Construction sites remain one of the most dangerous workplaces in the United States. In fact, one in five workers who were killed on the job in 2015 worked in the construction industry.
Of these deaths, the majority were caused by what OSHA has termed the “Fatal Four.” These four top causes of construction worker fatalities–falls, struck-by-object accidents, electrocutions and caught-in-between casualties–account for 64 percent of all industry deaths, and eliminating such accidents could save the lives of more than 600 American workers each year.
Understanding the typical risks that lead to these construction worker fatalities is essential to taking steps to reducing–or stopping–such accidents.
Of all the common accidents that occur on construction sites, falls are by far the deadliest. More than 350 construction workers lost their lives to a fall on a work site in 2015, and every one of these deaths were preventable with simple training and easy precautionary steps.
Planning ahead is the first and most necessary step when trying to reduce or eliminate construction fall casualties. Prior to any workers stepping foot on the construction site, the employer should know when working from dangerous heights will be called for.
Such jobs require that the job’s managers carefully consider how the job should be completed and the necessary tasks that will be involved, as well as the safety equipment that will be called for to complete each task safely and without incident.
No employer in the construction industry should neglect to include the cost of safety equipment in their overall budget.
Supplying the proper equipment to construction workers can aid greatly in reducing deaths caused by a fall.
OSHA advises that any construction crew member who will be working at a height of six feet or greater off the ground can be seriously injured or killed by a fall, and thus these workers all need proper fall protection gear.
This includes ladders, scaffolds, safety nets, hand rails and stair railings; when doing roof work, crews should be provided with harnesses attached to a personal fall arrest system (PFAS).
Of course, no safety equipment can be effective if not used properly. Before setting foot on the job site, every worker that needs to use such safety equipment should be fully and adequately trained on the related setup and usage.
These workers should also be provided with information on how to recognize common falling hazards. Keep in mind that all safety training for any form of hazard should be conducted in a language that each worker will be able to easily and fully understand.
Struck-by-object accidents can result from a number of potential hazards, including falling, swinging, rolling or flying objects. Each of these potential risks carries a similar threat, but the proper safety procedures for each differ.
Let’s examine each type of struck-by-object accident separately:
First, falling object hazards typically result when a heavy object is dropped or becomes untethered from a higher elevation than the at-risk worker.
This can result in the construction crew member being pinned, crushed or otherwise impacted by the object.
Prevention of such accidents involves advising crew members to steer clear of areas underneath ongoing work, following capacity guidelines for lifting equipment, securing loose tools and materials properly, and requiring all workers to wear hard hats while on the job site.
The risk of injury from swinging objects is similar to that of falling objects. Often such injuries are caused by heavy objects that unexpectedly swing while being hoisted. In order to avoid these risks, construction workers should take care to stay well outside a crane’s swing radius and ensure that the operator sees them.
The source of rolling object hazards are most commonly moving vehicles and other construction equipment. Advise crew members to pay attention and stay clear of in-use heavy equipment as well as properly training the operators of such equipment to be aware of potential collisions.
Lastly, flying objects can also cause struck-by-object injuries and fatalities. Sometimes these injuries are the result of a tool that is working properly but operated incorrectly, such as a nail gun or a compressed air system.
Other times, the flying object risk is caused by a malfunctioning piece of equipment such as a flying saw blade tip.
In all cases, workers should always wear proper safety gear including goggles and face shields, and routine inspections of power tools should be made mandatory.
As the second highest cause of workplace deaths on construction sites, electrocutions are far too common across the industry. While electrical currents can present a serious hazard to construction crews, however, precautions can be taken to manage this risk safely and responsibly.
As with many other safety hazards, proper safety training is paramount. Each worker who may come into contact with an electrical source should also be provided with the correct set of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Because many construction workers have the habit of discarding their PPE, because they believe it inhibits their movement unnecessarily or they think their experience working in such conditions will protect them, regularly reminding workers of the importance of wearing PPE at all times is critical.
On construction sites where arc flashes are possible, employers should take care to ensure that all PPE has been given an arc rating that is at least equal to the calculated incident energy.
The threat of being caught between two objects on a construction work site is ever-present. These potentially fatal accidents are often caused by the misuse of equipment or a sudden collapse of heavy materials.
Prevention of such causalities revolves around training workers to understand proper procedures for safe operation of machines that pose a crushing hazard as well as teaching them to be generally aware of the work site around them.
Before operating any machinery that could cause a worker to become caught, squeezed or crushed, all workers should be adequately trained on the equipment’s sheer, pinch, crush and wrap points in addition to any potential pull-in areas.
Equipment inspections and repairs should also follow proper safety procedures, including complete shut downs to ensure the machine does not accidentally power on as well as securing wheels on any equipment that can roll.
Employees working around such equipment should be directed to wear only close-fitting clothing and avoid jewelry and loose hair as it presents a risk of being caught in working machinery.
Lastly, caught-in-between fatalities can also be caused by collapsing structures within a construction site. In order to avoid such accidents, workers should be trained on the importance of staying focused and alert, both to their own surroundings and to the surroundings of others whose vision may be blocked due to an object.
Start Eliminating Worker Accidents On Your Job Site
Regardless of how safe you believe your construction crew is, these risks and related hazards are incredibly common even on the most cautious work sites.
In the end, comprehensive safety training is perhaps the best and most effective way to avoid the majority of construction site accidents, including OSHA’s “Fatal Four.”
Taking the time to educate workers about the most common and most dangerous risks can help considerably in reducing fatal yet preventable construction accidents.
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