Construction work can be dangerous. Do you have a plan in place to keep your crew safe?
Construction sites present many dangers to workers: to cite two key statistics, approximately 4,500 construction workers die each year because of job-related accidents, and another three million experience slight to critical injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the top five hazards in the construction industry can be mitigated by:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Respiratory protection
- Lockout/tagout procedures
General Prevention Methods
While many construction site hazards exist, the accidents associated with the top five causes of injury are the most worrisome. Assembling an effective plan for work site safety requires an awareness of these common accidents and an understanding of the best methods for preventing those accidents. All of this begins with a thorough approach to safety that includes mandatory safety meetings, individualized safety training, and ongoing assessments of workplace activities.
Mandatory safety meetings can cover topics ranging from achieving better physical fitness and office ergonomics to mitigating fall hazards and working in extreme weather conditions. The mandatory nature of these safety meetings makes it easier to encourage a culture of safety and ensures that all employees at least attend. Individualized safety training, on the other hand, takes the concept of “safety culture” one step further by implementing safety training applicable to specific job activities. Individualized safety training may focus on the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for work in confined spaces, for example.
Assessing the risk involved in common job site activities allows a construction companies to align safety practices with OSHA standards. While many assessments consider lagging indicators or measurements conducted after an accident occurs, other assessments rely on leading indicators and analyses of behaviors that precede an incident. To further illustrate this difference, a lagging indicator considers the percentage of accidents that occurred within a specific time frame, while an assessment of possible respiratory hazards can serve as a leading indicator.
Every company should implement easy-to-understood policies and procedures that address safety and training thoroughly. However, policies and procedures only work with enforcement: procedures should also detail actionable steps taken to maximize safety. A policy that lists excavator maintenance as a priority works hand-in-hand with procedures for inspecting and maintaining the equipment, for instance.
Specific Prevention Methods
For the most part, the top hazards on construction job sites remain nearly the same from one year to the next. Falls can occur at any point of the construction process and can happen from scaffolding, ladders, cranes, platforms, roofs, and equipment; keeping work areas clean and dry can prevent falls from occurring. Employers must install guards over every hole and erect guard rails and toe boards around every open-sided platform, floor, or runway. Other ways to mitigate fall hazards include training employees, wearing safety harnesses, using safety nets, and installing stair railings and hand rails.
Training should also include understanding, using, and following hazardous materials procedures established by OSHA. The Hazardous Communication Standard requires information about chemical safety to be distributed to employees. Furthermore, given that contemporary construction workers often speak different languages, communication about hazardous materials must address linguistic differences and ensure that all employees understand the meaning of chemical symbols. Employers should require training about the use of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and about the correct handling of chemicals.
Consistent and proper lockout/tagout procedures can prevent or contain accidents. For example, when a job requires the use of an aerial lift, employee training should cover the application, usage, and disengagement of devices that release energy, such as hydraulic cylinders. Attaching tags that identify and communicate maintenance or repair issues is also important.
Wearing the correct respiratory protection depends on the respiratory hazards present at a specific construction site. Employees engaged in activities that release silica dust, for example, will require a higher standard of respiratory protection than employees working in non-hazardous areas. While one class of respirators filters out airborne particles, air-purifying respirators that utilize cartridges or canisters filter chemicals and gases. Other respirators can provide a constant stream of clean, respirable air through a self-contained air supply.