Construction is no easy job. It’s physically and mentally taxing and requires a lot of strength and attention from your workers. But the industry is also full of risks and hazards. Every day, your employees work in an environment with heavy machinery, heights, uneven terrain and moving materials. It can be challenging to keep them all safe 100 percent of the time.
With the right knowledge, procedures and safety equipment, you can provide your workers with the safest possible environment. The first step is understanding what odds they’re fighting. This guide will take you through the most common construction site hazards and risks and show you how to minimize the potential for injury or accidents.
Health and Safety Risks in Construction
Each year, hundreds of construction workers sustain injuries on the job, either due to safety procedure negligence, improper training, unsafe work environments or accidental errors. Any bodily harm or accident can be a significant liability on your end, especially if they are ultimately preventable.
Some of the most common health and safety issues for construction workers can result in:
- Minor injury: Construction workers handle many kinds of materials and handheld tools on uneven terrain and in busy areas. Minor injuries are often the result of inattention or a slip, but they can cause surface wounds, sprains, abrasions, bruising and damage to extremities. In some cases, the affected worker may need to take time off to heal before returning to any construction site.
- Major injury: Some accidents can cause permanent damage to nerves, blood vessels, bones and joints. If an injury is bad enough, it can cost that worker his or her job, preventing them from working on any sites and requiring them to take disability.
- Diseases: Respiratory diseases are some of the most common internal health issues in the construction industry. Consistently breathing in dust and particles from various materials can result in lung damage, long-lasting respiratory problems and sometimes lifelong disease.
- Fatalities: In extreme cases, accidents can mean the untimely death of a worker. Falls from high places is one of the largest contributors to workplace fatalities, and construction jobs involve a lot of ladders, scaffolding and roof work.
Construction specifically has a “fatal four,” meaning the top four accidents that contribute to worker injuries. The four most common instances are falls, being struck by a moving object, electrocution and being caught in or struck by equipment or collapses. These four instances account for over half of all construction worker deaths in 2018.
There’s a best practice to prevent almost any kind of risk, and to implement them in your sites, it’s best to know about the top construction workplace hazards your employees face daily.
Top 10 Construction Site Safety Risks
With the right attention and prevention solutions in place, many construction accidents are avoidable. Keeping your workers safe should be a top priority. To make sure you provide the best conditions possible, it’s essential to educate yourself about the most common construction site safety risks and how to counter them to prevent injury or accident. Here are the top 10 safety risks in construction you should consider at all times:
Electric shocks are prevalent accidents on construction sites. To demolish and build, your crew uses a large amount of electrical equipment. From extension cables to building wiring to handheld power tools and large machinery, they come into contact with many sources of high voltage every day.
When a worker receives a powerful shock, it typically is either direct or indirect. Direct electric shocks come from contact with live components wired to a power source. Indirect electric shocks occur when a worker makes contact with a conductor that’s also touching a live wire or element.
The live object sends a current through the affected individual and, depending on the voltage, can cause anything from mild discomfort or startling to involuntary muscle contractions and ventricular fibrillation, which can be life-threatening. Most of these kinds of accidents occur when a worker makes contact with power cables placed overhead or underground, or various electrical equipment and heavy machinery.
While the electrocution itself is dangerous, low-level electrocution can also cause secondary consequences. For one, the surprise and immediate reaction can cause workers in high places to fall from their platforms, ladders or scaffolding, resulting in further injury if there aren’t proper safety measures in place. Additionally, many workers that sustain shocks are under-qualified to be working with electrical equipment or wiring, leaving you liable and putting others at risk.
To ensure you provide proper safety, first, you need to only allow qualified electricians to handle live wires and other high voltage machinery. Training is one of the top ways to prevent many types of human-error-based accidents.
You can also help keep your workers safe by providing them with electrical safety equipment, such as high voltage gloves, dielectric shoes, non-contact voltage detectors and other accessories that prevent direct contact with live wires. These items will allow qualified workers to handle live objects and cables without sustaining shock by preventing direct skin contact and stopping conduction.
