There are approximately 252,000 construction sites across the US with nearly 6.5 million people working there every day. These construction workers face a myriad of hazards with their job site conditions and heavy equipment creating dangerous situations that require careful navigation.
The fatal injury rate within the construction industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is higher than the national average for all other industries. There are standards implemented by OSHA to assist in protecting workers and keeping working conditions as safe as possible. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the beast, accidents do happen.
Construction Site Top Hazards
Whilst the role of site regulations and rules is to minimize risks as much as possible, machine failure and human error still create hazards. Here are some of the most common risks that can be found on a construction site:
According to OSHA, falls account for the greatest number of fatalities within the construction industry each year. These can occur due to misuse or failure to use equipment correctly, unstable work surfaces, and human error. Although there are many situations that can contribute to falls, ladders are a major culprit.
Approximately 24,882 injuries and 36 fatalities can be attributed to falls from ladders in the construction industry.
These falls may occur when:
- Workers are not trained to use ladders safely
- A ladder is damaged structurally, for example missing rungs, broken steps or cleats, side rails that are bent and missing or damaged safety devices
- The wrong type of ladder is used
- The maximum intended load has been exceeded
- Electrical work or work near power lines is being completed using a metallic ladder
- Ladder slips occur due to contaminants on the rungs, leading to loss of balance
By following manufacturer’s guidelines, OSHA standards and performing inspections regularly, ladder falls can be minimized. Sometimes within a normal work day, fatigue or mistakes are made that lead to the ladder being used incorrectly and an increase fall risk.
2. Slipping And Tripping
In the normal course of a construction site day, the site can become amassed with debris, dirt and equipment. Even when you are careful, there is still a chance of slipping and tripping on a busy site.
A loss of balance occurs after a loss of traction or friction between a worker’s foot and the work surface, according to OSHA. Trips are a little different, as they occur when a worker’s foot or lower leg hits an object, which cases them to lose their balance.
There are many items and substances that can cause a trip or slip on a construction site, including:
- Plastic wrapping
- Sloped surfaces
- Plant debris
- Gaps in walking surfaces
OSHA further reports that trips and slips quite often occur in stairways. Here are some of the circumstances under which this can happen:
- A stairway is slippery and any spills have not been cleaned up quickly
- A stairway with four or more risers does not have handrails and is higher than 30 inches
- The treads do not cover the entire step and landing
- Stairway treads are filled with objects, materials or debris that are dangerous
Common sites for injuries to occur are a worker’s foot, ankle, back, knee, wrist, hip, shoulder, head or elbow, and can take the form of minor injuries such as sprains, contusions, strains, abrasions, lacerations and bruises.
Just because workers are trained on how to avoid trips and slips, and how to comply with OSHA standards doesn’t completely absolve them from the risk. If weather conditions obstruct their vision, or a worker is distracted or tired, the risk can be increased.
3. Airborne And Material Exposure
The respiratory hazards of construction
There are several respiratory hazards that construction workers may be exposed to, particularly because they may interact with toxic materials. Some of these dangerous materials include:
- Asbestos: This may enter the body if a workers ingests contaminated airborne particles. Nowadays, very few modern products contain asbestos, but if workers are renovating older structures, the risks can be very real.
- Lead: Lead-contaminated fumes, dust or mist can be absorbed by workers. Lead can be present in cornices, tank lining, roofs, electrical conduits or paint.
- Chromium: Dusts, fumes or mists that are contaminated with hexavalent chromium may be ingested by workers, as well as through direct skin or eye contact.
- Cadmium: can be breathed in through contaminated dust, mists or fumes or absorbed through skin contact. The most likely exposure to cadmium would be from painting or welding.
4l “Struck-By” Accidents
These occur when a worker is hit by a flying object, falling object or a vehicle. One in four struck-by vehicle deaths involves a constructionworker, and 75% of these involve heavy equipment, according to OSHA.
Other struck-by accidents can occur with flying or falling objects. Working beneath cranes, scaffolds or anywhere where overhead work is being perform creates a perfect scenario for accidents from falling objects. Sometimes, workers using power tools or other activities that could cause an object to become airborne result in flying object injuries.
Proper protocol, protective gear and training can certainly help mitigate the risk of struck-by incidents, but it is virtually impossible to avoid these risks completely.
7. Injuries Related To Scaffolding
Without scaffolding, 2.3 million construction workers would be unable to work at tall heights. Scaffolding presents several safety hazards, even though they remain a valuable tool.
Some or the common risks attributable to scaffolding include:
- Scaffold planking or supports giving way
- Electrocution due to proximity to overhead power lines
- Falls from heights due to a lack of fall protection
- Structural instability or overloading leading to scaffold collapse
- Work material, debris or tools falling from scaffolding
There are many OSHA standards for scaffold use that dictate how it should be constructed and dismantled, who is able to build and dismantle the scaffolding, and the specific safety features that should be used.
8. Electrical Accidents
There are a number of shock and electrocution hazards present on construction project involving electricity. There are several common circumstances that give rise to electrical hazards, namely:
- Improper use of flexible and extension cords: Contact with electrical current can occur if extension and flexible cords are used outside of recommendations.
- Lack of ground-fault protection: Using electrical equipment on construction sites exposes it to wear and tear. This can break down the equipment’s insulation, expose dangerous wires and cause short circuits.
- Discontinuous path to the ground: If the power supply isn’t grounded, or the path is broken, this can cause fault current to travel through a worker’s body and cause electrical burns.
- Contact with power lines: Workers can be endangered by projects that occur close to buried or overhead power lines. The high voltages present an cause electrocution, burns and falls when touched. Similarly, any equipment that comes into contact with power lines can also be hazardous.
A simple first aid kit will be all that is required to treat minor burns on a job site, but this is not the case for more severe burns as they can cause debilitating and painful injuries, with long-lasting effects. Many of the burns at construction sites come from electrical incidents as described above.
Other sources of burns can include:
- Chemical burns from direct contact with chemicals
- Flash or Arc burns where welding is occurring
- Thermal contact burns from coming into contact with extremely hot objects.
Common burn symptoms like pain, peeling, swelling and blistering are consistent with other incidences of burns, but within the construction industry, severe burns can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and internal damage.
10. Material Handling
Storing and handling materials, if done improperly, can cause hazards on a construction site. This includes mechanical handling with equipment, as well as manual handling.
Manual material handling could cause injuries in the following situations:
- Injuries from sprains and strains
- Using repetitive motions without proper form and posture
- Not safely handling a load
- Limited visibility
- Inability to lift or grasp a load correctly
Mechanical material handling could cause injuries in the following situations:
- Manufacturer’s recommendations are not being followed
- Loads are not positioned in the lowest spot whilst traveling
Injuries occurring from mechanical material handling can include bruises and fractures, but also in more serious struck-by injuries.
If material is stored in such a way that it can fall or collapse, this can also present a hazard producing injuries on construction workers that include bruises or cuts.