Written by: Ralitsa Golemanova
Accidents in most workplaces can be unpleasant, but rarely life-threatening. In construction, however, Jobsite risks are serious and can result in permanent injuries and even fatalities. This makes construction safety a number one priority for contractors.
Construction industry resources like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards in Construction can help you avoid preventable workplace injuries and tragic accidents, hefty insurance bills, and damaging project delays.
Before we delve into the practical safety rules, though, let’s briefly go over why construction safety is so crucial.
Why Is Construction Safety Important?
The main purpose of construction safety is to protect workers’ lives and health. In 2019, U.S. deaths in construction increased by 5 percent, reaching 1,061 fatal injuries. There were 200,000 non-fatal injuries. Many construction workers are not able to return to work after serious accident sites, so those numbers are not to be overlooked.
Construction safety is important for your business’s finances and reputation too. Jobsite accidents can hurt your company in a big way because you may face hefty fines and lawsuits. Your insurance premiums may grow exponentially as well. Worst case scenario: you’ll be prohibited from running your construction company. This may happen if an accident occurs due to your inability to enforce the necessary workplace safety standards.
Jobsite accidents, luckily, don’t always end up in tragedies, but they can still turn into serious hurdles for your business. Even the lightest and most trivial injuries can slow down your construction project and make your team lag behind schedule. If a worker is not able to continue their work after an accident, you’ll need to find a replacement and reschedule tasks. You’ll also need to handle the insurance process, which is time-consuming. Project delays caused by safety issues are not only a nuisance, but can also lead to financial losses and disputes with clients.
Investing in construction safety has many intangible benefits beyond ethical and economic reasons. You can look at safety as an element of your company culture. Employees who know their employer cares about their lives and health are often more dedicated and productive. As work satisfaction increases, your team members will be more engaged in their job duties and the success of your projects.
The 5 Most Important Safety Rules in Construction
Safety risks in construction are abundant, so we’ve outlined the top precautions you can and should take. They’re based on the above-mentioned OSHA standards.
All these hazards are known and preventable — so it’s just a matter of taking the right safety measures in advance.
#1. Provide and Monitor the Use of Personal Protection Equipment
Proper personal protection equipment (PPE) is much more than slip-resistant work boots. PPE can save workers from lasting injuries, which is why giving your team the right PPE and making sure your employees use them is crucial.
OSHA requires you to provide eye and face protection to workers to protect them from:
- Flying particles
- Metal molting
- Acids, caustic liquids, and other chemical liquids, gasses, or vapors
- Harmful light radiation
The PPE has to meet one of these three standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI): ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R01998), ANSI Z87.1-2003, or ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010. You should choose the right protection for your team after assessing the safety hazards on your specific construction site. Protective equipment should be easy to use and should not block workers’ movement or vision. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you should also provide PPE, like masks, to protect against the spread of the virus.
Head protection is another essential tool for ensuring your team’s safety on site. Hard hats protect workers from falling objects, electrical shocks, and also falls. The hard hats you provide to your staff have to meet ANSI standards. Each worker has to check their hat on a regular basis to make sure there are no cracks and it’s not worn out, which would reduce the protection it provides.
You may also need to provide respiratory protective equipment for activities like cutting, grinding, and chipping certain materials. Respirators and similar equipment protect workers from breathing in dust, harmful particles, gases, and vapors.
#2. Organize Construction Safety Training
Preventing accidents on your construction site includes educating workers on recognizing and avoiding hazards, and making sure they have the proper training for their job.
For both theoretical and practical training, a qualified person should provide the necessary information to your team. You’ll need to follow OSHA safety regulations. You can also use other resources like the online forum Toolbox Talks for further information.
Your employees should be trained to use the machinery and equipment on your construction sites to prevent them from getting crushed or caught in machinery. Team managers have to make sure that every worker who uses a piece of construction equipment has the proper training on it. This is especially important for aerial lift operators.