While many construction risks cause immediate or direct injury, others may do permanent damage over a longer period. Noise is a slow-burning hazard, meaning your workers may not realize they’re being affected by it, but over time, their symptoms will worsen. They may not notice the difference until it’s too late.
Construction sites are particularly noisy, as workers often run handheld power equipment at the same time as large vehicles and machinery, all contributing to the overall decibel count. Whether they’re vehicle or machine operators, or simply managing on-site workflow, exposure to loud, continuous noise without proper protection can result in long-term hearing damage, permanent hearing loss or total deafness.
Beyond affecting their hearing, sudden loud noises can also be highly distracting or startling for workers. This disturbance can cause accidents, both minor and major. While it may be impossible to prevent loud noise, it is possible to protect your employees.
For one, you can conduct a noise risk assessment by measuring the decibel levels in various areas and determining the level of need for hearing loss prevention. Then, provide your workers with the recommended hearing protection, which is usually either earplugs or over-ear headphones.
When on construction sites, many builders have to work at significant heights. Whether they’re using ladders, scaffolding, roofs or elevated benches, there’s always a risk of falling. To actively work in high areas, each employee needs the proper training beforehand. However, not every worker has the necessary safety knowledge or accessories to prevent them from slipping or falling.
Heights are one of the most dangerous and fatal types of risks involved in construction work. They’re the leading cause of fatality for construction workers, resulting in about one-third of total on-the-job deaths. Between improper working conditions and a lack of training, falls can occur due to a variety of reasons.
With significant fatality rates and about 65 percent of industry employees consistently working on scaffolding, fall protection is a must-have for any site. First, it’s essential to provide proper safety training and to conduct a risk assessment. Your employees should all be aware of the proper procedures while working at heights.
If possible, encourage not working at heights as much as your employees can implement it. Assembling large parts on the ground before lifting and securing them will minimize their time in high places, reducing the risk of falling.
You should also provide fall protection systems and safety equipment for every worker that has to be in a high or dangerous area for any amount of time. Training can only do so much, but height safety accessories such as nets, guardrails, harnesses and straps will protect them in any situation.
Another potentially fatal construction risk is collapse. Collapses can be quick and without warning, meaning little to no time to get your crew to safety. Workers are at risk of a collapse when they’re operating in trenches, demolishing buildings and working on new structures. If any of your employees are struck by falling debris or trapped, it can lead to serious debilitating injury or death.
You can reduce the risk of collapses in several ways. For one, you can bolster the structure with supports to add extra strength, and always ensure any trench has shoring. It’s also important to provide your workers with proper training before allowing them to enter the site. One of the most effective methods, however, is inspection. Qualified personnel should check the site before, during and after any work to ensure your team is safe and able to proceed.
5. Trips, Slips and Falls
While they aren’t particularly attributed to construction environments, trips, slips and falls are safety risks in any industry. However, the conditions around construction sites heighten the probability of these kinds of injuries.
Construction worksites typically have uneven terrain, making the general setting a hazard. On top of that, there are many obstacles to navigate, including piles of building materials, unused pieces of equipment, various trenches, long cables and slick surfaces. These kinds of incidents account for a large percentage of nonfatal accidents, coming in at about 26 percent of the 882,730 cases of workplace injury reported in 2017.
Many of these are also easily preventable. With proper management and attention, you can reduce the number of hazards around your worksite. Make sure your workers are maintaining clear access routes for people and vehicles, and conduct a thorough risk report. As they use various pieces of equipment, train them to replace it rather than leaving it in an area where another may trip over the cord or unit.
You can also increase the visibility of trenches and slick areas with safety signage. Bright, reflective signs will make hazards more prominent and point them out to your workers. You can also place cones, barricades and bars around areas where greater caution is necessary.
6. Moving Objects and Vehicles
Construction sites are always moving, shifting and developing, and as projects progress, your workers will be exposed to new hazards. Vehicles and moving objects are a significant risk, as most sites require lifting and digging machinery carrying various heavy supplies, such as lumber and cinderblocks. From diggers to supply vehicles to cranes, you need to ensure your workers stay safe around them.
