Before the 1970s, safety was held at a very low priority in the workplace. There were very few safety-related laws like the ones we see in industries today. Emergency plans, fire escapes, and much of the protective gear that is used today simply weren't commonplace.
In the early 70s, Richard Nixon passed a bill to organize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s primary goal is to create and enforce safety laws in the American workforce. Since OSHA was formed, mortality rates have decreased dramatically in the United States. We went from seeing approximately 40 employee deaths per day in 1970, to a mere 15 in recent years.
Though mortality rates are improving, they’re still far from perfect. We can only continue to improve as long as employers properly train their employees, follow the laws OSHA has implemented, and create a safety plan within their company.
The construction industry is among the most dangerous in the world. If you’re a construction worker, you find yourself working in diverse areas and conditions, using dangerous machinery, operating heavy vehicles, and exposing yourself to hazardous chemicals on a daily basis.
Of the 15 employee deaths that happen every day in America, one-third are construction workers. In fact, construction has landed its name on the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the world. With that in mind, how does an employee prepare to stay safe at work? How can an employer maintain a safe and healthy work environment?
In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common hazards found in construction. We’ll discuss good safety practices, laws, and review case studies. At the end of the article, we’ll discuss requirements and options for safety training within a company.
The construction industry is one of the biggest in America. It has over 7.6 million employees working full time, and constructs about $1.4 trillion dollars worth of structures every year. However, the concentrated number of employees and the wide variety of hazards contribute to the fact that it is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. OSHA conducted studies showing that a high percentage of deaths in construction are caused by one of four categories:
OSHA has classified these hazards as “the fatal four”. Safety training in construction identifies common hazards and teaches employees how to safely handle them while on the job.
Something that makes the construction industry so dangerous is the diverse hazards workers face. While on the job site, construction workers are exposed to hot work, trench work, operating heavy machinery, working from heights, and many more dangerous tasks. On top of that, construction workers face chemical and biological hazards such as unclean air.
It would be difficult to cover the proper procedures for every hazard in construction. So, to cover as wide a range as possible, we’ll try and categorize most construction-related injuries into OSHA’s fatal four, as mentioned earlier.
Fall hazards are the #1 cause of death in the construction industry, and it’s no mystery as to why. When working along scaffolding, roofing, or even just climbing a ladder, it only takes a split second to lose balance and fall in the wrong direction.
In recent years, fall hazards have accounted for roughly 36% of worksite fatalities. That means one in three worker deaths is caused by falling from heights. So, why are so many accidents occurring? How can employers and employees prevent them?
Surprisingly, the cause of these incidents tend to dwindle down to a select few:
Guard rails are essential for preserving life. They are used as a means of blocking open ledges, as well as restricting access to unstable ground. A guard rail is required anywhere an employee may fall from a height and be injured.
OSHA requires guardrails to reach a height of at least 42 inches. They require a mid-rail at 21 inches above the working surface and recommend a toeboard at the base. Additionally, guardrails must be able to withstand a force of at least 200 pounds. For more details, you can read OSHA’s full guardrail standard list at: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.29.
Insufficient scaffolding accounts for a high percentage of fall-related fatalities. Many things can contribute to scaffolding failure. The most common examples include instability, overloading, and low-quality materials, just to name a few.
To prevent these accidents from happening, it’s important that a competent person inspect the scaffolding after it’s been installed, then continually inspect the scaffolding once a week.
The competent person assigned to inspections should be familiar with OSHA’s scaffolding standards. The scaffolding can only be used if it meets all these requirements and the inspector gives it a green tag.
Ladders are the highest cause of serious fall-related injuries. In fact, 81% of fall-related injuries that are treated in the emergency room involve a ladder.
There are three important steps to consider when it comes to ladder safety. Just remember the acronym FOR.
Foundation- Make sure the ladder is making contact with a firm foundation. Don’t ever place the ladder on boom lifts, stacks of wood, chairs, or other items to try and extend the ladder’s reach. Likewise, make sure the ground beneath the latter is solid, dry, and shows no signs of slipping. Loose surfaces such as mud, dust, or sand can cause the ladder to slip.
Orientation- make sure you’re straight and balanced while ascending the ladder. Don’t lean too far to either side, doing so can cause a tipover.
Reach- Make sure the ladder has sufficient reach. The top of the ladder should go several feet higher than the surface you’re climbing to. You should never need to climb on the highest step of a ladder.
An employee was helping his coworker install a steel decking placement on the overhang of a commercial building roof. A guard rail was installed to separate the walking area from the flimsy overhang still under construction. The coworker, who was on the wrong side of the guard rail, was having trouble making the installment, so the employee hopped the guard rail to assist him.
