You don’t need to hear from me that construction work is dangerous – you already know it. What you might not know, is that the number of fatalities in the construction industry is the highest compared to all other industries (if you exclude motorway accidents prevalent across all fields of industry). Not only that, the death toll is rising.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistic (PDF), “Fatal injuries among construction and extraction occupations rose by 2 percent to 924 cases in 2015—the highest level since 2008”. OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) reports that one in five worker deaths last year were in construction.
Surprised? You may just be. To most of us it seems unlikely that the numbers of accidents and fatalities should grow at the current pace, especially considering the availability of advanced protective gear. And of course, regulatory safety requirements. So why does this happen?
1. Prevention, Protection and Professionalism
2. Beyond the Most Common Accidents in Construction
3. Law & Order – OSHA’s Regulations
4. PPE for the People – Gearing up for Safety
5. Compliance and Communication on the Go
Prevention, Protection and Professionalism
Before we talk about the types of accidents that occur at construction sites, and discuss the safety equipment required by law, it’s important to talk about accident prevention.
Let’s get one thing straight: you can’t prevent all accidents. No matter how hard you try. You can supply the best equipment, the most reliable materials and a perfectly safe construction site according all regulations and recommendations. But you simply can’t avoid two things: bad luck and human error. Because all humans err and Murphy’s law trumps even the basic laws of physics. Your best bet is to and try and minimize the damage by equipping your workers with adequate protective gear.
This doesn’t mean prevention and safety training are not important. Quite the contrary. Educating your employees, and giving them the skills to prevent accidents, is as critical as providing them with hard hats. It’s part the professional process, heck, it is the professional process, not to mention it’s required to maintain regulatory safety compliance. But we’ll get to that challenge later.
Beyond the Most Common Accidents in Construction
It’s time to get to know the enemy. And get to know our “weapons” in this fight for your employee’s safety.
According to OSHA and the BLS, the leading causes of worker deaths in the construction industry were falls, electrocution, struck by object, and caught-in/between. These are dubbed “The Fatal Four”, and with good reason. They were responsible for more than half (60.6%) of all reported construction worker deaths in 2014 in the United States.
- Falls — 359 out of 899 total deaths in construction in CY 2014 (39.9%)
- Electrocutions – 74 (8.2%)
- Struck by Object – 73 (8.1%)
- Caught-in/between* – 39 (4.3%)
(*This category includes construction workers killed when caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material) [Source: BLS Worker Death Report 2014]
These are causes for accidents resulting in immediate (or almost immediate) death or injury. But what about safety hazards that cause long-term damage and can lead to impairment? For example, regular exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss, and inhalation of toxic fumes can lead to respiratory disorders of all kinds. While these don’t create immediate concerns and casualties, personal protective equipment (PPE) is required by OSHA regulations for the construction industry.
Law & Order – OSHA’s Regulations
The standards and regulations document for the construction industry by the American Occupational Safety and Health administration is a tediously long one. It covers everything from safety standards for on-site equipment, to instructions on handling hazardous materials and erecting steel structures.
We strongly recommend you take the time to review this document. Not just for catching up on requirements and demands for safety compliance but also to check if there’s any potential safety risk you may have overlooked in planning your safety equipment purchases. Even if you have an onboard construction safety expert (how fancy), familiarizing yourself with the regulations and recommendations is important.
If you don’t have the time to look it over now, not to worry, cause we’re here to tell you that Subpart E is worth lingering on. It details the requirements and demands for personal protective equipment (PPE). However, the section is so hard to read we’re guessing it was written by lawyers and it also doesn’t include what we really need: Tips for selecting the basic protective equipment your construction workers need.
PPE for the People – Gearing up for Safety
Personal protective equipment can be divided (roughly) into 2 categories – employee owned and employer owned. Regardless of ownership, regulations demand that you, as employer, take responsibility of the quality, functionality and hygiene of your employee’s own PPE.
The best way to ensure employee owned PPE quality is to provide your workers with a list of recommended brands and vendors. Alternatively, you can arrange for a discounted purchase of compliant equipment for your employees.
Not all the jobs on the site are the same. For example, the boots an electrician needs are not the same boots a machinery operator needs. When performing your construction site hazard evaluation, be sure to take into account the different requirements of each role before selecting your preferred solutions.
