Construction workers face numerous dangers on a daily basis. In this article, we’ll explore the top five hazards in the construction industry, shedding light on their prevalence and how to mitigate them. Our hope is that developing a better understanding of potential hazards in the workplace will protect construction workers from unnecessary risks in the future.
Construction sites tend to be active environments, with workers, heavy machinery, hazardous materials, and sizable heights all gathered into one condensed area. While construction sites are essential for building and maintaining infrastructure, they can also be perilous for workers and people in the vicinity. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that workers may face many perils on a daily basis, including “falling from rooftops, unguarded machinery, electrocutions, silica dust, and asbestos.”
Falls are the leading cause of construction-related fatalities. A fall of any height is capable of causing serious harm, depending on what the victim lands on. Fall prevention is one of the most important components of a safe workplace.
- Unprotected Edges: Workers may lose their balance, footing, or stability near unprotected edges, leading to tragic falls. Whether on a scaffold, roof, or elevated platform, this risk is ever-present.
- Misuse of Fall Protection Equipment: Sometimes, the equipment designed to prevent falls is either not used at all or is used incorrectly. When a worker expects to be protected from height-related risks and their equipment unexpectedly fails, significant injuries can occur.
- Unsafe Scaffolding: Scaffolding, which is integral to construction projects, can become a hazard when not correctly erected or maintained. A scaffold collapse can result in catastrophic injuries or fatalities.
Preventing falls requires constant adherence to safety protocols. Even a momentary lapse can lead to an avoidable accident. Construction workers must always be sure to:
- Use Fall Protection Equipment: Workers should always use proper, safety-tested fall protection equipment. Depending on the worksite in question, proper gear can include harnesses, lifelines, and anchors, all of which should be appropriately fitted.
- Proper Scaffold Usage: Scaffolds are essential tools in construction. They should only be assembled, used, and dismantled by workers with the training and knowledge to do so safely.
- Guardrails and Toeboards: Installing guardrails and toeboards at elevated edges provides an additional layer of protection. Deploying these barriers not only reduces the risk of accidental slip and falls but also provides a sense of security to construction workers.
By adopting these common safety measures and enforcing the use of fall prevention equipment, construction sites can protect the well-being of their workforce.
Asbestos and other dangerous substances are often encountered in the construction industry. Asbestos, a well-known carcinogen, is typically found in older buildings. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, such as in a demolition or home renovation, harmful fibers are released into the air. Asbestos fibers can be released in other ways as well; when the World Trade Center collapsed, the resulting dust plumes contained asbestos and other dangerous substances.
If ingested, asbestos fibers pose a severe health risk to construction workers. Construction sites may also contain other hazardous chemicals, such as lead, mercury, or solvents, which can cause a range of health issues.
The best way to protect construction workers from dangerous substances is to limit exposure to them in the first place. Proper protective protocols begin by identifying possible hazards present in a construction zone. A plan should be implemented and followed to limit workplace exposure to toxins, chemicals, and dangerous dust per OSHA standards. Workers should be equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves, and protective clothing, to shield them from exposure.
If dangerous substances are present, they must be handled and disposed of in a safe manner. By taking appropriate precautions, construction workers can protect themselves from the long-term health consequences of exposure to asbestos and other dangerous substances.
Construction sites rely heavily on electricity, making electrical hazards a constant concern. Electrocution can result from contact with power lines or faulty wiring. Live wires should always be treated with the utmost caution and workers should never attempt to handle an electrical hazard without proper training and safety equipment. A well-meaning attempt to move a wire that’s posing a tripping hazard can lead to an immediate electrocution accident.
Preventing electrical accidents requires proper training and safety protocols. Electrical equipment must be de-energized and secured during maintenance, to prevent incidental electrocutions. Workers should be provided with PPE, including eye protection, insulated gloves, and non-conductive tools.
Construction projects often involve working in confined spaces. Most confined spaces have few entry and exit points, limited airflow, and other hazardous conditions. Some examples of confined spaces include tanks, silos, sewers, tunnels, and storage bins.
- Lack of Oxygen: Confined spaces can quickly deplete oxygen levels, posing a threat of asphyxiation to workers who enter without proper precautions.
- Toxic Atmospheres: These spaces may contain hazardous gasses, fumes, or chemicals that can accumulate. Exposure to dangerous conditions can cause respiratory distress, chemical burns, or long-term health problems.
- Physical Hazards: Confined spaces are oftentimes small and difficult to navigate, creating a risk of workers becoming stuck. Even experienced rescue crews may find it difficult to rescue a trapped worker.
Before entering a confined space, a permit must be issued, detailing the essential safety measures and precautions that must be in place. This procedure ensures that all personnel involved are aware of potential risks and the necessary safety measures. Inside the workspace itself, maintaining appropriate ventilation is essential. Natural airflow or mechanical ventilation systems can prevent the accumulation of hazardous gasses and preserve a safe supply of oxygen.
Workers that are operating in confined spaces must have the training to recognize and respond to potential threats. Clear communication protocols, including emergency signals, should be established and known by all team members. Establishing a culture of responsibility, efficiency, and awareness goes a long way towards limiting threats to workers in confined spaces.
Construction sites contain many types of heavy machinery, including cranes, forklifts, and conveyor belts. Accidents involving heavy machinery can cause devastating injuries and property damage.
To minimize the risks to workers, operators must undergo comprehensive training and obtain certification to operate machines safely. Regular inspections and maintenance routines must be carried out to prevent avoidable malfunctions. Workers should communicate with one another regarding potential hazards and the use of machinery.
Some degree of risk is almost always present in the construction industry. By understanding potential hazards and implementing appropriate safety measures to counter them, construction professionals can work towards a safer future.