While the construction industry is largely responsible for helping move the American economy forward by building the structures that we live, work, and play in, these job sites remain one of the most hazardous working environments. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's estimated that one out of every five worker deaths are in construction. Furthermore, the industry is responsible for more than 1,000 fatalities per year and more than 200,000 non-fatal injuries annually. In this post, we'll discuss some of the leading causes of injury on construction sites and what can be done to prevent them.
OSHA's "Focus Four" Hazards
The good news is that there's been an increased focus on job site safety over the past several decades, so fatalities and recordable injuries are considerably down from what they once were. Additionally, OSHA, or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, has been able to pinpoint the four major causes of injury on construction sites, thereby permitting safety professionals to more specifically zero in on training and better prevent incidents before they occur.
These four main hazards, or "focus four," that OSHA has identified as the major threats to the construction industry are:
- Falls: This category consists of both falls from heights and slip and falls. It's the leading cause of injury and death on construction job sites.
- Struck by an object: This involves being struck by building materials or construction equipment.
- Electrocution: Electrocution can lead to burns and in the most dire cases, cardiac arrest and nerve issues.
- Caught-in/between: On any type of construction site, there's the threat of the body, or parts of the body, getting caught in between other objects or equipment.
The OSHA Focus Four Campaign: What You Need to Know
In an effort to raise awareness of the focus four and keep construction workers safe, OSHA often launches a Focus Four Campaign. This campaign often lasts for several months out of the year and kicks off in spring or early summer when activity on job sites tends to ramp up. The main purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of the key hazards on job sites and reinforce the safety practices that can help prevent recordables, notably from the focus four. To recognize OSHA's Focus Four Campaign, safety managers are encouraged to hold special Toolbox Talks, stand-downs, and other on-site activities that bring awareness to these threats and preventative measures. Later in this post, we'll cover mitigation strategies that safety professionals can enforce to keep job sites safe from focus four hazards and any other potential threats.
Construction-Related Injury Statistics
It's estimated that one out of every five work-related deaths in the private sector is in construction. That's 20 percent, an astounding number. Furthermore, it's estimated that if the construction industry could eliminate the focus four hazards from their job sites, it would save nearly 600 lives each year (not to mention a countless number of injuries).
Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for about 34 percent of all fatalities. Being struck by an object is the next most common cause of death on the job site, accounting for more than 10 percent of all fatalities. Electrocution and getting caught in or between an object come in at 9 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Together, the focus four account for about 60 percent of all construction fatalities per year, per data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
OSHA Rules and Regulations for Focus Four Hazards
With the increased emphasis on focus four hazards, it should come as no surprise that OSHA has also developed various rules, regulations, and best practices that safety professionals can implement to help keep their workers safe on the job site. From best practices for OSHA fall protection for construction workers to the OSHA standard for caught-in between, there are a variety of measures that construction professionals should adhere to in order to minimize their risk of a recordable on the job site. Here's a closer look at some of them:
- Proper PPE, such as personal fall arrest equipment, should always be worn. This is in addition to hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, and more.
- Workers should always maintain three points of contact when working at elevated heights, especially when mounting and dismounting equipment.
- Shoes or boots with adequate traction should always be worn on site.
- Professionals should be properly trained on using ladders and mobile elevated lift units prior to working with them.
- Scaffolding should be installed correctly and inspected each day to ensure it is safe.
- In addition to fall arrest equipment, guardrails, nets, and other components should be installed when appropriate.
- The job site should also remain neat and tidy to prevent tripping over equipment, debris, building materials, or any other objects.
- Ensure materials are stacked and stored properly.
- Set up barriers around any heavy or suspended loads to ensure workers are a safe distance away.
- Secure tools and equipment properly when not in use, especially if they're at elevated heights.
- Ensure reverse signal alarms are always working properly on equipment to help alert any workers in the vicinity of potential threats.
- Ensure workers are wearing high-visibility safety vests so they can be seen by those operating equipment or vehicles.
- Ensure that PPE is worn properly by all workers. This includes gloves, boots, long sleeves, safety glasses, and may also include face shields.
- Enforce a lockout and tag-out procedure on the job site so that equipment can be properly used, stored, and secured when not in use.
- Ensure equipment is de-energized properly.
- Set up mobile barriers and ensure that workers stay safely away from any parts or equipment that is energized and could pose a safety threat.
- Maintain a safe working distance from power lines, especially those that are overhead.
- Workers should be trained on the basics, such as ensuring that they never put themselves between any piece of heavy equipment and an immovable object.
- Workers should refrain from wearing baggy clothes, jewelry or other items that may get caught in vehicles or equipment.
- Stay away from the swing radius of any moving or rotating objects.
How to Mitigate Risk
In addition to following the aforementioned best practices, there are also a number of other things that you can implement on the job site to mitigate risk or minimize the severity of injuries should they occur. Here's a look:
No worker should be allowed on site without the proper PPE. Proper shoes and boots should be worn with adequate traction to prevent slips and falls. High-visibility safety vests or jackets should be worn by all workers to ensure that any equipment or vehicle operators can see them. And hard hats, safety glasses, and, in some cases, face shields and gloves, should also be donned on site.
Even in the event of a focus four incident, this PPE can help prevent serious injuries or even any injury at all.
Safety best practices should be regularly reinforced on every project. Safety professionals should organize thorough safety orientations that workers have to complete before they're allowed to work on the job site. Best practices should also be regularly enforced during morning huddles and Toolbox Talks. Safety walks should be regularly performed to monitor activity and corrective action should be implemented if workers are not adhering to protocol. Additionally, safety professionals should take advantage of events like OSHA's Focus Four Campaign and the annual Construction Safety Week to further reinforce best practices. It's imperative that construction workers understand the risks and know how to avoid them.
Learn from Mistakes
Every firm - regardless of the industry or market they work in - should always be striving for continuous improvement. That said, construction safety professionals should always be helping the workers they oversee learn from any mistakes on site so that they can be corrected in similar, future scenarios. This applies with any potential safety incident, but especially with any of the focus four hazards. Even if workers don the appropriate PPE, and adhere to safety guidelines and best practices, incidents can still happen. There's a lesson from every one of them - and implementing this lesson and relaying it as a teaching tool to other workers should not be something that goes to waste.
Any industry that involves as many tools, equipment and other miscellaneous threats as construction does is going to have its fair share of dangers. And while it's the goal of the industry to build every project without any recordables, there's bound to be issues. By following the guidelines that we've laid out in this post, you can help your jobsite become safer.