The construction industry is hazardous. Data from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that it ranks fourth among all industries in the U.S. in terms of the highest number of fatalities from accidents. That makes up 20 percent of all work-related deaths in the country. Accidents occur at construction sites 71 percent more than in other industries. Apart from fatalities, there are many worker injuries from on-site accidents. These comprise 8.5 percent of workdays missed. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic added further risks to construction work.
OSHA has provided updated recommendations and guidance on how construction companies can keep their workers safe from Covid-19 infection. This is in line with the CDC guidelines, as well. Employers must train all workers on the policies and procedures regarding Covid-19. This includes staying home if they experience Covid-19 symptoms.
If all workers have completed their full vaccinations, they can work together on a site without the need to wear face masks. If some workers remain unvaccinated, all must wear face masks, including those fully vaccinated. Employers must provide the proper masks for free.
Workers must maintain a physical distance of at least six feet. If this is not possible, they can hang plastic sheeting as dividers. Face-to-face meetings must also have physical distancing and be short with as few people as possible.
Workers must not share tools and equipment. If this cannot be avoided, workers must disinfect the objects before passing these on. The job site and its facilities, such as toilets, must be regularly cleaned and disinfected. Hand sanitizers with 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol alcohol must always be available and easily accessible to workers.
OSHA identifies the four top hazards in construction sites: falls, being struck by a heavy object, being caught between heavy objects, and electrocutions. These combined make up 60 percent of fatalities from construction site accidents.
Falls cause the greatest number of worker fatalities. These can be falls from a high position or down a digging. A fall from an elevated position can also hit another worker on the ground. Falls can happen if surfaces are unstable or if there are improper setups or a lack of fall protection.
Workers must inspect scaffolds and ladders for stability. These must not be slippery. If workers are on elevated platforms or aerial lifts, they must wear a body harness. Safety nets must be deployed. Shields that provide aerial equipment protection against overspray, splatters, and spills also help protect the machine operator high above the ground.
If there are deep excavations, trenches, or flooring gaps on-site, these must be fenced or covered securely with clear signage. There must also be a safe means of getting out of the trench.
Operators of cranes and forklifts must have the required training and certification. OSHA states that about 100 workers die annually, and about 95,000 are injured in forklift accidents.
The importance of proper training is highlighted by the fact that about 60 percent of construction accidents happen among workers in their first year on the job. Part of workers’ training, in general, must be to avoid coming between two moving objects or between a fixed and a moving object to avoid being struck. Employers must provide workers with high-visibility work clothes so that equipment operators can see and avoid them.
Workers must also be trained to avoid electrocution. They must always stay alert to electrical hazards, identifying and keeping away from power lines. Electric tools must be double insulated and grounded. Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GCFI) will quickly shut off power to prevent electric shock.
Employers must provide workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for their job for free. Workers are required to wear these on the job. Examples of PPE include hard hats, protective footwear, high-visibility clothing, and face or eye protection.
Avoid OSHA Penalties
Construction companies that violate OSHA rules can be penalized with a hefty fine. In the third quarter of this year, Atlantic Coast Utilities in Boston incurred the highest penalty at $1.256 million. Two of the company’s workers died after being struck by a dump truck and pushed into a trench that was nine feet deep. Afterward, their Boston job site was found to have 12 serious violations, seven willful violations, and one repeated violation. Laurence Moloney, the company owner, reportedly had a series of previous violations, as well, and has not fully paid off previous fines.
The second-highest fine was $253,556 against Grand Valley Carpentry in Ohio for failing to provide necessary fall protection at the height of almost 20 feet. This was the sixth time the company got cited within five years.
The third-highest fine was $168,039 against America’s 1st Roofing in Washington for not having and not using fall protection and not having eye protection. In March this year, the company was also fined after a roofer who fell 18 feet got injured and hospitalized.
Construction companies bear the responsibility of keeping workers safe and healthy while on the job. Doing so will prevent having to pay fines and ensure that they have a well-motivated workforce.