Table of Contents
OSHA Safety Standards for Construction Sites
The construction industry is by far one of the industries with the most hazardous environments. Many of the tasks expected of construction workers expose them to all kinds of hazards such as falls, moving vehicles, or chemical substances. If construction site requirements are not fulfilled, then serious injuries and even fatalities can occur. Take the employee and employer in this story for example:
An employee was hired onto a construction site by an employer for a temporary job. The employee was using a chainsaw to cut a tree branch when the branch suddenly swung back and hit him in the face. He was hospitalized for facial fractures and an investigation was held to look into the incident. It was soon discovered that the employer had failed to ensure that the employee was trained and informed of the hazards involved in the job. This included safe and proper use of all equipment, including the chainsaw which the employee used, and personal protective equipment which was not provided by the employer.
OSHA has standards that dictate what needs to be in every construction site and what the employees need to wear in order to safely perform their work responsibilities. These standards also dictate what employers need to provide their employees with to stay safe. This includes safety programs and information regarding workplace hazards. In incidents like the example above, the employer did not provide the training and requirements for the construction site, and the employee received a serious injury as a result.
Common Construction Hazards
Construction site equipment and programs are dependent on the kinds of hazards present there. Specific guidelines and equipment are required to be on the construction site and used properly to avoid these hazards. There are many different hazards that can be present in construction sites, but most of them can be categorized into just four general categories. We refer to these most common hazards as the “Focus Four.”
These common hazards can happen to anyone at any worksite There is no limit to how and when they could occur. Without the proper equipment and practices in place, these hazards can quickly become deadly.
- Falls: Working at heights is a common hazard for every construction site, even with structures that aren’t particularly high. Even working with ladders and on single-story buildings can present fall hazards. OSHA requires construction sites to provide proper fall protection, such as safety harnesses and guardrails to ensure worker safety.
- Struck-by: Struck-by hazards refer most usually to moving vehicles and falling objects. Anything that can potentially hit an unaware employee is known as a struck-by hazard. Following proper procedures for vehicle operations and wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, reflective vests, and work boots are required to protect workers from these hazards.
- Caught-in/Between: Although similar to struck-by hazards, caught-in/between hazards are significantly different. Moving parts of machinery and even moving vehicles can present a caught-in hazard. OSHA requires proper guards for machines and PPE such as gloves and work boots to be provided to avoid these hazards.
- Electrocution: Construction workers are always likely to encounter exposed wires, underground power lines, and overhead power lines. These are just a few examples of subjects for electrocution accidents at construction sites. Proper procedures when operating heavy machinery and proper PPE such as insulated gloves and jackets are required measures to avoid these hazards.
Personal Protective Equipment Supplies
There are certain items that are required to be at all construction sites given that they provide protection from a variety of hazards. Even if there is a low risk of an employee being harmed by something their PPE prevents, it needs to be on site and used. Some of these must-have PPE supplies include:
- Hard hats: These protect workers from struck-by hazards such as falling debris, tools, or moving vehicles
- Safety gloves: These protect workers from a variety of hazards, including struck-by hazards like moving blades and from caught-in/between hazards such as moving parts.
- Safety glasses: These protect workers’ eyes from struck-by hazards including debris, tools that break, and sparks.
- Ear protection: These protect workers from loud noise and constant noise that can damage their hearing.
- Reflective vests: These protect workers from struck-by hazards by making them easily visible to anyone operating heavy machinery so that they aren’t accidentally run over.
Depending on the specific jobs that construction workers need to perform, employers may also be required to provide them with:
- Insulated attire: This refers to jackets, gloves, and hard hats that are designed to protect employees when working near or with power wires.
- Masks: These protect workers from hazardous substances or particles such as chemical fumes or dust.
- Work boots: These protect workers from potential struck-by or caught-in hazards such as falling objects or vehicles running over their feet.
The employer needs to know what hazards are present in the workplace and how to safeguard their employees from these hazards. Depending on the work that needs to be done, the employer will be required to provide these materials for their employees at the construction site.
