Construction Safety Plans & PPE Needed: Decade of Unchanged Death Rate

Construction site safety continues to be an obstacle, given the number of workplace fatalities remains relatively unchanged. From 2011 to 2020, 10 in 100,000 workers lost their lives due to job site incidents that have grown redundant. And in 2020, family members attended 1,008 funerals while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fails to provide enough resources and members to enforce construction site rules and regulations.

The hard data indicates construction workers need improved safety training and more readily available personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing.

Fatal Four Still Dominate Construction Sector

Commonly called the “Fatal Four” by safety experts, hard impact falls, exposure to electricity, getting struck, and being caught between machinery consistently rank as the leading causes of death. Even an initial look at OSHA statistics proves construction worker safety consistently suffers the same range of Fatal Four deaths, proving the need for construction safety improvement plans and construction safety management.

  • Hard Impact Falls: From 2011 to 2020, deaths hovered between a high of 40 percent and a low of 34 percent. In 2020, the number stood at 37 percent.
  • Exposure to Electricity: From 2011 to 2018, this figure ran between 7 and 9 percent. It fell to 5 percent in 2020.
  • Struck: From 2011 to 2020, the percentage of deaths from struck-by incidents ran between 13 and 17 percent.
  • Caught Between: Horrific crushing deaths reached a low of 28 percent and a high of 36 percent. In 2020, they stood at the 36 percent high.

If federal and state agencies enforced practical safety measures to keep workers safe on construction sites, the number of fatalities would likely decline. But, in reality, the percentages have remained relatively unchanged while the construction sector workforce reportedly grew by more than 30 percent. That means more people are needlessly dying on the job.

Frustrating Construction Site Safety Issues

Despite OSHA’s concerted efforts to promulgate rules that enhance workplace safety, the federal agency is relatively toothless. From the fiscal year 2015 to 2020, the total number of inspections conducted by OSHA declined from 35,280 to 21,674. That number is not limited to the construction industry alone.

But even if OSHA had the resources to target more than 21,000 construction sites annually, the U.S. has upwards of 3,846,322 contractors. These businesses often run multiple job sites during the course of any given year.

This is not to say OSHA isn’t making a robust effort to improve construction site safety. The underfunded and understaffed organization continues to dole out fines. The conventional wisdom is that shady contractors will think twice about unsafe practices and lack of personal protective equipment. Unlike law enforcement doling out speeding citations, OSHA has not instilled adequate fear or respect.

  • Upwards of 20 percent of employers cited by OSHA don’t pay fines.
  • During fiscal years 2015-2017, OSHA closed more than 1,800 cases each year for non-payment.
  • More than $23.45 million in fines were written off due to non-payment over three years.

It’s essential to understand that OSHA does not necessarily have the ability to enforce its own civil penalties. When construction companies do not comply, they are referred to the U.S. Department of Treasury. After handing off the list, the Treasury has not consistently made the culprits pay.

In 2011, the number of cases closed without collecting fines was 792. By 2018, that number ballooned to 4,797 and remained above 4,000 through the fiscal year 2020. Contractors that snub OSHA standards sometimes take a “catch me if you can” position, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis. Although these failures undermine OSHA’s ability to enforce workplace safety regulations through monetary penalties, safety experts generally agree inspections are more successful.

Do Inspections Improve Construction Worker Safety?

The market size of the U.S. construction sector reportedly grew from $500 billion in 2011 to $1.1 trillion in 2020. During that same period, the number of OSHA inspectors declined. In 2011, the federal agency sent out 1,059 inspectors and supervisors.

By 2020, their ranks dipped to 994 despite the construction market more than doubling. Adding insult to injury, the number of construction site safety inspections dropped by upwards of 60 percent.

Not every safety insider sees a clear connection between inspections and reductions in workplace fatalities. But the conventional thinking is that a high-profile presence encourages construction companies to clean up hazards and implement best practices. The same approach holds true in law enforcement, in which marked patrol cars typically lead to motorists complying with speed limits and stopping texting while driving.

At least one data-driven assessment indicates that increasing inspection by 60 percent would result in 5 percent fewer workplace fatalities. In more tangible terms, 50 construction workers would likely not die on the job each year.

Construction site safety inspections average around 50 percent of OSHA’s onsite reviews. OSHA reportedly set a 2022 goal of 31,400 field inspections. Unfortunately, even that goal was 23 percent fewer than the 40,961 completed by the federal agency back in 2012.

The ability of OSHA to bolster construction worker safety continues to lag behind an industry and workforce that usually increases year-over-year. However, a significant number of safety-conscious construction firms are working cooperatively with OSHA and state-run safety agencies to reduce fatalities and workplace injuries.

Construction Worker Safety Programs

The loss of life on construction sites remains a top concern for OSHA and state safety agencies across the United States. Regulatory enforcement failure and an inadequate number of field inspectors prevent OSHA from changing the construction safety landscape. The good news is that many large construction firms recognize the health, wellness, and financial benefits of working cooperatively.

Anyone who has owned or operated a business understands that excessive worker injuries, job-related illnesses, or deaths, cause insurance premiums to rise. Whether prompted by reduced insurance costs or genuine compassion for employees, construction industry leaders are adopting safety education, training, and OSHA compliance programs. Heightened awareness and consistent use of PPE and disposable clothing can reportedly help reduce injuries and fatalities by 35 percent.

Protecting Workers on Construction Sites

The key to preventing workplace injuries and fatalities starts with establishing a culture of safety. Construction company leadership teams usually empower supervisors by developing flexible best practices that can be site-specific or implemented across various landscapes.

Leaders typically perform a hazard risk assessment, map out a construction site, and create a building plan to identify areas that pose safety risks or are potentially hazardous. Understanding the potential workplace threats in advance provides an opportunity to address them. These are ways construction site safety programs can make a difference.

Provide Safety Training

There are ways that experienced job site supervisors and safety specialists can better prepare workers for these often dangerous environments. The first involves teachable training that presents real-life examples of health and safety risks. These may include issues such as how to work in tandem to properly foot a ladder, point out enclosed spaces that require respirators, or bright safety vests to help heavy machinery operators see workers through the dust.

Maintain A Debris-Free Jobsite

The hard impacts from slips and falls continue to plague the construction sector. But a safety plan that encourages workers to promptly clear away debris or address wet surfaces eliminates injury and fatality risks. The challenge for many onsite supervisors involves coming to terms with investing time into cleanup safety even though building goals may slow.

Provide Appropriate PPE & Clothing

It’s crucial that workers have access to a full supply of safety gear and clothing. Company policy must require the consistent usage of these items. Those who fail to comply with a company’s mandate are not buying into the safety culture and pose a risk to themselves and others. Along with distributing a written safety plan, companies would be wise to post signage urging employees to wear the following:

  • Hard Hats
  • Work Gloves
  • Construction-Certified Footwear
  • Goggles or Visors
  • Breathable Masks
  • High-Visibility Clothing
  • Hearing Protection
  • Harnesses
  • Protective Coveralls

The protective equipment and disposable clothing must also fit properly. That’s typically why safety-conscious construction firms maintain a stockpile of industry-leading personal protective gear. Safety in the construction industry requires regular hazard risk assessments (site-specific), the implementation of safety and health regulations, and ensuring these safety protocols are followed and enforced.