Eyes and face protective gear
“Not the face! Please! Not the face!” – that’s our battlecry. We like my face pretty and my eyes sharp. And so do your employees. It’s fairly obvious why protective eye gear is required when welding, cutting, grinding, nailing or working with chemicals. But no one wants to get unwanted stuff in their eyes and face. Pretty much every tool out-there recommends using protective eyewear when using it. Because it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. And then sues you.
Where to start looking: Top 10 Best Safety Glasses of 2016 (Comparison & Reviews)
The basic compliance requirement in construction is that worker footwear is non-slip and puncture-proof. Since construction sites are often full of heavy things that can fall and break one’s toes, safety-toe footwear is highly recommended.
If you’re worried these features might make the boots too heavy to wear comfortably, you might want to invest a bit more in getting shoes with composite protection components. They are lighter, but provide the same level of protection.
Where to start looking: Top 5 Boots for Construction Workers
More tips & recommendations: Protective Footwear Requirements
Hand protection gear
When you talk about something fitting perfectly, it fits “like a glove”. So obviously, you want your gloves to fit. It’s not just about how comfortable they are to wear, it’s also about how suitable they are for the job (pun incoming!) at hand. For example, concrete work demands rubber gloves. Welding work demands welding gloves.
Your basic work gloves can only do so much against corrosive chemicals or sharp tools, but they are a must-have for anyone handing construction materials or equipment.
Where to start looking: Superior Glove – a manufacturer that focuses specifically on the construction industry and offering all the glove types you might need.
Worth a read: Cut-resistant hand protection myths busted
For most people the first objects that comes to mind when discussing construction safety is a yellow hard hat. Even kids know it, thanks to Bob the Builder. Wearing protective headgear is demanded on construction sites by regulation just about everywhere in the civilized world. Heavy things have a bad habit of falling in construction environments, and everyone knows it.
So most commonly the problem isn’t the scarcity of hard hats at construction sites, but more often it’s their quality. Over time, plastic ages and becomes fragile, rendering the hard hat useless. Cracked or dented hard hats aren’t much good either, so it’s important to replace old hard hats with new ones. And of course – ensure your employees actually wear them.
Where to start looking: The 5 Best Hard Hats for Construction Workers
Worth a read: Impact to the head hazards by 3M (PDF)
Hearing protection – Noise reduction
Construction sites are noisy places. To avoid worker hearing loss in the construction industry, OSHA has in place clear regulations for the types of hearing protection required for employees at construction sites.
It’s a bit funny that there’s still need for such instructions in a regulatory document, but section 1926.101(c) clearly states: “Plain cotton is not an acceptable protective device.” A more up-to-date guideline would also include earphones as unacceptable replacements for hearing protection PPE.
It’s important to note that OSHA updated its guidelines ear protection, and you should ensure that the equipment you are purchasing is compliant with the 2016 noise level blocking requirements.
Where to start looking: Best ear defenders for construction
More tips & Recommendations: The Ultimate Construction Ear Protection Guide
Even when you’re not working with toxic chemicals or hazardous gasses, a respirator is necessary to keep your nose, throat and lungs clear of dust and debris at the construction site.
Of course, different respirators are needed for different purposes, and OSHA has detailed guidelines about what types of PPE are required and for what conditions.
More tips & recommendations: Respiratory Exposure Hazards [PDF] by 3M
Compliance and Communication on the Go
Now here’s the rub. It’s one thing to understand the safety is imperative. It’s a completely different thing to enforce safety regulations. However, as an employer / manager it’s your duty to enforce safety regulations. Compliance becomes especially challenging when you have a dispersed and diverse workforce. If you want these employees to comply with safety regulations and follow them to protect themselves? You need a solution that will be accessible and easy-to-use.
One such solution is Connecteam’s platform, a free mobile app solution for businesses. You can create your own branded app to make safety protocols and regulations readily available and up-to-date for your employees.
Another aspect in which a company app can be helpful in keeping a safe working environment is by creating a unique communication channel for your workers. There are many solutions that can help you manage and communicate with your workforce but few are meant specifically to match the specific needs of an on-site construction team.
Gear & Skill for Better Sleep
Sometimes we think one of the hardest parts about managing construction is trust. At the end of the day, you need to entrust your employees not only with their job, but also the safety of their coworkers and their own.
You will probably never stop worrying about potential dangers to your crew (and as a result, to your business as well). But equipping your workers with the proper gear, knowledge and skills to perform their job safely? Will help you sleep much better at night, so that during daytime you can focus on your job.
Connect your deskless workers with an employee app.
Connecteam makes it easy to run your business. Try it yourself.