How to protect construction workers against the top risks
Construction is one of the largest and most wide-scale industries in America. According to the Worker Safety Series published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are approximately 6.5 million workers on more than 252,000 construction sites across the U.S. on any given day. It's also the leading industry in work-related deaths and injuries.
In order to prevent construction workplace accidents, employers and employees need to first understand the potential exposure risks and what can be done to minimize them.
The statistics are staggering
- Construction has a higher rate of fatal injuries than any other industry, accounting for 21.4% of all workplace fatalities.
- The leading causes of construction worker deaths are termed the “Fatal Four”: falls, being impacted/struck by an object, electrocution, and being caught between objects.
- Of OSHA's top 10 most frequently cited standard violations for all industries in 2016, construction industry violations account for three: fall protection, scaffolding and ladders.
- In Ohio, for instance, an estimated 20% of all workers' compensation claims filed by construction workers result in the employee losing at least eight days of work at a cost of $44,000.
Construction sites are known for being a fast-paced work environment. From contractors to subcontractors and general laborers, there are often a lot of busy hands in the building pot. Throw in the mass amount of equipment and tools being utilized, and it's easy to see how construction sites are hotbeds for safety risks and injury.
The first step in preventing injury is to know the potentials. OSHA lists the following as the most potential hazards for construction workers.
- Height-related falls
- Scaffold collapse
- Trench collapse
- Electric shock
- PPE (personal protective equipment) failures
- Repetitive motion injuries (strains and sprains)
Top 3 construction risks & injuries
- Fall injury A fall from a height can result in a number of injuries, including head wounds, lacerations, bone fractures, sprains and strain injuries, back injuries and even death. Many fall-related injuries can have long-lasting chronic side effects, such as immobility following a back injury or certain fractures.Before the assumption is made that falls only apply to large commercial construction sites with multi-levels and scaffolding, know that studies are showing residential construction can be even more hazardous than its commercial construction counterpart. According to OHS (Occupational Health & Safety), 55% of occupational fatalities in 2007 during residential framing were attributed to falls to a lower level.
- Drop/impact injury Impact injuries on a construction site often occur when an object, such as a tool, falls from an elevated height and strikes a lower-level worker. Where the object strikes dictates the injury. If it hits the foot, for example, it can cause a fracture or stab wound. If it hits the head, it can cause a concussion, traumatic brain injury or laceration.
- Electricity injury Electricians and engineers work with electricity elements on a daily basis and are directly exposed to electric shock, electrocution, fire, burns, secondary falling and explosion risks.However, electrical injury isn't exclusive to the direct worker. Many construction workers are unaware of the potential electrical hazards surrounding them as they complete their unrelated tasks, and this, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), makes them more vulnerable to the dangers of electrocution.
What can be done to minimize the risks?
The good news is that there are a lot of proactive steps that both employees and employers can take to minimize the risk of construction site injury:
No doubt that PPE, or personal protective equipment, is important as a whole. A hard hat can be the difference between a headache and a life-threatening traumatic brain injury in cases of falls and impact injuries. Gloves can prevent chemical burns and abrasive injury. All PPE needs to fit properly and be up to standards for the job task. One often overlooked aspect in safety is shoes. It's a universal element to all the above injuries and many more. Some of the most important features that need to be noted for safety reasons are:
- Traction is important in preventing slips and trips. It helps to ensure steady footing when walking and climbing. Such features help to minimize the risk of falls.
- Slip- and oil-resistant features further provide good traction to prevent slip, trips and falls.
- Arch support and adequate cushioning can help to minimize stress, muscle fatigue, back pain and repetitive motion injuries in the foot. They also improve balance and gait.
- Lightweight work boots prevent foot fatigue and minimize the risk of punctures on the ground.
- Ankle support to help minimize the risk of mechanical injuries from missteps, trips, falls and repetitive motions and to provide sure footing.
- Non-conductive materials provide protection from electrical accidents, help prevent a build-up of static electricity that can cause a spark, and they do not conduct electricity.
- Chemical-resistant materials can prevent chemical burns and injury from substances such as cement and molten metal splashing on the feet.
- Weather-proof materials are invaluable. Quality insulation and water-proofing materials can prevent weather injuries like frostbite. It's also essential to prevent cold from exacerbating numbing foot symptoms from existing conditions like arthritis and diabetic neuropathy, which can increase the risk of falls.
- No doubt that knowing and adhering to federal safety regulations is vital. Each of the above injuries has stringent safety guidelines and standards issued by the Department of Labor through OSHA to protect workers from accidents and injury, such as fall protection.These are comprehensive to address each specific risk for various employee groups, such as scaffolding safety protocols and crane safety protocols.
- No doubt that employers should analyze, develop, apply and provide employees with control measures recommended by authorities to minimize the risk and injuries on construction sites, such as these by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
It's safe to say that construction sites have many health and injury risks from the most common falls and electrocutions to muscle injuries and lacerations. However, the risk of injury can be reduced with careful adherence to safety protocols.