Construction remains one of the most hazardous industries in the United States. The latest data showed 4,764 fatal work injuries nationwide in 2020. The private construction industry had the highest fatalities, accounting for 1,008 deaths or 21.2 percent of the total.
Commercial construction jobs entail working with heavy machinery, operating at heights and dealing with hazardous materials. Workers are often exposed to various potential hazards, including slips, falls, structural collapses, electrical dangers, and incidents involving equipment.
Moreover, construction work’s demanding and fast-paced nature can lead to increased fatigue and stress, compromising safety. These hazards emphasize the need for clear safety protocols within the industry.
Inherently dangerous professions require safety measures, proper training, and a proactive approach to alleviate risks and build a safer environment for everyone. In this blog, we discuss common construction site hazards, the importance of a construction safety management system and tips to improve safety on the jobsite.
Common Construction Site Hazards
Falls From Heights
Working at elevated positions and unstable work surfaces, such as ladders, scaffolding and roofs, poses a significant risk of falls. Improper use of safety equipment and lack of fall protection systems can result in serious injuries and in worst cases, fatalities.
Slips and Trips
Construction sites can be filled with dirt, debris and equipment. Navigating around a congested site can cause workers to slip and trip.
Slips and trips may be minor but can lead to severe injuries such as fractures, lacerations, strains, sprains and contusions. Workers may require medical attention, leading to costly medical bills and potential loss of income during recovery. For employers, this means potential legal liabilities and reduced productivity.
Airborne and Material Exposure
Construction workers are constantly exposed to hazardous materials and substances such as lead, chromium, asbestos and cadmium. Likewise, silica dust and chemical products may present additional hazards on the job.
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and training on proper handling, storage and disposal procedures can help shield workers from these hazards.
“Struck-by” accidents occur when a worker is hit by a vehicle, truck, crane and falling or flying object. They risk being injured by flying objects when working beneath cranes, scaffolds, or in areas where overhead work is taking place.
Electrical hazards occur when workers come in contact with power lines or use improper equipment, extension and flexible cords. Likewise, missing or discontinuous paths to the ground and lack of ground-fault protection can cause current to travel through a worker’s body, leading to potential electrical burns and fire hazards.
What Is a Construction Safety Management System?
A safety management system is a structured approach to identifying hazards and managing on-site risks. It’s a paper-based or software-based method that enables construction companies to protect their employees.
A safety management system focuses on preventing injuries and saving lives rather than adopting a reactive approach that centers on responding to accidents.
Taking a proactive approach helps foster a sense of care and concern among employees. A construction safety management system can also help lower costs associated with downtime, wages, medical treatments, investigations and potential liabilities.
Keep in mind that the implementation of a safety management system should be sufficiently documented and auditable. This is to ensure accountability and transparency. Documentation also guides the auditing process, enabling auditors to review the system’s implementation and assess compliance with relevant regulations.
What’s Covered in a Safety Management System?
At its core, the system must include safety policies, procedures, organizational deployment and accountabilities.
An efficient safety management system will typically include five central pillars:
1. Safety Policy
Leaders play an active role in supporting safety initiatives and a comprehensive safety policy reflects that commitment. It outlines the responsibilities of every employee, from supervisors to subcontractors and workers, in establishing an accident-free work environment.
2. Hazard Identification and Risk Management
The safety management system should include flexible tools for identifying, evaluating and preventing hazards.
Here are ways to identify and assess hazards:
- Conduct regular site inspections to pinpoint new or recurring hazards. Likewise, regularly inspect both mobile construction equipment and vehicles.
- Investigate injuries, accidents and close calls or near misses to identify underlying hazards and their causes.
- Categorize similar incidents and watch out for reported illnesses, injuries and hazards trends.
- For each identified risk, know the severity and likelihood of incidents that could occur. Use this data to come up with corrective actions.
3. Hazard Prevention and Control
A hazard control plan helps safeguard workers from the identified risks and promotes healthy and safe working conditions. To guide you in developing control measures, review sources such as industry consensus standards, OSHA standards and engineering reports. Stay up-to-date with relevant information from trade or professional associations.