In general, you’ll also need to ensure your team members have the right training for their job duties. You should never assign a person a task they have little or no experience with. Workers should be skilled in their specific job duties, should be aware of the applicable construction standards, and should know how to avoid job-related risks. For some high-risk jobs like blasting, employees or subcontractors will have to demonstrate they have the right training and certification.
Training workers to see fall hazards is essential. Your staff should constantly be aware of fall potentials in different areas of your construction site. Even if you have the best fall protection system, if your workers are not careful, accidents may still end up in fatalities.
#3. Implement Effective Fall Protection System
Falls on construction sites are one of the main causes of worker injury and death. Almost 40 percent of fatal accidents in construction are caused by falls. As we mentioned above, training is essential for preventing falls.
Some of the important topics your fall prevention training should include are:
- Learning to recognize different types of fall hazards on the job site
- How to use the fall protection systems on-site and personal fall arrest
- How to construct and check the fall protection systems
You’ll need to keep certification records for your fall protection training. It may be necessary to show these records in case of an accident.
A fall protection system is critical for protecting your team as well and required for all edges six feet above a surface. You’ll also need to think about securing elevator shafts and excavation holes. The most common practice for preventing falls is to install guardrails. Other fall protection you can implement in your safety plan includes safety nets and personal fall arrest tools, which can make falls less dangerous.
Since the majority of construction work has to be done on scaffolds, you’ll have to make sure they are fall-proof too. You’ll need to get a competent person to design and construct the scaffolding and to check it daily. Scaffolds need to have guardrails, mid-rails, and toeboards installed.
Another common cause of falls is the incorrect use of ladders on construction sites. You’ll need to supply OSHA-compliant ladders. They also need to have non-conductive side railings if your workers will be using electrical equipment while climbing. As with scaffolds, a competent person has to inspect the ladders on a daily basis.
#4. Prevent Excavation and Electrocution Hazards
Excavation and electrocution accidents are among the top safety risks on construction sites.
During excavation and trenching work, there are a number of rules to follow:
- Team members should always wear hard hats and the right personal protective equipment
- For excavations of more than five feet, the site has to be inspected for potential cave-ins and hazardous atmosphere before each new cycle of work, and there should be protective systems installed
- Entrance and exit from excavations of more than four feet should have a ramp, ladder, or stairway
- Work should not be done in trenches full of water or when raining
- Utility pipes and lines have to be marked before digging begins
The last point relates to electrocution hazards. A common reason for accidents during excavation works is hitting utility lines and pipes. That’s why it’s important to identify where they pass through in advance. If workers damage the lines during the excavation, they can suffer serious electric shocks and burns. Electrocution can also be caused by the improper use or failure of aerial lifts or defects in machinery and power tools.
#5. Create Proper Safety Procedures for Emergencies
To achieve top levels of construction safety, prevention and planning are key. You’ll need to set up effective safety procedures to address emergencies and have a supervisor on duty who is prepared to react.
An important practice you can implement is a safety monitoring service for lone workers. All too often employees who are working alone in an area suffer an injury and can’t get first aid on time because the rest of the team is not aware of the accident. A monitoring system or a panic button can be life-saving in such situations.
It’s important to have a full-blown emergency response system for the whole team too. The system has to be adapted for each new construction site and its specifics. You’ll have to communicate clearly and concisely the steps your team needs to take in emergency situations.
If you’re using a safety monitoring system, which is highly recommended, you can further shorten response times by asking workers to do regular check-ins. Whenever a team member does not check-in on time, the system will alert the supervisor so they can take immediate action.
Gear Up Your Construction Safety Program
Construction safety is an essential element of running a successful construction business. It provides peace of mind for your workers and ensures their lives and health are protected. At the same time, the right safety precautions also prevent unnecessary financial harm to your company and problematic project delays.
What is your approach to construction safety? Please share your insights in the comments below.
Ralitsa Golemanova is a Contributor at Hourly. Hourly is a people platform that helps small businesses save time and money by seamlessly connecting the dots between workers’ compensation insurance, time cards, and payroll.