The construction industry is one of the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA)’s biggest concerns. Injuries to construction workers top the injury and death list in a single industry sector. Construction deaths account for one in five work-related deaths in the United States, and construction workers have a fatal occupational injury rate that is three times higher than other occupations.

According to OSHA, the four leading causes of injury and death in the construction industry are are:

Collectively, these are commonly referred to as the “fatal four."

The most effective way to keep workers safe is to hold safety training sessions. Online tutorials, or live sessions, give the construction workers the knowledge they need to work safely with these hazards. Outreach training sessions have been proven to be a successful way to reach all construction workers with new and refresher safety courses on the fatal four.

Electrical Hazards

Every construction site has sources of high power. Unless you work directly with electricity, you're probably not even aware of these high power potential killers until you come into contact with them with a ladder or a tool. A tradesperson who fails to keep a safe distance from a power source is putting themselves in jeopardy.

Work sites should have clearly marked high voltage areas. There should also be ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on all portable tools used for working outside and on damp ground. GFCIs for construction include:

  • A GFCI receptacle that can be used in place of a standard receptacle
  • A portable GFCI that, when plugged into a standard receptacle, converts a standard receptacle into a GFCI receptacle
  • A GFCI circuit breaker that combines leakage current detection with the function of a circuit breaker

Underground cables are another source of electricity deaths and injuries. That is why it is critical for construction foreman and workers like backhoe operators to contact local power companies before they dig. Before using booms, cranes, and ladders it is paramount that workers check for high-voltage overhead wires with which they could potentially come into contact. Workers are also cautioned to stay at least thirty three feet away from fallen power lines.

It is important that construction workers who are involved in jobs where they will be working with electricity or in and around high-voltages sources receive adequate training on injury prevention.

Fall Hazards

Falls are the number one hazard on construction sites. Falls from heights and same-level falls result in the highest number of worker injuries and deaths reported annually—injuries and fatalities that are highly preventable.

Increased risk of falls can result from:

  • Missing protective devices (such as bars, safety harness, and guardrails)
  • Unsuitable or poorly maintained fall protection equipment
  • Open, unguarded openings in floors, walls, roofs, including skylights in existing roof structures
  • Personal protective equipment is non-existent or not used in the proper way
  • Misused equipment or poorly maintained equipment, including ladders, scaffolds, elevating work platforms, and suspended access equipment
  • Poor work habits, including unclear job procedures, poorly or inadequately trained workers, and rushed work
  • Messy work sites, including uncleared areas, slippery areas, cluttered areas, poor lighting, and uneven workspaces

Falls can be prevented by:

  • Wearing and using personal fall arrest equipment
  • Installing properly maintained perimeter protection
  • Covering and securing floor openings and clearly labeling floor opening covers
  • Using elevation equipment like ladders and scaffolds properly

It is important that construction workers who are involved in jobs where they will be working with elevated construction sites, are working above ground or are working underneath aerial construction receive adequate training on injury prevention.

Struck-by Hazards

Over 25% of injuries and deaths in construction are the result of being struck by a moving object. Construction workers are in danger of being hit by road vehicles, construction vehicles, construction materials, flying debris, and hazardous substances. Hard hats, safety goggles, steel-toed boots, and other safety equipment (if properly worn) helps to mitigate the risk of being injured when struck. Working in only designated areas and blocking off work areas with barriers also cuts down on the incidence of death or injury due to being struck.

Workers—particularly in road construction—have a higher incidence of being struck by traffic or construction vehicles. Though, construction workers in all areas of construction need to be vigilant about flying objects, falling objects, slipping and swinging objects, and ground or floor objects. Working below elevated construction sites significantly increases the risk of struck-by injuries. Proper storage, handling, and use of equipment is important in preventing struck-by injuries. And, of course, one of the best prevention tools is simply being alert to objects around you, wearing high visibility clothing, and staying out from between vehicles.

Caught In/Between Hazards

A caught-inside, -under or -in-between hazard occurs when a construction worker’s body, or part of it, is squeezed, pinched, or crushed in or between machinery. Preventing caught-in/between hazards requires workers to never enter an unprotected trench or excavation exceeding five feet without an adequate protective system. Workers should also ensure trenches or excavations are sloped, shored up, benched or trenched with a shield system. Workers should also operate machines in such a manner so that they avoid getting caught in machinery. Clothing that does not catch in machinery, protective gloves, hard hats, steel-toed shoes, and protective safety equipment also minimize risk of these types of injuries.

It is important that construction workers who are involved in jobs where they will be working with excavations, trenches, or machinery where they can be caught inside, under, or in between equipment receive adequate training on injury prevention.

Room for Improvement

The construction industry by its very nature has a high incidence of work-related injury or death. Worker protection laws have greater increased worker safety and decreased death and injury statistics. In the 40 years since the OSHA Act was enacted, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent. However, far too many preventable injuries and fatalities are still occurring.