There’s a risk of injury in almost every job, but the construction industry tends to have a higher rate of accidents than most due to the nature of the job. In fact, according to a study done in 2001, construction workers account for about six percent of all U.S. workers, but about 20 percent of all fatalities reported that year were in the construction industry.
This is because there are a number of different hazards present at a construction site. A worker could fall from a scaffolding, be hit on the head by a falling beam, hurt themselves by improperly using a tool, be shocked by electric wiring, get injured by a vehicle, and much more. Many of these injuries are actually fairly common; however, many of them could also be avoided.
Avoiding common construction injuries is much easier than some people think. Yes, the construction site is a dangerous place, but workers who are alert, communicative, and conscientious can greatly lower the risk of injury occurring. However, one of the major issues in the construction industry isn’t that these hazards are unknown, but that they are difficult to anticipate and control.
Construction workers can be injured on scaffolding in a number of different ways. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 72 percent of all injuries that involve scaffolding are caused by the supports giving away or by the employee falling from the scaffolding.
Anything that provides employees with a temporary platform that is elevated above ground level is considered scaffolding. They’re usually divided into two main types: supported scaffolds and suspended scaffolds.
Supported scaffolds are those that are built from the ground up. They consist of multiple platforms suspended between load-bearing poles, frames, and legs. The risk here is that the lower levels will collapse or shift, causing the entire scaffolding to collapse. This can be avoided by making certain the scaffolding is built on a level surface and that vehicles are not driven near it.
Suspended scaffolding, on the other hand, is attached to the top of the frame and hung over the side. The upper part of the building must be very sturdy and secure in order to use this type of scaffolding. There are two major dangers here: the first is that the building under construction isn’t able to hold the weight. The other is that the employee falls from the scaffolding. This can be avoided by making certain employees wear safety harnesses at all times.
- OSHA Scaffolding Safety eTool – an online tool that can help employers create a safe working environment for employees on scaffolding.
- Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths Caused by Falls from Suspension Scaffolds – information from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- Safety Services Company OSHA Training Requirements – information about safety requirements and an OSHA training course.
- Injury Prevention Resources for Construction – employers can access a CD with information about safely erecting scaffolding.
Another common injury that occurs at construction sites is an injury to the head. Because many workers are up on scaffolds or working amount the bare beams of a building-in-progress, there are often tools and other components up above people’s heads. If these fall, there’s a good chance they will hit someone working below. Because very few of the tools and materials used in construction are lightweight, there’s a very good chance someone hit by a falling item will be injured. They could lose an eye, have their nose broken, or even incur brain damage.
The best way to avoid these types of injuries is to wear a hard hat. That’s why every construction site has signs marking areas in which hard hats must be worn, and all construction workers are required to wear them when on the job. Even managers and guests who visit the site to see what progress is being made must wear hard hats at all times. Employees who are working on scaffolding or on upper floors are also encouraged to watch where their tools and materials are at all times so that they don’t accidentally knock them off.
- Research on Construction and Traumatic Brain Injuries – Science Daily has compiled information on brain injury and the construction industry.
- All About Head Protection – how hard hats protect the head.
- Helmets: How they Work, and What Standards Do – an outline of using helmets in the workplace.
- OSHA Regulations on Head Protection – the OSHA regulations everyone on a construction site must follow.
As discussed above, equipment can also be fairly dangerous. It can fall from scaffolding or from upper levels and hit someone on the head, but it can also be misused. Many construction site tools must be properly handled. Saws, for example, should always be used with the proper safety gear and equipment. Employees must always watch who is around the area and how they’re using the equipment. If it’s a piece of equipment with an electrical cord, it’s important to watch where the cord is and that it’s not being pulled taught—someone could trip over it. It’s also important to watch how the cord is being handled. It could loop around and come between the tool and the surface, cutting or damaging it.
While using the tools correctly is important, it’s also important that all electrical equipment and tools are maintained correctly. They should be regularly inspected for damaged or worn parts that need to be replaced. If a tool has any sort of defect, it should be removed from use and either repaired or disposed of and replaced. Electrical tools also need to always be grounded, too, unless they’re double insulated.
- Power Tool Institute Safety Information – detailed instructions on how to safely use a number of different tools.
- Quicktips for Hand and Power Tool Safety – tips for correctly using various hand tools.
- Tool Box Topics: Hand Tool Safety – a list of injuries that can be caused by tools and how to avoid them.
- Powered Hand Tools Basic Safety – how to inspect and use powered hand tools.
In addition to power tools, there are also many specialized vehicles used on construction sites. Forklifts and cranes can be the source of a number of different construction injuries. Those operating these vehicles must always be aware of where others are and what’s in front of, behind, and to the sides of their vehicles.
Most construction vehicles require specific certifications and training to operate. It’s very important that those who operate forklifts, for example, have the proper training. No one under the age of 18 should ever drive construction equipment, either. All equipment should also be routinely inspected, be properly maintained, and repaired when necessary.
Making certain the vehicles are maintained and operated safely is only half of the battle. The area in which the vehicles are being used also has to have the correct safety measures in place. For example, forklift ramps should be used whenever a forklift needs to be driven up or down uneven terrain. Otherwise, it could tip over, or it could lose its load.
- Forklift Safety – a list of different forklift safety standards.
- U.S. Department of Labor Motor Vehicle Safety – features links to regulations and hazard recognition information.
- Safety Meeting Presentation Outline – information for presenting forklift safety rules to employees.
- Service Crane Safety – some of the best practices construction sites can employ when using cranes.
While it’s true that it can be difficult to anticipate hazards and accidents on a construction site, it’s also true that a great many of these construction injuries can be avoided by taking some simple precautions. A hard hat can help reduce the seriousness of a construction accident, for example, while properly maintaining a forklift may avoid a serious injury.