Since sites often have uneven terrain and material obstacles, your operators should be well-trained. Heavy machinery can be fatal if used improperly, and the more knowledgeable your operator is, the less chance there is of them making a costly error. They should be consistently vigilant of their surroundings and of the other workers.
All of your employees should have head and face protection on, including hardhats and eyeglasses, when in the presence of lifting machines. Your ground workers should also wear brightly colored safety vests to ensure vehicle operators can see them clearly.
7. Manual and Material Handling
When it comes to handling construction materials, there is a significant need for lifting vehicles. Many of the materials construction workers use consist of heavy, large objects, making the use of lift trucks convenient and practical. However, they also add safety risks to your worksite.
Throughout the construction process, lift vehicles, such as telehandlers and forklifts, will help your workers move thousands of pounds of materials to and from various locations. To handle these heavy loads, your equipment operators need adequate training. Without it, the risk of human error causing injury becomes much higher. Proper training will ensure the operator knows how to control the vehicle and load while navigating the rough terrain of your site.
Each operator should successfully pass a test before being allowed to run vehicles on an active worksite. They should also consistently be aware of the workers around their vehicle and know what the protocol is in case of an emergency. You can also help keep your workers on the ground safe by providing them with bright, reflective clothing and head and face protection.
8. Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome
One of the more specific and long-term risks that comes with working in construction is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). It is also commonly referred to as blue finger. The inflicted individual typically suffers HAVS as a result of continually handling power tools, especially those involved in groundwork or that vibrate excessively. It’s an industrial disease that affects blood vessels, nerves and joints in the arms and hands.
As the symptoms worsen, the individual may have less effective fine motor skills, reduced ability to grasp objects and experience sharp pain triggered by cold weather. Unfortunately, once you notice damage, it’s permanent and irreversible. Fortunately, it is initially preventable.
To prevent your workers from HAVS, you need to ensure they’re using properly maintained equipment. Adequate maintenance and repair schedules will reduce the chances of your operators developing HAVS, as well as keep them from other various failure risks. You should also provide them with hand protection to help with shock absorption, such as anti-vibration gloves.
Construction workers are also at risk of developing internal health problems, and asbestos is a significant hazard. Asbestos is a blend of six different naturally-occuring fibrous minerals that grow in materials and buildings. Once you disturb the object it is growing in, the fibers disperse, circulating through the air in which you’re working. These fibers are very dangerous to inhale, and with enough exposure, they can cause several fatal lung diseases, such as asbestosis, pleural thickening and cancer.
According to The Mesothelioma Center, about 1.3 million construction and industry workers in the U.S. are at risk for harmful asbestos exposure. While it’s unavoidable in certain demolition and building projects, you can still protect your workers by providing them with safety measures. By enforcing regular use of appropriately-rated respiratory masks and filters in areas where asbestos is present, you can help significantly lower the possibility of developing related diseases.
10. Airborne Materials and Respiratory Hazards
Beyond asbestos, there are also several other respiratory hazards around construction sites. Breathing in any fibers or particles kicked up by machinery or fumes from hazardous substances can be dangerous to your workers’ health. Dust around construction sites often contains toxic mixtures from a variety of pulverized materials. Regular exposure to these particles without protection can result in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and silicosis, all of which can put your employees out of commission.
The best way to prevent respiratory-related illnesses is to provide your workers with the appropriate face masks and filters. Even more important than making them available is making sure they use the safety gear. Make it a requirement that they wear dust masks or respirators in certain areas and penalize those who don’t. It’s an essential part of keeping your employees safe and protecting their health.
Keep Your Workers Safe With PowerPak Civil and Safety
Your workers deserve the best chance of staying safe and out of harm’s way on every project. Providing them with the tools to avoid injury and disease can help protect their livelihood and their families. PowerPak will help you create a safe working environment on your construction sites. When you order our products, you’ll receive high-quality gear in under 24 hours, keeping your team safety compliant and ready to take on any construction projects.