There is no question that commercial construction is one of the most dangerous industries. In 2019, the construction industry represented nearly 20% of workplace fatalities alone. For this reason, construction safety must be a top priority for subcontractors, general contractors, architects, and clients. Without rigorous safety standards, construction firms are putting their worker’s lives in danger and exposing themselves to significant reputational, legal, financial, and regulatory risks.
While job sites present many different construction safety hazards, some are far more prevalent and more likely to lead to serious injury or death. As a result, it’s important for safety managers to prioritize these risks accordingly. The four job site hazards that are known to cause the highest number of worker fatalities are falls, electrocutions, getting struck by an object, and getting caught in-between objects. OSHA refers to these four hazards as the “focus four”. Below is an overview of these common hazards as well as best practices for preventing them.
According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of death in construction year after year. In 2019, falls represented nearly 40% of construction fatalities. Construction sites are full of fall hazards: building structures, scaffolds, stairs, and ladders all present significant fall risks. With proper planning, training, and preparation, fall incidents are entirely preventable.
How To Prevent Falls In Construction
In most cases, fall protection is mandatory in commercial construction when work is being done six feet above a lower level or when working above machinery or equipment (regardless of the height). However, when scaffolding is involved, fall protection is required at 10 feet or higher above a lower level. OSHA has outlined three primary ways to control for falls risks:
- Guardrails – Using guardrails is the only control that can actually prevent falls entirely. OSHA’s guidelines for guardrails indicate the top of the rail must be at least 42 inches from the ground or walking surface. Guardrails must also be capable of withstanding 200 pounds of applied pressure.
- Floor Hole Covers – Floor holes present significant fall risks and should be guarded appropriately with railings, toe-boards, or hole covers.
- Fall Arrest Systems – While fall arrest systems don’t actually prevent falls from occurring, they do protect workers when falls occur. Fall arrest systems consist of a body harness, connective device, and anchorage. Each connector piece that holds the system together should have a minimum breaking strength of at least 5,000 pounds. These systems must be inspected before each and every use.
- Safety Nets – Safety nets should be no further than 30 feet below the working surface, and they must extend out by a minimum of eight feet on each side of the surface. Dropping a 400-pound bag of sand is the most effective way to test the adequacy and functionality of a safety net.
Electrocutions are the second most frequent cause of construction site worker injuries/fatalities. In 2019, just under 19% of construction site fatalities were due to electrocution. These hazards most often occur due to accidental contact with energized sources. The key to preventing electrocutions is ensuring unutilized power sources are de-energized as well as maintaining awareness and distance from the source.
How To Prevent Electrocutions
Establishing and maintaining distance between workers and energized power sources is the core component of any electrocution protection program.
- Awareness – Workers can reduce electrocution risk by maintaining awareness of energized power sources throughout the job site. This is best achieved through daily safety meetings and frequent communication.
- Inspect Equipment – All power tools, extension cords, and equipment should be visually inspected before every use for cuts, frays, wire exposure, or other damage that may lead to an increased risk of electrocution.
- GFCIs – Ground-fault circuit interrupters should be used to protect receptacle outlets.
3. Struck By Objects
Another leading cause of workplace fatalities occurs when workers are struck by objects. These incidents represent about 8 to 10% of construction fatalities each year. Being struck by vehicles or equipment as well as flying, falling, swinging, or rolling objects often leads to serious injury or death.
How To Prevent Struck By Hazards
Certain areas of job sites are more likely to contain struck-by hazards. Maintaining awareness around these hazardous areas and wearing the right PPE is critical for both construction safety supervisors and workers.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Using PPE, such as head protection and eye protection, is an effective way to protect workers from struck-by hazards. However, PPE must always be in good condition and inspected prior to each use.
- Awareness And Education – Daily safety huddles and job site awareness training can help keep workers aware of areas that may contain additional risks.
- Inspect Tools – By ensuring tools like nail guns are in working order, you can reduce the risk of a malfunction that results in flying objects.
- Use Barricades And Proper Signage
Workplace areas that are more likely to contain “struck by” risks should be marked with proper signage, and barricades should be used to reduce foot traffic. Being caught in-between objects is often more hazardous than being struck by objects because the nature of the impact is often more significant.
4. Caught In Or Between Hazards
Caught in-between hazards occur when a worker is accidentally caught between two pieces of machinery. This often occurs due to a lack of safety guards, loose clothing, or machinery that is unintentionally left on or active.
How To Prevent Caught In Or Between Hazards
Because heavy equipment and industrial machinery are so common in commercial construction, it’s very easy for workers to become complacent when working around them. Avoiding complacency and following procedures can prevent caught in or between hazards.
- Cover Trenches – When not properly controlled, covered, or guarded, trenches can prevent a serious construction safety hazard. Trenches deeper than 5 feet should be covered and engineering best practices should be deployed to ensure proper sloping and benching.
- Don’t Overload Equipment – Ignoring capacity limitations of machines can lead to tip-overs. Only certified or authorized workers should operate equipment and proper safety procedures should always be followed.
- Avoid Using Heavy Equipment Near Trenches – When employees accidentally operate heavy machinery near trenches, it can lead to disastrous results. The excavated area may be fragile and unable to support the weight.
While construction is a dangerous industry, almost every workplace accident can be prevented through rigorous education and safety procedures. Oftentimes, training alone isn’t enough. To significantly reduce workplace accidents, subcontractors must ensure safety is the primary focus of their operations, and they must create a working culture that forces employees to takes safety seriously.
If you’re looking for a general subcontractor firm in California that makes safety a top priority, contact us at Unique Building Group. Our firm specializes in framing, drywall, rainscreen systems, lath, plaster, EIFS, and more.