Some advice on how to avoid injuries and what to do if you do get hurt on a construction site
There are more than 7 million people who work in the U.S. construction industry.
These hardworking people do essential and valuable work to benefit our economy and our lifestyles — despite the fact that construction is the highest-risk occupation based on the number of workplace fatalities. In 2017, there were nearly 1,000 construction-related fatalities nationwide, or 9.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Whether you work in the construction industry or employ people in related professions, there are things you can do to prevent accidents and injuries from happening.
Common causes of construction accident injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that these are the 4 most common causes of fatalities in the construction industry:
- Falls (usually from heights)
- Struck by an object
- Caught in (or in between) machinery
10 tips for preventing construction accident injuries and fatalities
1. Provide safety training.
Every employee and manager should have adequate training in workplace safety standards. Part of that is familiarity with the possible hazards that could appear on their worksites.
Each employer should have a written safety policy that includes:
- Safety procedures
- Awareness of hazards that might be on the job site (including potentially hazardous chemicals)
- Instructions for operating equipment and machinery
- Emergency protocols
- Name and location of a trained first aid responder
- How and when to call for help if someone is injured
In addition to the written policy, employees should be provided with hands-on training and demonstrations for how to handle chemicals and equipment that they might be expected to use at work.
2. Plan ahead and manage hazard risk.
A trained safety professional should inspect each site or project before work begins in order to look for specific hazards. There should be a list of precautions specific to the job that reflects any hazards noted through this risk assessment. Every worker on the site should be made aware of the hazards and how to handle them.
Communication is important!
Each person on a worksite should know how to communicate about a hazard and how to avoid it. Clear signs should be carefully placed to warn employees of where there might be wires, high voltage, falling debris, or other hazards.
Know the differences in how these words are used:
3. Ensure that each employee has properly fitting and appropriate clothing and protective equipment.
PPE, or personal protective equipment, is about more than health care providers and first responders. It also includes any clothes or gear that any worker needs in order to stay safe while doing their job.
This might include:
- Hard hats
- Correct footwear for the job, like steel-toed boots or rubber-soled shoes
- Hearing protection
- Work gloves
- Sunhats or long-sleeve lightweight shirts with UV protection
- Reflective or high-visibility clothes
Healthy personal habits are important
Eating excessive carbohydrates and fatty foods can make you drowsy, which results in feeling less alert.
By eating healthy, lighter foods and getting proper hydration, you’re better able to concentrate and avoid fatigue, which reduces the likelihood of an accident. Hydrate with water or natural fruit juice and avoid soda or caffeinated drinks.
4. Use equipment properly.
If you or one of your employees uses equipment in a way other than what’s instructed by the manufacturer, its safety features might not work (and, you would no longer be able to file a defective product liability claim if you’re injured).
If the equipment is used incorrectly, that can also cause damage to the equipment that could lead to injuries.
5. Keep the workplace clean and well lit.
Debris and loose materials might be an inevitable part of a construction site, but try to keep any loose objects or clutter to a minimum. Even a simple slip or trip and fall can lead to a serious injury when it’s on a construction site because it can be a fall into a hole, from a high scaffold, down stairs, or into cement or other hard ground. Walkways should be kept free of clutter and workers should be expected to clean up after themselves when they move from place to place.
Along those same lines, minimize nighttime work if possible. Sometimes working at night is necessary, but there’s more potential for construction accidents because of a combination of reduced visibility and increased fatigue.
6. Drive carefully.
Whether you’re driving your own car onto a worksite for the day, or you’re operating heavy machinery like a backhoe or bulldozer, drive defensively and carefully. Practice backing up before operating a construction vehicle and be familiar with maneuvering in tight spaces and with the particular equipment you’re driving.
7. Have regular safety meetings.
In addition to training, a daily meeting might be important for reducing risk on your construction site. For example, if job duties change regularly or if the hazards are different depending on the tasks being accomplished, it is important to make sure that managers and employees are in regular communication.
8. Be especially careful about falls from heights.
Falls are the leading cause of fatalities for construction workers.
Guardrails, screens, nets, canopies, scaffolding, and toe boards are all precautions that are usually taken on a construction site. If you’re using scaffolding, make sure it’s installed correctly and inspected often to make sure it’s appropriate for the weight being held.
9. Maintain tools and equipment.
All tools and equipment should be maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications. You should inspect each item regularly, check for wear and tear, and make sure to replace any parts that are broken or damaged.
10. Understand OSHA rules and guidelines and follow them.
Employers are required to follow OSHA rules and guidelines — and they exist for good reason. OSHA reports that workers who are as little as 6 feet above the ground on ladders, roofs, or scaffolding are at serious risk for injuries and fatalities. But OSHA’s guidelines are designed by experts to protect employees and guide managers in keeping everyone safe.
The best thing you can do as an employee is to be empowered to report unsafe conditions if you see them.
Most importantly, if you’re injured at work on a construction site, you need to let your employer know immediately in order to preserve your right to a workers’ compensation claim.
Each state has different requirements and deadlines for how to file a workers’ compensation claim, and sometimes the process is complicated. If you need a workers’ compensation lawyer in your state, you can use the Enjuris lawyer directory as a resource to provide you with the information you need after a construction accident injury.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.