Construction is an occupation that comes with its fair share of risk, and construction accidents are a very real occurrence.
In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that 20% of the 4,674 total worker fatalities in 2017 were in the construction industry. Of those fatalities, nearly 40% were from falls.
Sometimes, an accident is an “injury” in the traditional sense—one that causes physical harm. Other times, though, a worker might experience an “occupational disease,” which is when they develop an illness that is the result of prolonged exposure to toxins in chemicals or certain kinds of dust.
OSHA identifies the “Fatal Four” causes of fatalities on construction sites. These four types of incidents are responsible for nearly 60% of construction worker deaths. The “Fatal Four” causes of construction fatalities are:
- Falls (39%)
- Struck by an object (8%)
- Electrocutions (7%)
- Caught in between objects (i.e. compression by equipment or objects, caught, or crushed in a collapse) (5%)
Being aware of all the hazards on construction sites can help you to stay safe, and keep your employees or coworkers safe from harm, as well.
Construction accidents from falls
Falls from heights are common construction accidents, and they’re often preventable. Here are some ways to make heights safer for workers:
- Protect sides, wall openings, and floor holes. A building under construction doesn’t always have doors, handrails, or other protections installed when a construction crew is working. Ensuring that a site is properly lit and that the crew is notified about where openings and holes exist can help to keep them safe. There should be a guardrail and toeboard around every elevated platform, floor, and runway.
- Properly construct and maintain scaffolding. Scaffolding must have guardrails, and it’s important to pay attention to the placement of heavy equipment or building materials on a scaffold that has limited space and capacity to hold weight.
- Install guards for exposed steel rebar. If a construction worker falls onto steel rebar, they could become impaled, injured in other ways, or killed. Guards or barricades can help protect workers from a rebar hazard.
- Correct use of portable ladders. A ladder must be positioned so that it is steady on even ground, and a ladder should be checked routinely to ensure that it’s free of defects or damage.
- Use personal protective equipment. A safety harness and line, nets, stair rails, and handrails are important for keeping you safe on site. Non-slip shoes or work boots, a hard hat, and other gear that is specific to your line of work will also help reduce your risk of injury in a construction accident.
Construction accidents from being struck by objects
Construction workers can become injured on impact by anything from cars or trucks to a rolling or airborne object. About 75 percent of fatalities from being struck by an object involve motor vehicles that include trucks or cranes.
Objects can also fall from construction equipment, scaffolding, or overhead landings on a construction site. When performing masonry work, there’s additional hazard if jacks or lifting equipment are used to position a wall or slab, or if objects are shored up until they are self-supporting. A site manager or supervisor should be checking jacks and equipment regularly to ensure that they are designed for and capable of managing the amount of weight and force that they need to manage.
If there’s a suspended load on site, never position your body beneath it. If you need to pass through an area with a suspended load, or when one is being moved, be sure the equipment operator knows you’re there and can anticipate your movements.
Personal protective equipment can reduce risk of injury from objects, too. Safety glasses, goggles, face shields, hard hat, and heavy-duty work gloves can keep you safe if you are hit by debris while using power tools (or when someone nearby is using power tools).
Construction accidents from electrocution
Not everyone who works around power lines is an electrician. In fact, there are lots of instances when construction crews come into contact with power lines or other materials that are conducting electricity from another source.
Here are three things to look for in the field:
- Contact with power lines. Stay clear of power lines because the biggest risk is fatal electrocution. Burns can also be a hazard, even if an electrocution is not fatal.
- Ground faults. Ground fault protection (or “grounding”) is essential for everyone’s safety. Electrical burns, explosions, and fires can be the result of poor ground-fault protection.
- Equipment errors. If you’re a construction worker, know how to use every piece of equipment on the job. Even if you don’t think that the task at hand is related to electricity, knowing how the equipment works and the potential for electrical shock can save you from harm.
Construction accidents from being caught between objects
“Trenching” is another term used in the construction industry for someone being caught in between objects. This kind of injury can be called “caught-in” or “caught-between,” but the concept is that a construction worker is injured because they experienced a lack of oxygen (suffocation) or were exposed to harmful chemicals when they could not free themselves from entrapment. This also includes being pinched, squeezed, crushed, or compressed by moving objects, wires, or rope.
Choose personal attire that is appropriate for your work site. Aside from having proper personal protective equipment, take care to keep your own clothes, accessories, and hair close to your body so that it can’t get caught in moving machinery. Wear close-fitting clothes, leave jewelry at home, and wear long hair in a braid or bun so that it’s not free-flowing.
What do I do if I’ve been hurt in a construction accident?
There are remedies available if you’ve been hurt in a construction accident. First, notify your supervisor that an accident has occurred. It’s important that any incident that causes injury on the job is documented, regardless of how or why it happened. This is not limited to construction accidents—there are accidents that happen in a variety of dangerous professions.
Second, consult with an attorney who is experienced with personal injury and workers’ compensation claims.