The employee landed on a gypsum board, which collapsed beneath his weight. The employee fell 65 feet to the ground, receiving multiple blunt force injuries and dying shortly after impact.
Chances are, this employee didn’t see the danger in what he was doing. He was probably confident in himself enough that he didn’t expect an accident to occur. Unfortunately, accidents never happen when we’re expecting them to. The only way to guarantee safety is by following guidelines. In this case, if both employees had given heed to the guardrail, they could have guaranteed their own safety. The job may have been a little less convenient from the safe side of the guardrail, but convenience is never worth more than a human life.
Struck-by hazards involve any injuries caused by the blunt force of an object crashing into another employee. This type of injury takes many forms from falling materials to swinging loads, or even getting nicked by a moving saw blade is considered a struck-by hazard. The most commonly fatal struck-by incidents are caused by moving vehicles, falling objects, and improper use of tools.
Moving vehicles- These hazards commonly entail employees being struck by work vehicles onsite, as well as pedestrian vehicles on the highway. These types of accidents tend to be more common for employees operating on a main road or highway.
If you work on the road, the best way to prevent struck-by accidents with oncoming traffic is by using traffic cones, barrels, and barriers to distinctly mark a line between you and traffic, then put plenty of distance between yourself and that barrier.
However, you can’t rely on these safety measures alone. It’s also up to you to be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Most accidents with traffic happen if an employee is being absent minded or distracted. As you stay aware at all times, you’ll have the ability to prevent an accident long before it occurs.
Falling Objects- These hazards tend to happen when materials aren’t properly guarded in high places. Fortunately, falling objects are fairly easy to prevent. Always secure materials and tools, especially if they’re on a moving platform; the further away from an edge, the better.
For example, a team of employees were transporting a load of bricks to the top of a building using a pulley system. The container, which was open at the top, swung back and forth on its way up, occasionally bumping the wall. As it neared the top, the bucket tipped slightly, spilling multiple bricks on the employee underneath.
An easy way to prevent a similar accident is by asking yourself, “how likely is this to fall, and can it hurt someone?” If an accident seems likely, find a way to restrain the item to prevent it from falling. A simple cover over the container of bricks in the example could have gone a long way in preventing an accident.
Improper Use of Tools- this can cause struck-by accidents primarily by the carelessness of employees or poor maintenance of the equipment.
If you’re an employee working with tools, give plenty of space between yourself and others. In many instances, a tool that you’re operating can pose more of a threat to those around you than to yourself. Take a hammer for instance. There have been reports where an employee pulls back for a swing and loses their grip on the tool. The hammer flies out of their hand, striking a nearby coworker. Always make sure the area is clear before you begin operating a tool.
An employee was operating a circular saw which was dull and outdated. As he turned it on, the saw began to wobble on its axle as it sped up. When the saw made contact with a wooden post, the blade snapped. The two halves of the blade were shot in either direction, one lodging itself in the employee’s protective face covering.
Fortunately, the employee was unharmed, thanks to his protective gear. However, he came only inches away from having a serious accident. Always make sure your tools and equipment are properly maintained and show no signs of breaking during use.
Discerning between a struck-by hazard and a caught-between hazard can be difficult. For example, imagine you’ve stolen an artifact from an ancient tomb, and now a giant boulder is rolling after you. In the unlucky instance that you couldn’t outrun it, would you have been struck by the boulder, or caught between it and the ground?
Being able to discern between the two is important for preventing either type of accident in the workplace. For now, just note that a struck-by accident is caused purely by the blunt force of an object, while “caught between” refers to being crushed between two objects. Our example of the boulder would most likely be classified as a “caught between” accident.
The three most common forms of caught-between hazards include:
Trenching has proved to be deadly on many occasions. In some cases, workers will be down in a trench that isn’t properly supported. The unstable trench supports can fail, causing a cave-in and potentially crushing the employees working within.
Consider this example: Employee #1 was working in a trench, six feet in depth, during excavation early one morning. It had rained the previous day, and the trench had not been inspected yet. As Employee #1 walked through the trench, a stone was dislodged from the east wall. The stone tumbled down, striking the employee in the leg, and knocking him to his knees. At this time, the trench collapsed burying the employee up to his waist in wet, heavy soil. After 40 minutes, the employee was finally extracted and emitted to the hospital. He had undergone a fractured pelvis which required four surgeries, a blood transfusion, and physical therapy. Investigative reports showed that cave-in protective systems were not installed during excavation work.
The injury this employee received was painful, expensive, and easily preventable. After the previous night’s storm, an instructor should have inspected and classified the soil as unsafe for working in. Additionally, it doesn’t seem like the employer took the necessary precautions to reinforce the trench. Sometimes, a simple inspection and protective equipment are all it takes to prevent a serious injury.
