Construction work is one of the riskiest jobs in America. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the “fatal injury rate in construction is higher than the national average in all industries.” The manual labor, the heavy machinery, the noise, the heights…those are just some of the risks on an active construction site. However, with the ongoing labor shortage in construction, companies must establish programs promoting best practices for health & safety in construction to retain and attract workers. In this article, we will provide an overview of the health & safety risks, tips to manage the risks, and why paying attention to these risks are important.
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Risks to health & safety in construction
Falls – According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of death in construction. Think about the exposed high-rise buildings or buildings with scaffolding around them. Even falls from ladders cause a significant amount of on-the-job industries. Injuries occur when workers do not install scaffolds securely or use ladders incorrectly.
Electrocution – Whether it is encountering overhead power lines or exposed wires, electrocution is another risk to health and safety in construction. Power lines carry high voltage, and workers should exercise extreme caution when working near power lines. Many workers receive electrical shocks or burns. Some others suffer electrocution and die.
Hazardous materials – From materials used for demolition to installation, there is a number of hazardous materials on a construction site. Dust can include wood dust, silica dust, drywall dust, concrete dust, and other material dust. While not exactly toxic, inhaling dust over long periods can cause lung disease or other breathing problems. The same goes for inhaling paints, adhesives or other liquid solvents.
Heavy equipment and power tools – How else does the magic happen if not with heavy equipment and power tools? Tools serve to make the actual installation easier and quicker. However, it does pose risks when not used correctly. Thousands of people visit the emergency room each year due to injuries from nail guns and power saws.
Physical and Mental Stress – The physical and mental toll of construction burdens many workers health & safety in construction as well. Construction is physical work conducted in extreme temperatures. Bending, lifting, and carrying strains the body. Additionally, many workers suffer from dehydration when working in the heat. There is also a lot of mental stress that occurs. Tight schedules and miscommunication can lead to an enormous amount of psychological stress.
Tips to manage health & safety in construction
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – PPE is a given at many construction sites. It provides critical protection and high-visibility to protect from injury. However, to be effective, employees must inspect their PPE gear at regular intervals. For example, you must replace any cracked or dented hard hats. Employees should use the right PPE for the right job. For example, employees should use insulated gloves when working with exposed wires and rubber gloves for concrete work.
Regular safety meetings – Also known as “Toolbox Talks,” safety meetings are essential to ensure compliance on safety protocols. Foremen usually go over any recent safety incident, reinforce safety procedures, or discuss items to be aware of. It can also be a great time to inspect employee’s PPE gear, tools, or equipment and determine if any items need replacement. Documenting meeting minutes in these safety meetings is helpful in planning.
Enforcement – It’s important to enforce safety infractions. When safety rules are properly applied and discussed in safety meetings, everyone begins to take safety seriously. It promotes a strong culture of safety and enforces a zero tolerance for unsafe practices.
Wellness programs – Many companies implement wellness programs to promote healthy habits among their employees. Wellness programs encourage healthy behaviors including smoking cessation, weight loss, and stress management programs. In general, a wellness program helps to decrease absenteeism and improve productivity by advocating a healthy lifestyle for employees.
Stretch and flex – Similar to professional athletes who conduct stretching exercises before games, construction workers must stretch their muscles as well. Because of the physical nature of construction work, many companies have implemented a stretch and flex program. Companies encourage their employees to stretch at the beginning of their day, when they return from lunch, and at the end of their workday.
Why health & safety in construction is important to businesses.
With the dangers in construction and the litigious nature of our society, it’s essential that companies be proactive with their programs for health & safety in construction. Companies bear the burden in ensuring that their employees are well trained, well equipped, and well informed. Doing so prevents accidents, injuries, and even death from occurring. With a culture of wellness, a company will benefit from happier employees focused and ready to do their job.