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The Fatal Four: Avoiding Construction Injuries

Jill Bowers
Jill Bowers Staff
Updated Jan 23, 2023

Learn the OSHA standards for preventing injuries and fatalities on construction sites.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 1 in 5 deaths that happen at places of employment unfortunately occur on construction sites. There are many ways worksite injuries and deaths can occur, but construction companies should watch out for four particular scenarios, known as the Fatal Four: falling, being struck by an object, electrocution, and being caught in or between objects.


Construction workers falling from various places on construction sites comprise the majority of construction fatalities at nearly 39 percent. Because of the high risks associated with falls, OSHA requires construction companies to do all they can to protect their employees from them.

The requirements include the following:

  • Guard floor holes. Companies must guard every floor hole that an employee could accidentally fall into. Acceptable guard options include a railing and toe board or a floor hole cover.
  • Provide guardrails and toe boards. These must be placed around every open-sided floor, runway and platform. They must also be provided to protect workers from falling onto dangerous machinery, regardless of height.
  • Inspect ladders and scaffolding. A competent employee should inspect every ladder at the beginning of every day to be sure it is safe to use. If it isn’t, the ladder should be tagged or marked in some way and removed from the construction site until it can be repaired to OSHA standards. Scaffolds should also be inspected at the beginning of each workday to ensure safety.
  • Always stand on the floor of lifts. Never let employees try to raise their work height on scaffolding or aerial lifts by using buckets or ladders. Workers should always stand on the floor of a lift for maximum stability.
  • Provide fall protection equipment. Depending on the nature of the construction site, additional fall protection equipment may be required. This equipment might include a safety net, stair and handrails, and a safety harness and line.

Unfortunately, despite companies following OSHA guidelines and doing everything in their power to protect employees, accidents still happen. Keep an eye on your construction sites and make your employees aware of the dangers.

Nearly 10 percent of deaths that occur on construction sites happen because falling objects hit employees. Employers can implement many safety protocols for their construction sites that can help prevent this, but OSHA requires that construction employers have certain rules in those safety plans.

  • Provide and wear hard hats. It’s always a good idea to wear hard hats on a construction site. Per OSHA standards, employees are required to wear them on, under and around a scaffold. Hard hats should fit snugly and not come loose when being worn. Have your employees inspect their hard hats for dents or cracks. If there’s any sign of deterioration, the hard hat should be replaced.
  • Don’t exceed maximum loads. Pay attention to maximum load rules for scaffolds and other equipment. Never let your workers exceed a maximum load.
  • Hoist tools after an employee has climbed a scaffold. To prevent falling tools and protect employees, hoist tools up to employees after the worker has already climbed a scaffold or another height. Don’t have employees carry tools with them, as both the worker and the tools are more likely to fall this way. Tool belts can also be used to carry tools and other materials.
  • Erect canopies or barricade an area. Depending on the nature of the construction site, it might be wise to erect canopies overhead to protect employees from falling objects. Particularly dangerous areas should be barricaded to prevent workers from entering the danger zone and being struck by objects.


Over 8 percent of construction site deaths occur when an employee is electrocuted. As the employer, you can provide some protection for your workers. OSHA has some requirements to help prevent death by electrocution:

  • Stay at least 10 feet away from power lines. Scaffolds, aerial lifts and other machinery must be at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
  • Replace hard hats in the event of electric shock. In addition to protecting employees from falling objects and other dangers, hard hats can help protect workers from dangling electrical wires and other electric concerns. Be sure to immediately replace an employee’s hard hat in the event of electric shock.
  • Use nonconductive ladders. If ladders are going to be anywhere close to any electrical equipment, make sure they have nonconductive side railings.

Caught in or between objects

Over 7 percent of construction-related deaths are due to a worker being caught in or compressed by objects or equipment. Some of these deaths are also due to workers being trapped and crushed in a collapsing structure. Sometimes there is no way to predict or prevent an accident of this nature, but OSHA has standards for employers to meet to help protect construction workers.

  • Properly train all machine operators. Workers who have not been thoroughly trained on how to use and operate machinery and equipment should never use that equipment. It is the responsibility of the employer to train and responsibly authorize employees on machines.
  • Have competent safety monitors who are within reach. Not every construction company has to use a safety monitoring system, but if they do, the safety monitors must be competent and within hearing distance of the employees they are monitoring. The monitor has to be on the same walking or working surface as the employee(s) they are watching, and they must be able to see the monitored employees at all times.

Other OSHA standards

OSHA has other standards that construction sites must follow. More or less might be required depending on the state in which your company is located, so be sure to check and comply with local laws when developing your business’s safety plan.

Under OSHA standards, construction companies must do the following:

  • Keep work areas clean and organized, especially floors.
  • Keep floors dry as much as is reasonably possible.
  • Provide all required protective gear for each worker at no additional cost to the employee.
  • Train all employees on safety protocols in a language workers can understand.
  • Inform workers about dangerous chemicals and materials onsite.
  • Train employees on how to handle dangerous chemicals and materials.
  • Have a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) onsite if any hazardous chemical is being used in the area.
  • Provide appropriate face and eye protection as needed.

This list is not comprehensive. It’s always a good idea to review and understand OSHA standards while developing your company’s safety plan. You can learn more about these laws and standards on the OSHA website.

Image Credit: Chatchai Juntanakonsakul/Shutterstock
Jill Bowers
Jill Bowers Staff
Jill Bowers is a technical writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She has more than 10 years of writing experience for both B2C and B2B content, focusing on topics like travel writing, consumer finance, business marketing, social media marketing and other business categories. She spends an inordinate amount of time singing love songs to her dog, composes handbell music and writes YA fantasy novels.