Construction is one of the most dangerous types of land-based work in the United States.

Being involved in the industry could pose serious risks to your health, if not to your life.

Because of this reason, safety compliance during construction projects is fast coming into the limelight as accidents become more publicized. Questions are asked about whether or not we are doing enough to protect our workers, how to comply and keep schedules and profits on track and if the safety rules in place are effective.

There are many hazards you risk in construction. One could fall from a great height, be electrocuted, be hit by falling objects, suffer inury from machinery, or be involved in a heavy motor vehicle accident among other things. Chemicals on site (dangerous solvents), asbestos (a mineral with thin, fibrous crystal strands that are toxic), cement dust and noise can harm one's health. While this may seem ominous, the ground reality is that workers face all of the above, and more, on a day-to-day basis. As the list of potential injuries increases, the face of safety measures and procedures is also changing.

There are a myriad of safety rules developed and implemented by governments and individual construction companies. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), sets and enforces workplace health standards. The problem with construction safety is not that the risks are not known, or that there are no rules governing safety, it is just that it is very difficult to control hazards and risks in a constantly changing work environment.

As a construction business owner, you must understand that complete safety is simply not achievable. Every situation can go wrong, no matter how much proofing has been done. Sometimes, things that were not dangerous can immediately turn into hazards. What is acceptable one day may become unacceptable the next. The best we can do is to have a general set of rules applying to any manual labor situation. In addition to that, more extensive rules can also be chalked out depending on the specific sub-sector of construction (road, sky scraper, underground, etc).

The Limitations of Safety Standards

Safety is a thing practiced, but it can also be viewed simply as a result of certain other activities and practices. Whatever the case, we must understand the limitations of safety rules. That is not to say that rules in place should be done away with. Some forego safety with the excuse that lots of rules merely inhibit performance and stunt the efficiency of the construction process. It must be understood that in the end, safety, productivity and quality are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, productivity can be increased by many folds if safety rules are adhered to and workers know that they are best protected. Firms these days have learned that following national safety regulations as well as implementing some of their own actually profits them - when rated, customers will be attracted to hire them because they are not "dangerous".

Having safe standards of work is a two-pronged affair. One must have rules that work preemptively - rules in place to prevent disturbances to the workplace in the form of accidents. The second type of rules should be reactive, or rules or directives that help construction workers know how to act if faced with a calamity. Safety is also a state of mind. Workers, and for that matter anyone at a construction site, should always be on their toes. All rules are worth nothing if anyone thinks they are above them. When safety is departmentalized, most people subconsciously begin to think it's not their job but somebody else's. For example, whether you're the site manager or the carpenter, if you're on site, you must always wear a hardhat. It's not cumbersome, it's just safety.

Construction safety is an issue that constantly needs to be reviewed. Some mistakenly believe site checks help improve safety. But site checks are merely a first step toward improving safety by identifying potential problems and hazards. The critical stage is developing ways to check these problems. Even more important than having an updated, comprehensive system of rules is enforcing these rules as much as humanly possible. Too often, inspections are carried, reports are submitted and filed, but then nothing is done on their basis.

Creating and Adhering to Safety Rules

Workers obviously know when they cut themselves, when they've fallen, etc. But not many workers realize when their health is harmed, not only by immediate physical injuries, but also by slow long-term damaging factors such as noise. Things such as the noise of on site heavy machinery cause no immediate pain or trauma and leave no scars or bruises. Damage done is often recognized at a stage when it may be too late to do anything about it. Industry-wide, threats such as these have become silently prevalent. As many as 60 percent of construction workers may suffer from hearing damage. Workers are reluctant to wear any protective aid as they say it inhibits their ability to communicate with co-workers, hear warning signals, etc. Pneumatic chip hammers, jackhammers, concrete joint cutters, chainsaws, impact wrenches, pile drivers, bulldozers, sandblasters and compressed air blowers are all examples of machines used frequently on construction sites. These machines all produce noise levels that are potentially damaging and require workers to wear protective aid.


Most construction companies have a checklist for safety. This checklist may include many things. Some of them include: clearly posting numbers of nearby hospitals, having clear exit paths from the site, using only approved and clearly labeled canisters to hold flammable or dangerous chemicals, grounding all fault circuit interrupters, ensuring that employees wear appropriate personal protective equipment, providing each employee with a material data sheet on all chemicals in use on the site, equipping all stairs will handrails. It should be mandatory that all those working in construction and involved in labor should have taken at least first-aid courses and some basic training on safety. Smoking on site should be discouraged, and smoking in undesignated areas should be actively prohibited.

Construction of high-rise buildings is very dangerous. The task becomes more dangerous as the height of the building rises. Every company operates on a schedule. However, unpredicted things such as bad weather can disrupt schedules and push deadlines. But it must be kept in mind that the safety of everyone on site should take precedent over trying to get the job done quickly. Even minor winds can affect loads being lifted to high heights. When constructing mega projects, not only the safety of construction workers need to be kept in mind, but also the safety of all those in the vicinity. This is especially important when building or working in populated areas; cities such as New York are a nightmare for construction workers because they have to be concerned not only about their own safety, but also about the safety of the thousands using the sidewalks.

Construction companies routinely carry out checks on their own sites to make sure that everything is meeting safety standards. The stability of floors, ceilings, windows, etc. is checked. Elevators, man-lifts and escalators need to be in prime working order, especially to transport the injured in cases of emergency. Electrical wiring and cords have to be insulated. Lighting in work areas has to be sufficient. Exits, alarms and emergency lighting also need to be checked. Heating, cooling and ventilation all pose potential safety hazards, and construction companies have to make sure their workers are active in a clean environment with plenty of air supply. All toxic materials and pressure containers are checked and their labels must be conspicuous. Hand and power tools, ladders and scaffolds need to be monitored because if they malfunction, injury is imminent. An eye should be kept at all times on how well a site is keeping up with fire regulations. Fire extinguishers should be kept in visible and strategic locations throughout the site. Also, most firms will notify nearby fire stations that they are engaged in a project, so as to keep fire engines on alert in case of emergency. All gas outlets on site should be checked regularly to prevent or patch up leaks. Fire on construction sites usually spreads fast because of the presence of flammable chemicals that are routinely used during constructing.

After falls, transportation incidents account for the most fatalities in construction. Carrying large amounts of material to and from the site involves heavy-duty vehicles, and many heavy vehicles, such as bulldozers, operate on the site itself. The most basic thing is to make sure that only specially licensed personnel are operating these vehicles. Also, when these vehicles are in operation, everyone in the vicinity should be notified. Many are injured because they were not aware that heavy machinery/vehicles were in operation.

The face of construction safety significantly changed when working at night became more common. More rules had to be designed to combat the menace posed by a lengthened list of risks. However, for many sectors, working at night has its benefits. For road construction workers, working at night is sometimes considered a blessing because they avoid the volumes of traffic characteristic of the day and thereby avoid the risk attached to that. Construction sites still operating at night have one major worry: adequate lighting. Often, only the bare minimum of area is lighted to save on costs. However, even if the work perimeter is small, sufficient lighting should be provided to a limit a little beyond that.

As already illustrated, there is only so much you can do to fight off potential risks and injuries. Construction is the deadliest industry and causes the most occupational fatalities. The best we can do is have rules and regulations and implement them and change them as the face of construction projects changes. Ensuring safety is a must, no one should ever compromise or mitigate rules and regulations. You never know if a certain rule or precaution just saved your life.

Construction Business Owner, April 2009