Loren Kean Law

Loren Kean Law

Loren Kean Law

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Keeping Construction Workers Safe Kathleen Clair, CSP, MS, SMS | May 13 2020

Over 5,000 workers die every year in the United States. One in five of those workers are employed in the construction industry. In 2018, the year for which the most recent statistics are available from the Bureau of Labor and statistics (BLS), 1,008 construction workers died on the jobsite. Of those deaths, 60% occurred due to what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls the “Fatal Four” or “Focus Four”. These accidents include falls, electrocution, struck-by and caught-in/caught-between hazards. In 2018 there was a slight reduction in the number of falls, however deaths rose in the other three categories.

Falls are the number one cause of fatalities in construction. Over 300 workers die each year because of falls to lower levels. These falls most commonly occur from roofs, ladders, and scaffolds. The slight decrease in fall deaths in 2018 is likely due to enhanced OSHA enforcement in recent years. In other words, OSHA is focusing on construction sites where falls are likely to happen so companies tend to comply with OSHA’s fall protection standard.

Electrocution is another common hazard found on construction sites. It makes up between 10 and 15% of all construction fatalities each year. The primary hazards are contact with overhead power lines; defective tools; improper use of extension cords; and contact with energized sources, such as live parts and bare wires.

About a quarter of construction deaths were a result of being struck-by an object. The majority of these fatalities were due to contact with heavy equipment like trucks or cranes. Other common struck-by-hazards in construction include flying, falling, swinging, and rolling objects.

The fourth most common cause of construction deaths are caught-in and caught-between injuries. These events occur when a worker is caught, crushed, compressed, or pinched between two or more objects, like getting their hand caught in the moving parts of an unguarded machine, or being engulfed in a trench cave-in.

What can construction companies do to keep their workers safe?

Development and enforcement of a comprehensive safety program is the key to success. A program should include written programs, training, regular inspections, hazard and incident reporting and good communication between workers and supervisors.

Companies are required to have written safety programs that cover the hazards to which employees may be exposed. OSHA requires that the programs be specific to each company and are reviewed annually. The programs must be available for workers to access at all times.

Construction workers are required to have health and safety training. Training should cover all the risks they are exposed to on the jobsite. Staff should be fully competent and aware of the risks associated with their actions, especially when working at heights, with heavy machinery or in confined spaces and trenches. Training should be conducted on a new employee’s first day on the job and annually.

Not all training has to be formal. An informal safety talk each day can help to improve worker understanding of safety expectations, review a safety topic, highlight a new hazard on the jobsite, and minimizing chances of error. Toolbox talks are a highly effective way of communicating safety to workers.

Regular jobsite inspections are a very efficient way of identifying hazardous conditions at the worksite. Construction sites require constant monitoring and observations to keep on top of safety issues. Inspections identify hazards and provide opportunities to fix problems before injuries and accidents can occur. Identifying potential OSHA violations, liability issues, and risk exposures, BEFORE they occur is crucial. Once identified, hazards should be corrected immediately or as soon as feasible. Inspections can be conducted using a pen and paper checklist or a more tech savvy way like an electronic tablet or other handheld device. Either way, inspections are a must on any active construction jobsite.

Tools and equipment should be inspected on a regular basis. Construction workers rely on their tools and equipment to get jobs done safely. If their tools are unsafe, there are higher risks of serious accidents including the loss of limbs. Equipment should regularly be inspected to ensure there are no malfunctions or defects. It is both the responsibility of the worker and the employer to highlight issues with defective equipment.

Companies must pay for and ensure that workers have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as fall arrest systems, hard hats, respirators, and hearing protection, to do their jobs safely. And make sure they are using it!

Communication is a major factor in keeping workers safe. Staff should communicate with each other, their supervisor and with other onsite contractors, whenever they identify potential risks. Workers should be able to identify potential hazards through their training and be comfortable reporting their concerns immediately. Employees should be regularly asked about what they think could make their job safer and feel free to report any accidents or near-misses. Workers will feel part of the team when they know their input is valued.

It is essential that management, supervisors, and foremen “walk the talk” when it comes to workplace health and safety. The example they set, and the way they speak to their staff about safety, can have a huge impact on the company’s safety program, safety culture, and ability to reduce accidents. When workers see that safety is important to management, they will understand that their well-being is important and will be encouraged to work safely.

Kathleen Clair is the owner and president of West Palm Beach based Health & Safety Compliance Services, LLC. Ms. Clair has over 25 years of experience in the OSHA compliance with a focus on construction and industrial safety. She is fluent in Spanish, is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and an Authorized OSHA Instructor (10 & 30 hour Construction and Gen. Industry). For more info. about HSCS, LLC visitwww.hscscompliance.com. Ms. Clair can be reached at kpcconsulting@outlook.com or 561.758.9942.


Sources: US DOL, BLS, OSHA