially if machine guards aren’t in place. To prevent these kinds of accidents, workers should never use machines and tools without proper guards.
Think Ahead, Stay Safe
These four types of accidents are all too common in construction workplaces, but basic safety measures can help prevent them. Consult OSHA regulations to ensure your business is compliant and is taking all necessary steps to avoid the fatal four.
Another good resource for short but insightful safety tips can be found on The Safety Brief, an online podcast channel dedicated to making your life at construction sites and in manufacturing facilities much safer.