by Michael Sa
November 2, 2011

Understand the most common risks to improve your accident-prevention plan.

Construction workers represent approximately 6 percent of the American workforce yet account for more than 20 percent of all job-related fatalities. Government data on accidents and safety violations indicates a steady rise in the number of construction workers who are injured or lose their lives every year.

In an effort to reduce these alarming construction-related statistics and send a wake-up call to contractors and workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reinitiated a Focus Four Hazard Awareness campaign to call attention to the four leading causes of preventable fatalities in the construction industry.

OSHA plans to double its Focus Four curriculum time from two to four hours, which is part of its 10- and 30-hour Construction Industry Training Outreach Programs.

Construction business owners should create an effective safety program that addresses the risks and preventive measures for each of the Focus Four hazards, with emphasis on the specific hazards most prevalent at individual construction sites.

Fall Hazards

Falls are the leading cause of construction fatalities. Employers should assess their workplace hazards, evaluate the type of work performed and its duration, establish a fall-protection policy and train workers on how to select, set up and work with fall protection and fall arrest systems.

Edges-A guardrail system, safety net or fall arrest system should protect workers on a side or edge. Trigger heights vary for federal and state regulations and by the type of work performed.

Unsafe Covers-Covers over openings must be properly marked, positively affixed and able to support twice the intended load.

Scaffolds-Scaffolds should be designed and inspected by a qualified person before each shift. They should also be positioned 10 feet from power lines, support four times the intended load and have toe boards and guardrails.

Steel Erectors, Connectors and Deckers-Fall protection is required for steel erection workers when working on an unprotected side or edge more than 15 feet high. It is also required for connectors when working two stories or 30 feet above a lower level.

Protruding Rebar-Protruding ends of steel rebar should be guarded with caps or wooden troughs or bent so exposed ends are no longer upright.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)-Personal fall protection (PFP) components include a body harness, a lanyard and connectors, a D-ring and an anchorage point and rescue device. Workers should be fitted and trained by a competent person on the proper use and limitations of PFPs.

Struck-by Hazards

Struck-by hazards are the second leading cause of construction fatalities. Approximately 75 percent of struck-by fatalities involve heavy equipment, and one in four struck-by-vehicle deaths involve construction workers.

Vehicle and Roadway Hazards-Most deaths for highway workers occur when they are struck by construction equipment. Employers should take the following precautions around moving vehicles or equipment:

  • Develop a traffic control plan.
  • Set up barricades and warning signs.
  • Assign spotters and/or flaggers.
  • Equip vehicles with rear vision cameras and radar systems to detect workers.

Employees should be trained to:

  • Know the traffic control plan.
  • Stay clear of moving vehicles.
  • Communicate with operators by radio and/or eye contact.
  • Stay out of “blind spots.”
  • Wear a reflective or high-visibility vest.
  • Avoid standing under loads.

Falling Objects-Workers can be struck by falling objects when working under cranes or scaffolds, near loose or shifting materials and when a rigging failure occurs. To protect against falling objects, workers should be trained to:

  • Wear a hard hat.
  • Secure all loads, tools and materials.
  • Use toe boards.
  • Use debris nets, catch platforms or canopies.
  • Avoid walking or working below overhead moving objects, such as concrete buckets.

Flying Objects-Tools can create particles when chipping, grinding, sawing or hammering. Particles from some tools, such as pneumatic and powder-actuated tools, move at high speeds and can hit with the force of a bullet. Train workers to wear eye protection, inspect tools and use power tools properly.

Electrical Hazards

Electrical hazards, the third leading cause of construction fatalities, account for 12 percent of deaths for younger workers.

Power Lines-Contact with power lines can cause electrocution, burns, falls from elevations, explosions and fire. Working on or near cranes, ladders, scaffolding, backhoes, scissor lifts, aerial lifts and dump trucks increases the risk of exposure to power lines. Workers should be trained to use these precautions:

  • Locate overhead lines before starting the job.
  • Keep equipment at least 10 feet away or more.
  • Assume that lines are energized.
  • Use wood or fiberglass ladders near power lines.

Contact With Live Circuits-If the power supply is not grounded or the path to ground has been broken, live current may travel through a worker’s body causing electrical burns or death. Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) protect workers from shock by detecting the difference in the current between the hot and neutral wires (including a ground fault) and shutting off electricity in one-fortieth of a second. OSHA also allows employers to use an assured grounding program as an alternative to GFCI’s.

Poorly Maintained Power Cords-Workers should inspect all power cords and remove frayed or damaged cords from service until they can be repaired or replaced.

Proper Use of Power Tools-Follow these important tips:

  • Keep cords away from water, heat, oil and sharp edges.
  • Disconnect tools when not in use, before servicing and when changing parts.
  • Use double-insulated tools.
  • Stop using any power tool that is wet, overheating, smoking, starting to smell or causing you to feel a tingle or shock.

Caught-in-Between Hazards

Caught-in-between deaths represent 5 percent of construction fatalities.

Trenches-Most deaths from cave-ins occur in trenches 5 to 15 feet deep. Cave-ins happen suddenly with no warning. Other potential risks from collapsed trenches include falls, electrocution and falling objects.

Employers can ensure safer trenches by designating a qualified, competent person before a trench is opened and training workers on protecting themselves. Before beginning work in a trench, complete these tasks:

  • The contractor has marked all utilities before digging.
  • A competent person inspected the trench’s safety.
  • A ladder is positioned within 25 feet to enter and exit the trench.
  • A rescue plan is in place if bad air is expected.

Caught in Machinery or Mechanical Equipment-Workers need ongoing awareness training when working around machinery and equipment to avoid being caught or pinned between equipment and a solid object, such as a wall or another piece of equipment. Extreme caution should be exercised when working around saws, powered hand tools and forklifts. Employers should use machine guards to protect workers from moving parts and equipment, establish a written lockout/blockout program and train workers to disconnect and lock equipment before regular maintenance or repair.

Equipment Rollovers-Rollovers are the most common cause of death for equipment operators. Follow these guidelines to prevent equipment rollovers:

  • Do not work parallel to steep grades, embankments or unstable soil.
  • Use equipment with a Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS), and fasten the seatbelt.
  • If rolling over, do not jump out if the vehicle has an ROPS and seatbelt.

Employers who implement a comprehensive Focus Four hazard prevention and safety awareness program can reduce construction jobsite hazards and the potential for serious accidents while ensuring compliance with OSHA’s Focus Four safety standards.

Construction Business Owner, May 2011