Construction Site Dress Code
There are requirements for what construction workers can and can’t wear. OSHA requires construction workers to wear a short or long-sleeve shirt. They must wear long pants that do not have any rips or holes, and they cannot wear shorts of any kind. This is to protect workers’ legs from catching on machinery, flying debris, and sparks.
Likewise, construction workers are also required to wear toe shoes or boots. They also are required to avoid wearing jewelry and must keep their hair tied back if it is long enough to get entangled in something.
Along with PPE, employers are also required to provide their employees with programs and practices that keep them safe. Based on the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act of 1970, all employers are required to provide their employees “a place of employment which (is) free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to (their) employees.”
This means employers need to integrate every means possible to protect their employees. The foremost responsibility they have is to implement certain information and programs which establish worker safety as the number one priority:
- Accident Prevention Programs: These can take a variety of forms, but they most commonly take the form of a Safety Management System (SMS), which outlines how best to ensure the safety, health, and wellbeing of all employees.
- Training: OSHA does not specifically offer training for workplace employees, but does require employers to provide it for them. Employers can find the right safety training for their employees at sites like ours here at Hard Hat Training.
- Safety Data Sheets (SDSs): These are documents that detail the chemicals or other hazardous substances found in the workplace. It informs employees on how to properly handle and prepare for working around these substances.
- Fire Safety Plan: A fire can occur at any workplace, so the employer must have a plan in place to prevent one. This should include a list of all major fire hazards, procedures for storage and handling of combustible materials, and fire protection equipment.
- Emergency Action Plan (EAP): In the case of an emergency such as an earthquake, fire, or active shooter situation, an EAP will need to be implemented. The employer is responsible for making one for their workplace in order to safely evacuate and account for all employees.
The Right Equipment for the Right Work
Failure to use proper equipment rapidly leads to accidents in the workplace that are incredibly easy to avoid. Certain equipment that is intended for civilian use, for example, may not be adequate enough for construction standards. This concept can best be explained by a true story of an employee who used the wrong equipment for his work:
An employee, who was employed for only nine months as a sanitation technician, was working in the wash room of a manufacturing facility one particular day. The employee went to connect a power plug into a high voltage outlet when sparks erupted from the outlet. At the time of the accident, the employee was wearing latex gloves and received second and third degree burns to his hands and wrists.
The investigation following this incident found that the latex gloves the employee was wearing were not approved for the work he was doing. Not only that, but he also had not been adequately trained for the job he needed to do. He wore gloves, knowing they were required for his work, but he used the wrong kind.
If he had used insulated gloves for working with electric wires, then he likely would have avoided the burns he received. Had his employer also ensured that he received the right training, the spark eruption incident could have been avoided entirely. For this reason, it is very important that the equipment and safety information provided at each construction site is the right kind for the work being done.
Another set of items that OSHA requires every construction site to have are signs. Signs prevent accidents by alerting employees and pedestrians around or within the construction site of potential hazards. Most signs fall into one of three types as outlined by OSHA:
- Danger Signs: Red signs that indicate immediate danger and the need to follow special, strict procedures
- Caution Signs: Yellow signs that indicate potential hazards and the need to follow safety procedures
- Safety Instruction Signs: Usually white or green signs that provide general instructions and suggestions on safety measures that should be followed
Other signs OSHA requires to be present may include:
- “Slow-moving vehicle” signs: A bright yellow-orange triangle sign with a dark red reflective border that indicates the vehicle it is attached to is slow, heavy, and dangerous to approach
- “Work area ahead” signs: A diamond-shaped orange sign with a black border indicating to pedestrians and civilian vehicles that there is a construction site ahead
- “Hard hat area” sign: A white rectangular sign, indicating that a hard hat is required for the area
Pavement and Site Markings
OSHA requires the construction industry to conform to the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Among these devices for traffic control are markings that create an orderly flow of traffic around a construction site. Their use in traffic control is essential to preventing struck-by accidents between heavy construction vehicles and civilian vehicles.
Not all construction sites are connected to civilian areas or areas of traffic, so these markings are only required for those that are. Once the work at the construction site is completed, the workers are required to remove the markings they made to redirect traffic.
Want to Learn More?
Learn what rights OSHA has and if OSHA can shut down your business.
Browse Safety Training Course Catalog