Last updated: March 30, 2020
Cultivating a culture of safety on construction sites can be a complex, multifaceted project, but it’s a life-saving necessity. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that “nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day.”
The construction industry has a fatal injury rate higher than the national average for all other industries. Some of the most common safety hazards for construction workers cited by OSHA include:
- Falls from heights
- Trench collapse
- Scaffold collapse
- Electric shock and arc flash/arc blast
- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment
- Repetitive motion injuries
Following are five tips to help improve and reinforce worker safety on construction sites.
1. Prevent falls
Falls account for nearly 40 percent of construction worker deaths, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making them the leading cause of the industry’s high fatality rate, year after year. Unstable working surfaces, failure to use fall protection equipment, and human error are all common causes of on-the-job falls.
Use fall protection systems to protect workers on walking or working surfaces with unprotected edges or sides that are 6 feet above a lower level. OSHA recommends:
- Aerial lifts or elevated platforms
- Guardrail systems with toe boards and warning lines near the edges of floors and roofs
- Safety net systems or personal body harnesses
- Cover all floor holes such as elevator shafts, skylights, and excavations
2. Schedule ongoing training
Reinforce your commitment to a strong safety culture by ensuring new workers are thoroughly trained on your company’s standard safety and security practices before they step foot on a construction site. Make use of OSHA’s plentiful training resources that include videos, worksheets, and on-site training opportunities.
It’s easy to feel overconfident about safety when a job goes on for a long while. Everyday tasks become routine, and experienced workers may tend to pay less attention once they feel like they’re in the groove of a job. This relaxed attitude can lead to life-threatening mistakes and errors in judgment. Require experienced laborers to refresh their safety knowledge and receive ongoing training with hands-on exercises at regular training sessions held throughout the year.
In addition to job skills training, provide each worker with basic training in first aid procedures. This, coupled with fast access to the OSHA-required first aid kit, will enable workers to render assistance to a coworker who sustains a cut, burn, or injury from a fall before the paramedics arrive.
3. Provide the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Use good judgment to evaluate the risk of head injury hazards present on the construction site. Blows to the head from falling objects or sustained while bumping into a fixed object can result in serious injuries. Provide workers with hard hats whenever these potential risks exist, and require they wear them. Train workers to routinely inspect hard hats to detect cracks, dents, and deterioration.
Provide workers with face and eye protection equipped with side protection when flying object hazards are present, such as flying particles from welding, sanding, nailing, and drilling. Additionally, face and eye protection is required when workers are exposed to chemical gasses or vapors, liquid chemicals, and acids or caustic liquids. Ensure that workers inspect face and eye protection before use to confirm it is free of cracks and chips, and immediately replace damaged equipment.
Require construction workers to always wear boots or work shoes with slip-resistant and puncture-resistant soles, as well as footwear with steel toes in the presence of heavy equipment or falling objects.
4. Promote toxic and hazardous substances awareness
Employers that have hazardous chemicals in their workplace must implement a written hazard communication program that includes an inventory of all hazardous chemicals used at the site. Additionally, a large number of hazardous materials are commonly found on constructions sites including asbestos, lead, mercury, silica, cadmium, and the dust generated from cut wood.
Lack of awareness about the hazards associated with chemicals can cause respiratory problems, chemical burns, explosions, and fires. Follow these safety guidelines:
- Maintain a master list of hazardous substances used in the workplace, and keep it readily available for reference
- Clearly label all containers of hazardous substances, identifying the product and communicating the specific health and physical hazards
- Provide workers with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each hazardous chemical being used at the construction site in a clearly understood language and format
- Ensure workers are trained in proper handling methods and always wear proper PPE when handling hazardous chemicals
- Train employees to clean up spills and properly dispose of used materials
5. Support a culture of communication
One of the best ways to help prevent accidents on construction sites is to create and enforce clear communication channels between the job supervisor and the workers. Lay out the day’s goals and activities each morning, ensuring that every worker knows what’s expected to keep surprises and disruptions to a minimum.
Use headsets or smartphones so workers have a quick way to get clarification from a supervisor, and encourage each worker to immediately step forward if they detect a potential health or safety hazard.
6. Employee screening
Studies show that drug use—even when done outside of working hours, has a significant negative impact on both the physical and mental abilities of users. This results in poor judgment, lack of coordination, and delayed reaction time. Unfortunately, the construction industry has the second highest rate of drug use in America, and it’s only going to get worse as marijuana legalization continues to sweep the nation. This makes both pre employment and random drug screening a required part of hiring in the construction industry.
In addition to drug testing, it’s also essential to conduct a criminal background check to help avoid hiring risky employees who are likely to engage in criminal behavior, such as theft or assault.