- Immediately eliminate or control all serious hazards (those that can cause death or serious physical harm). Set target completion dates.
- List hazards that need control in order of priority.
- Develop procedures to control safety risks during non-routine tasks and emergencies.
- Once measures are implemented, plan how you will verify their effectiveness.
- Use temporary controls while you tailor longer-term solutions.
4. Education and Training
A safety management system will only work when everyone is involved and well-informed. Ensure your entire team is knowledgeable about the safety and health program so that they can contribute to its implementation and improvement.
Provide training to all managers, supervisors, workers, commercial contractors, sub-contractors and temporary agency workers on the following:
- Safety goals and procedures
- Whom to contact with questions or concerns about the system
- How to report injuries, hazards and close calls
- What to do in an emergency
- Their rights and responsibilities under the program
5. Program Evaluation and Monitoring
Once a safety management system is established, it should be evaluated periodically, at least annually, to assess whether it works as intended. Identify program shortcomings and make the necessary adjustments.
Sharing the results of the evaluation and celebrating wins will encourage further progress.
An effective safety management system follows a cycle of ongoing improvement known as the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle.
In this stage, construction companies establish strategies for implementing safety measures. This includes performing risk assessments, identifying hazards and setting goals for improving safety performance. Resources and timelines required for each step are also determined at this stage.
Once policies and procedures are in place, implement them by training staff and ensuring knowledge is accessible across the team.
Safety performance is constantly monitored and assessed by conducting regular inspections and measuring data against key performance indicators. This stage aims to check for any gaps that need to be addressed.
Remedial actions are outlined. To address the gaps or issues, the process must return to the planning stage, restarting the cycle.
Best Practices on How To Improve Construction Site Safety
Use Proper Tools and Equipment
Inappropriate or inadequate tools can only cause potential harm. Your safety management system should emphasize that workers only start jobs with the right tools to reduce the risk of accidents, such as falls, strains, cuts, or electrical hazards.
Proper equipment allows workers to perform tasks more efficiently and with less effort, improving productivity and workflow.
Establish a Compliance Tracking System
Construction projects are subject to several requirements related to safety, labor laws, building codes and environmental protection.
Establishing a centralized compliance tracking system ensures all activities align with proper regulations, reducing the risk of fines or legal consequences. Moreover, compliance tracking helps identify deviations from safety standards, mitigating the risk of injuries or fatalities.
Establish clear lines of communication
Develop a culture that encourages workers to report safety concerns, injuries, or near misses promptly. Use visual aids such as signage to convey safety reminders. Doing so can ensure that emergencies are addressed immediately and lessons can be learned to prevent future hazards.
Maintain Good Housekeeping
Clearing the job site of any debris, obstructions, and tripping hazards reduces the likelihood of workers falling, slipping, or tripping. Cluttered areas can conceal dangerous conditions, making identifying and correcting hazards tougher. By keeping the site clean, workers and supervisors can carry out their tasks without the looming threat of injuries.
Provide Ongoing Training
Construction sites are dynamic environments where new hazards can arise unexpectedly. Providing workers access to ongoing training and education in risk assessment and mitigation leads to a safer work environment and better protection for the entire crew.
Partner With a Safety-Focused General Contractor
Ultimately, prioritizing construction site safety protects workers, enhances productivity, and reduces costs associated with accidents. By implementing a safety management system and staying updated with industry best practices, contractors can establish an environment where workers can thrive and return home safely at the end of each day.
At Stovall Construction, Inc, safety is a top priority. As a commercial general contractor in Texas, we assist in safety planning, project management, value engineering, subcontractor relations and more. We specialize in the construction of restaurants, convenience stores and retail establishments.
By prioritizing safety, we aim to create a work environment free from accidents, injuries, and hazards. Contact us now to discuss your project and have peace of mind knowing that we complete any job with precision, safety and efficiency.