Unguarded machinery refers to any moving part of a machine that a person may come in contact with. Some examples include:
If you’re an employer, start by inspecting each piece of machinery used on the worksite and identify any moving parts. Look for moving parts that may entangle hair or clothing. Find sharp edges or blades that could easily cut someone. Look for pinch points, or areas that could catch or tear the skin when contacted. Find crush points, where limbs could easily be caught and crushed. After your inspection, find ways to properly contain each hazard area in question. Doing so will greatly improve the safety of your worksite.
This category refers to anything else on the site with crushing potential
You may have noticed that moving vehicles are also discussed in the struck-by section. Being struck by, and being caught between vehicles are similar types of injuries, but are separate and distinct. Both require different means of protection. A struck-by incident involving a vehicle, usually means the vehicle hit a person while moving quickly enough to cause an injury. Caught-between incidents, on the other hand, involve either being run over by a vehicle or crushed between it and a stationary object.
Vehicles cause thousands of crushing accidents each year. As a construction worker, you’re likely to operate side by side with, or operate a range of heavy vehicles. Moving vehicles, if operated carelessly, can run over feet, back into someone, or roll over them entirely.
If you’re assigned as a vehicle operator, be constantly aware of your surroundings. Make sure your vehicle is equipped with rear-view mirrors that give you a full view from behind your vehicle. It is also mandatory for vehicles to have a backup alarm installed to alert those around them to clear the area.
Electrical hazards can be deadly, but are fortunately less common in the United States. Electrical incidents occur most often due to faulty wiring. They include,
If wires are openly exposed on the side of a building, during construction, for example, construction workers would be likely at some point to come into contact with them. Covering exposed wires is a simple solution that can prevent many accidents
Water in a construction area is generally a bad thing; this is especially true with electricity. Water coming into contact with electrical wires can make the circuit become unstable. This often leads to electrical fires and/or nearby employees being electrocuted.
If you’re an employer, provide your employees with training on how to deal with an electrical fire, and equip the site with fire blankets along with fire extinguishers.
The training an employer needs to give is largely based on their company.
OSHA requires employers to run a detailed risk assessment of their organization. This entails identifying hazards that exist within the company, determining the severity of an accident, and the likelihood of an employee being injured. Employers should then give training for areas that are likely to fatally or severely injure an employee.
For example, the employer of a construction company can know for certain that their employees will be working at heights. The severity and likelihood of a falling injury are high, therefore it would be smart to provide employees with a fall-safety training course. On the other hand, the severity and likelihood of employees being stung by a wasp are fairly low. Therefore, this hazard probably doesn’t require training.
OSHA offers 10-hour and 30-hour safety courses as an overview of safety. They recommend employees take and pass the 10-hour course, while employers should pass the 30-hour. However, OSHA cares less about who gives the training and more about what is being taught. Therefore, many employers turn to third-party retailers, which we happen to be here at Hard Hat Training, to receive bulk discounts on OSHA-compliant construction safety training.
If you’re an employer, the best way to ensure the safety of your employees is through a safety and health management system (SMS). These are programs that employers create in order to identify hazards on the worksite and prevent any future accidents. An SMS is implemented through a series of protocols and policies that systematically ensures the safety of employees.
Any safety training you plan to give to employees should be based on the SMS. To identify the needed topics, hold a meeting with employees from every division of the company. As a team, identify the most immediately dangerous hazards, such as broken equipment, open trenches, faulty wiring, or chemical hazards that require immediate attention. Then, identify all other hazards, rating them from most to least dangerous. These may include vehicles, trenches, machines, ladders, etc. Based on the hazards you identify, find safety training courses that cover those topics and distribute them to employees as necessary.
Hard Hat training offers a wide variety of courses that covers virtually any and every danger in the construction industry. We also offer a range of options when it comes to how you want to present the training. Our primary means of teaching include online training, onsite training and training kits. Learn about each in the next section.:
Online training is an inexpensive and accessible option for employers to train their employees. Simply select the topic you’d like your employees to learn more about and track their progress. From there, employees will be guided through an interactive course designed to make them experts on the subject. The course ends with an exam, allowing you to know their understanding and accommodate their needs.
For a more interactive training experience, you can request a session from one of our onsite trainers. With over 15 years of field experience, these trainers can give your employees a face-to-face experience tailored to their needs. They’ll provide a presentation, review case studies, give live demonstrations, and administer an exam once the day is complete. The session ends with certification for the employees in that training topic.
If you would rather train your employees personally, you can also order one of our safety training kits. These special kits provide you with everything you would get from our onsite trainers, as well as some creative liberties to allow you to personalize your employees’ training experience. The kits are equipped with
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