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How to Avoid Common Construction Job Site Accidents

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There are lots of reasons a construction crew might need to work overtime. And while long days may be unavoidable, accidents are almost always preventable. So it pays to take precautions that curb safety risks and protect workers.

Long work hours can lead to fatigue and mental and physical stress. They can also lead to increased exposure to job site hazards such as heights, extreme weather, noise, and dangerous chemicals. Meanwhile, working 12 hours a day presents a 37% increased risk of injury, according to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In the past year, 50% of construction workers clocked overtime, according to an analysis of self-reported timesheet data by TSheets. Further analysis of timesheet records from 2013-19 shows that construction employees who clock overtime work an average of 49.4 hours per week. Essentially, construction workers who clock overtime work an additional day each week, increasing their exposure to job site hazards and risks of fatigue.

Construction laborers have some of the highest injury and illness rates in the workforce. One in 5 worker deaths in 2017 was in construction. Keeping workers safe on the job site is an important part of managing a construction project successfully. To help you avoid job site accidents, we’ll outline some of the most common causes of accidents, risk factors, and prevention standards.

Common accidents on construction sites

Four common construction site accidents account for most injuries on the job:

  1. Falls, slips, and trips
  2. Electrocutions
  3. Objects striking workers
  4. Workers getting caught or crushed by equipment or objects

Known as the “fatal four,” these accidents accounted for more than half of construction worker deaths in 2017. One of the most important steps in preventing accidents is training workers about job site hazards.

How to avoid job site falls, slips, and trips

Falls are the most common construction job site accident, responsible for 39% of deaths in construction in 2017. Fall protection was the most commonly cited violation of OSHA standards in 2018.

To reduce fall risks, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Guard every floor hole that workers could accidentally fall into, using either a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover.
  • Provide a guardrail and toe-board around every elevated open-sided platform, floor, or runway.
  • Provide a guardrail and toe-board if workers are at risk of falling into or onto dangerous machinery or equipment, regardless of height.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent falls, at no cost to workers, which may include safety harnesses and lines, safety nets, stair railings, and handrails.
  • Keep worksites free of known dangers, including keeping floors clean and as dry as possible.

On construction sites, fall prevention measures must be taken at elevations of 6 feet or more unless a worker is at risk of falling into dangerous machinery or equipment.

How to avoid electrocutions

Electrocutions caused 7% of workplace fatalities in 2017. Electrocutions can occur due to contact with power lines, faulty equipment, exposed wires, or improper extension cord usage. The best ways to prevent electrocutions are to educate workers on risks and ensure they maintain a safe distance from power lines.

To reduce electrocution risks, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Ensure any electrical circuits are either de-energized and grounded or properly guarded through insulation or other means when employees are nearby. This is the “lockout and tagging” requirement.
  • Provide PPE to prevent the risk of harm due to electricity. PPE may include eye and face protection, hoods, gloves, matting, a line hose, and nonconductive footwear.
  • Provide electrical equipment and tools, including double-insulated and grounded hand tools, that have been approved by a qualified testing laboratory.

How to avoid accidents where workers are struck or hit

“Struck-by” risks exist when a worker could be struck or hit by an object. The most common “struck-by” accidents happen when objects fall, fly, slip, or move near workers.

Working below elevated work surfaces can expose workers to a greater risk of being hit by falling objects. So workers should keep a safe distance from suspended loads. Pushing, pulling, and prying activities can create flying objects, as can grinding or striking materials and compressed air.

To avoid “struck-by” accidents, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Provide PPE, including highly visible reflective vests, eye and face protection, and proper headwear (hard hats).
  • Ensure vehicles are not driven in reverse with an obstructed rearview.
  • Make sure that all workers are in the clear before using dumping or lifting devices.
  • Use traffic signs, barricades, or flaggers when construction takes place near roadways.

Additional precautions should be taken, depending on the job site and possible risks to workers. You can refer to this guide to avoiding “struck-by” accidents for more on avoiding this type of accident.

How to avoid accidents where workers get caught or crushed

“Caught-in” accidents happen when workers are caught in or compressed by equipment or objects. They can also occur in accidents with collapsing structures, equipment, or materials. These types of accidents are common in trenching and excavation work, where fatality rates are 112% higher than in general construction.

To avoid caught-in or -between accidents, employers should follow these standards:

  • Ensure machinery is properly guarded, employees keep a safe distance from equipment, and workers do not place themselves between moving materials and immovable structures.

  • Avoid the collapse of scaffolding by ensuring a competent person oversees its construction.

  • Take precautions to ensure workers are not at risk of being crushed during demolition.

  • Ensure that workers wear seatbelts and that any transported materials are properly secured and braced.

  • Take measures to ensure heavy equipment that could tip will not endanger workers.

  • During excavation work, ensure that trenches deeper than 5 feet are protected. Use proper benching or sloping techniques, trench boxes or shields, shoring, and proper entry and exit methods like ladders, stairways, or ramps placed within the protected area of the trench.

Above all else, remember that training is key to ensuring protection from job site risks. Make sure your crew understands the risks they could encounter on the job site and how to take precautions to avoid them. Encourage your crew to get proper rest and stay vigilant of signs that they’re fatigued on the job.

By following the proper standards, you can maintain a safe and productive job site.

Related content: Safety Tips for Truck Drivers to Reduce Road Accidents

Sloan Roseberry is a marketing professional and part of the research and content team at TSheets by QuickBooks. She conducts research on management and employees to gain insight on what it takes to run a successful business. She lives in Boise, Idaho, and enjoys trail running in the Boise foothills when she’s not furiously typing away in a dark room. For more resources on running your small business, follow TSheets on Twitter and Facebook.