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Construction Worker Safety Guide

Construction sites are dangerous places to be. There’s a safety hazard awaiting innocent and unsuspecting workers in every corner. For this reason, clear and elaborate safety protocols have been put in place by agencies such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to protect construction workers.

Currently, about 7 million Americans go to work at a construction site every day. Although construction has been a crucial sector in the U.S. economy for decades, construction worker safety is still a new and evolving concept. It wasn’t until 1971 that agencies like OSHA (Organizational Safety and Health Administration) were formed. While tremendous steps have since been made to ensure construction workers are safe on the job, there’s still a long way to go.

In this in-depth guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about construction workplace safety, including anything that’s not highlighted in the standard OSHA regulations.

What is Construction Worker Safety?

Construction Worker Safety is providing a safe work environment, secure procedures, and safety equipment in a construction site to ensure workers’ health and safety. While employers certainly have a moral obligation to provide a safe and conducive construction environment for workers, some turn a blind eye to this obligation altogether.

They fail to understand that an unsafe construction worksite can pose severe legal and financial consequences to them as well. To that effect, construction employers should treat workplace safety as a crucial and indispensable occupational responsibility, not an afterthought.

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What Risks Do Construction Workers Face?

Nearly 7 million people go to work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the U.S. each day. On the job, these workers face a wide range of occupational safety hazards. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average for all other industries.

Although OSHA implements standards to help keep working conditions in sites safe, construction accidents still happen. And when they do, they are often severe or fatal. Here are some of the most common risks on a construction site:

Working from Heights

When building and demolishing structures, construction workers are required to work from dangerous heights. Statistics indicate falls in the workplace as the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. In 2018 alone, falls from heights accounted for 320 out of 1,008 construction fatalities.

Ladder falls are particularly deadly. In 2020, work ladder falls accounted for approximately 22,710 severe injuries and 161 fatalities in the United States. Falls from construction ladders may occur when:

Electrical Incidents

It’s not uncommon to find a construction project involving heavy electricity usage. In such a case, the construction staff might be prone to multiple shock and electrocution hazards. According to OSHA statistics, 8.6% of construction workers died from electrocution on the job site in 2019. More often than not, electrocution at a construction site occurs due to:

The severity of the injuries sustained from electrocution—ranging from shock, fractures, burns, and even death—depends on the amount of electrical current exposure.

Slipping & Tripping

A construction worker must work in a wide range of terrains. A construction worker can very easily slip or trip from holes in the ground to work on buildings at various stages of completion.

In 2019, slips, trips, and falls were the most frequent fatal events in the construction industry, representing 37% of fatalities (418 of 1102). Substances and items that may cause a slip or trip accident on a construction site include:

Caught-in or Caught-between Incidents

On construction sites, caught-in and caught-between accidents happen due to collapsing materials, getting caught between two vehicles or equipment parts, or between a moving object and a fixed object. Between 2011 and 2015, caught-in and caught-between injuries increased by a whopping 33%. In the same period, 275 workers lost their lives. Caught-in or caught-between accidents also accounted for about 2.5% of workplace deaths in 2019. Other standard safety risks on construction sites include:

Struck by an Object

Struck-by injuries occur when a moving object, piece of equipment, or vehicle hits a worker. According to a report by the CPWR (Center for Construction Research and Training), the private construction industry reported 20,600 nonfatal struck-by injuries in 2019, which accounted for 25.8% of all nonfatal injuries in the industry that year.

Exposure to Excessive Noise

Much of the equipment used on a construction site generates high levels of noise. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause irreversible hearing loss. While this hearing loss could occur from a single powerful explosion, it often happens over time due to repeated exposure to moderate noise. According to OSHA, eight-hour exposure to noise levels over 85 decibels can cause hearing damage over time. For context, forklifts produce up to 93 decibels of noise, while jackhammers, graders, and chain saws all produce over 100 decibels.

Long Term Diseases Construction Workers Face

Beyond the typical on-site injuries, construction staff may also suffer long-term diseases due to prolonged exposure to dangerous machinery, equipment, and materials. These may include (but are not limited to):
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Hearing loss

A whopping 50% of construction workers have noise-induced hearing loss.

Musculoskeletal disorders

40% of construction workers suffer musculoskeletal disorders (e.g., muscle or tendon strain, Tension Neck Syndrome, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and tendinitis) and chronic pain.
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Lung cancer and other lung-related infections

Severe neurological damage

7% of pipefitters, 15% of ironworkers, and 75% of boilermakers exceed the accepted 8-hour manganese exposure, a deadly neurotoxin in steel that can lead to neurological damage similar to Parkinson’s disease.

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High blood lead levels

This may not seem dangerous, but it is. In addition to causing infertility and miscarriages, high levels of lead in the blood can cause damage to the kidneys and central nervous system. Somewhat unsurprisingly, 17% of people with elevated blood lead levels are construction workers.
Redefining Legal Care

Information from CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training.

Construction Safety Issues

Despite OSHA being clear on the applicable construction safety regulations, some employers and construction contractors still choose to ignore them. Ignoring OSHA regulations gives rise to several construction safety concerns that pose a severe danger to the health and well-being of workers.
Below are common safety concerns on construction sites:
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Failure to Communicate Hazards

Failure to recognize and communicate hazards involving chemicals or unsafe conditions can result in numerous injuries and fatalities from burns, TBIs, or explosions.

Improper Crane Use

Whether it’s a fallen load or getting hit by a swinging radius, a lack of proper inspection and operation of cranes can be fatal. At least 44 people die in crane-related accidents in the U.S. every year.

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Lack of Head Protection

Failure to wear protective headgear when working on a construction site can result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or, worse, death; this is especially the case when a worker’s head comes in direct contact with a falling or fixed object.

Poorly Constructed Trenches

Despite being one of the most common tasks on a construction site, poorly constructed or unprotected trenches account for dozens of injuries and fatalities each year. Unsafe trench conditions that workers typically encounter include unsecured walls, lack of sloping, and shielding or trench boxes.
exposing workers to trenching and excavation hazards
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Faulty Ladders

As mentioned earlier, improperly secured or otherwise faulty ladders pose a natural safety hazard to unsuspecting construction staff. If supervisors fail to inspect ladders as required by OSHA, the risk increases significantly.

Improper Scaffolding Use

If not used or assembled correctly, scaffoldings can pose a risk to a construction crew. The risk increases even further when employers do not provide workers with a body harness for protection.
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exposing workers to trenching and excavation hazards

Inadequate Equipment on Excavation Sites

Falling loads, improper use of machinery, or a lack of personal protective equipment may increase the likelihood of accidents in excavation sites.

Inadequate Training on Machinery Operation

According to OSHA, 100 employees are killed and 95,000 injured while operating forklifts and other heavy machinery. Most of these accidents are a direct result of using forklifts without proper training.

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