Construction is a risky business, but you can minimize the risks to your workers. Our guide breaks down construction safety.
Construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, regularly accounting for over 20 percent of worker fatalities across all jobs. While it's not possible to rule out every accident, a strong adherence to safety standards, coupled with a work culture that makes safety everyone's responsibility, can greatly reduce worker accidents.-
The fatal four
The four most common accidents in construction account for over 60 percent of worker deaths. According to OSHA, eliminating these "fatal four" types of accidents would have saved 602 lives in 2015. Here's how they breakdown:
- Falls – 364 out of 937 total deaths in construction in 2015 (38.8 percent)
- Struck by object – 90 (9.6 percent)
- Electrocutions – 81 (8.6 percent)
- Caught in/between (compressed by equipment, objects or collapsing structure) – 67 (7.2 percent)
These accidents can be tied to many things. One of the easiest to rectify is not adhering to safety standards. OSHA cited the top 10 most violated standards in the 2016 fiscal year. You can see how they relate to the fatal four:
- Fall protection (falls)
- Hazard communication standard (struck by object, electrocutions, caught in/between)
- Scaffolding (falls)
- Respiratory protection
- Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout; electrocutions)
- Powered industrial trucks (struck by object)
- Ladders (falls)
- Machinery and machine guarding (struck by object, caught in/between)
- Electrical, wiring methods, components, and equipment (electrocutions)
- Electrical systems design (electrocutions)
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While it might be more expensive, the next easiest thing is to make sure you have the safest equipment. Scissor lifts, baker scaffolds or podium-style ladders can protect your people from falls better than standard ladders.
Study the standards
OSHA, of course, is the go-to for safety standards. You can find these standards on its website. These are the ones you need to follow by law, and with good reason. Violations of these standards contribute to some of the most common causes of death in the industry.
Make sure all your people know the standards, not just the safety professionals. OSHA offers general and site-specific training courses and materials.
In addition, keep up on industry news. Many companies, insurance agencies and professional organizations conduct studies of the best safety practices and share the results, such as in this report by McGraw-Hill Construction on identifying risks and improving site productivity.
As technology increases, it raises the standard on safety gear. Wearable tech can turn a hard hat into a device that warns of potential dangers. Drones can let you evaluate a perilous area without putting people in harm's way. Having an eye on technology and being an early adopter of the devices that best address your work and safety needs not only make your sites safer, but also add to your reputation as a company that is ahead of the times and cares for its workers.
Plan safety into the project
"The best defense against injury and loss is a comprehensive understanding of risks and deficiencies within your construction company and projects," the Safety Management Group said on its website. You should make safety a consideration from the design phase to the final polish.
Start by examining the site for potential perils. This can help you determine if you need to make special preparations, such as building retaining walls, or purchase special equipment. It also lets you decide ahead of time if you need to adopt special procedures and what areas you should emphasize with your construction team. Another advantage of doing this in the design phase is that you can add safety considerations into the contract. There are consulting companies that can help with this aspect of site pre-inspection and project evaluation.
Cultivate the culture
No amount of education or tech toys can prevent accidents unless you have a workplace culture that makes safety a priority. While adhering to the law or threat of being fired can motivate some people, it doesn't always prevent them from taking a shortcut "just this once," especially when a deadline looms or there's pressure to finish a project.
Reinforce the safety message by placing value on it. One way is to put it in terms that mean something. McGraw-Hill, for example, uses the theme "I practice safety so I can go home to my family every night." Other companies have regular safety meetings in which site workers can bring up concerns and identify successes. Incentives toward good practices, like bonuses for zero-citation walk-throughs or a party for 100 accident-free days, reinforce the message.
Even more, there needs to be support for promoting safety. If a worker sees someone else taking a shortcut, he or she needs to feel not just comfortable but encouraged to point it out on the spot, before a small thoughtless action becomes a larger incident or an unsafe habit.
Over the course of a 45-year career, a construction worker has a 1 in 200 chance of dying, according to OSHA. The U.S. National Library of Medicine said that the construction industry is the No. 2 cause of fatal injuries in workers under 18. Risk is part of a construction worker's life. However, with adherence to standards, careful inspection of the site, adoption of the latest safety techniques and strategies, and encouraging a culture that promotes safety first, you can keep your employees from adding to those statistics.