Construction projects involve inherent risks, but companies can take proactive steps to identify hazards and implement safety protocols that help prevent tragic accidents and save lives. Making worker safety the top priority protects both personnel and the bottom line.
Understanding the Dangers: 12 Leading Causes of Construction Accidents
While no workplace is completely without risk, data shows the following 12 hazards are behind most construction site injuries and fatalities:
- Falls- Slips, trips, and falls from heights are the #1 cause of deaths in construction. Falls from roofs, scaffolds, ladders, and unprotected edges result in devastating traumatic injuries.
- Electrocution- Contact with live wires, exposed connections, and malfunctioning electrical equipment kills many workers each year. Generating stations, overhead power lines, junction boxes, and power tools all pose electrocution risks.
- Struck By Objects- Construction debris, tools, and vehicles that are not properly secured can fall or fly through the air, striking workers below. Head injuries are common.
- Caught In/Between- Workers pinned or crushed by unguarded machinery, collapsing trenches, shifting heavy loads, and other hazards frequently suffer traumatic crushing injuries or amputations.
- Lack of Fall Protection- Unprotected edges, open sides, floor holes, leading edges, and unfinished floors need proper passive barriers like guardrails or personal fall arrest systems to prevent potentially fatal plunges.
- Uncontrolled Heavy Equipment- Crane rollovers, forklift tip-overs, dump truck collisions, and other heavy construction vehicle accidents can be catastrophic without proper operator training, maintenance, and safety procedures. Situational awareness is critical.
- Lack of Scaffolding Safety- Scaffolds missing guardrails, improper access, inadequate footing, or faulty components lead to deadly collapses and falls. All scaffolds should be fully planked with no gaps.
- Failure to Use Head Protection- Construction zones are prone to falling object hazards that can strike unprotected heads. Hard hats protect against blows to the skull and should be mandatory.
- Poor Excavation Practices- Unsafely dug trenches and excavations without proper sloping, shoring, or egress create hazardous cave-in risks that frequently bury victims.
- Failure to Secure Elevated Work- Platforms, lifts, and ladders need to be properly set up and secured to prevent workers from falling when accessing high areas. Guardrails are essential.
- Unmarked Underground Utilities- Striking energized power lines, gas pipes, and other buried hazards can electrocute, burn, or even cause explosions. Utilities must be accurately located and marked.
- Improper Tool Use- Operating tools, machinery, and equipment without the proper training or incorrectly can lead to serious injuries caused by malfunctions, misuse, entanglements, and breakdowns.
By identifying and mitigating these "Dirty Dozen" dangers, construction firms can significantly improve on-site safety. But hazards must be proactively assessed, not assumed. Regular inspections, training, planning, and open communication are vital for accident prevention.
Implementing Solutions: 9 Strategies to Reduce Construction Accidents
While the hazard list may seem daunting, taking the following steps at every worksite can help control risks and prevent both minor and catastrophic injuries:
1. Extensive New and Refresher Training for All Workers
A comprehensive safety program should start with extensive training for all workers. Both new and experienced workers need regular classroom and hands-on learning covering hazard identification, proper use of equipment, emergency procedures, and relevant OSHA standards. Frequent refreshers keep safety top of mind. Training should provide opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns. Competency should be assessed with written and practical exams.
2. Thorough Pre-Project Hazard Assessments
Before construction even begins, conduct thorough walkthroughs of the worksite to identify potential hazards. Look for dangers like unsafe trenches or scaffolding, unmarked power lines, unguarded edges, areas prone to flooding, and limited access or exit points. Use the findings to develop detailed site-specific safety plans that are reviewed with all workers.
3. Strict Enforcement of Proper PPE Use
Strict enforcement of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for each job is also essential. This includes mandating, properly fitting, and replacing damaged gear like hard hats, safety glasses, work gloves, high visibility vests, hearing protection, respirators, and flame-retardant clothing. Discipline any workers found without required PPE.
4. Extensive Heavy Equipment Safety Measures
For heavy equipment operation, documented training, licensing, pre-use inspections, and adherence to manufacturer procedures is mandatory. Require spotters when visibility is obstructed and promptly remove unsafe equipment from service.
5. Maintain Orderly, Tidy Work Zones
Keep worksites organized with designated areas for material storage, waste disposal, and vehicle parking. Maintain clear walkways and work zones free of slip, trip, and fall hazards. Institute check-out procedures for tools encourage prompt return.
6. Increase Visibility for Workers and Vehicle Operators
Increase visibility with high-visibility markings, signs, and lights designating traffic routes, blind spots, and hazard areas. Require spotters when large vehicles are maneuvering. Enforce reasonable speed limits matched to conditions.
7. Promote Open Communication at All Levels
Promoting open communication encourages speaking up about potential hazards without fear of retaliation. Empower workers to immediately halt work if conditions seem unsafe. Maintain anonymous reporting and rapidly investigate incidents to understand root causes.
8. Strict Equipment Inspection and Maintenance
Preventative maintenance is also key. Follow manufacturer schedules for inspecting and servicing equipment. Document all repairs and require pre-shift inspections by operators. Promptly remove damaged tools and equipment from service.
9. Foster Culture of Total Safety
Instill a culture of safety where managers lead by example and no task urgency justifies compromising safety protocols. Recognize workers who promote safety and consistently discipline willful violations.
The Importance of Slip-Resistant Flooring
Slick walking surfaces lead to slips, trips, and falls resulting in sprains, fractures, contusions, concussions, and other injuries to workers. Employers must proactively address floor hazards:
- Specify slip-resistant floor coatings, chemical etchings, mats, and treads
- Select temporary flooring products with ample drainage, traction, and durability
- Place anti-slip mats at transition areas between surfaces
- Provide adequate walk-off mats at entryways
- Mark spills, wet areas, and level changes with high-visibility tape and cones
- Clean up leaks, drips, and spills immediately
- Assess footwear requirements and provide slip-resistant boots as needed
Firm, skid-resistant flooring provides proper footing and confidence for workers. Never ignore traction risks.
Your Safety, Your Responsibility
Individual awareness and caution make a big difference in safety:
- Maintain awareness of hazards and location of other workers around you
- Concentrate on the task at hand - avoid distractions and horseplay
- Watch out for hazards created by other crews and notify them
- Take breaks as needed to stay hydrated, fed, and sharp
- Rotate repetitive task workers frequently to avoid overexertion
- Be prepared to hit emergency stop buttons, shut down equipment, or evacuate
Staying focused, anticipating problems, and speaking up about concerns helps keep the jobsite secure. Make safety the first priority every day.
While construction will always involve some level of risk, implementing a comprehensive safety program reduces exposures and protects workers from harm. Every life lost is too many. By assessing hazards, providing proper training and equipment, empowering workers, and making smart choices guided by safety not speed, companies can eliminate many needless injuries and deaths.
When safety is the top priority - not an afterthought - contractors reinforce the message that their personnel are their most valuable assets. Building a culture of safety demonstrates true commitment and care for workers. They deserve nothing less when putting their lives on the line every day to construct our infrastructure. Through vigilance and sustained prevention efforts, worksites can become substantially safer for all.