Mitigating Risk on Building Construction Sites

Did you know? According to OSHA, although only 6% of the nation’s workforce is in construction, 20% of worker deaths in the U.S. are in that industry. This means that one in five deaths among American workers occur in construction, which is not only a high number, but also disproportionate.

Overall, worker deaths in the United States are down—thanks to the efforts of advocates like OSHA, unions, and employers. The number is down from 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 13 a day in 2020. That’s a decrease of more than 50% in as many years, but there’s still work to be done.

What Are Construction’s “Fatal Four?”

Construction sites can be dangerous places to work. In such a complex environment, there are several moving parts such as the design, the equipment, and the workers themselves that must be coordinated and organized to complete the project on time, on budget, and most importantly, safely. It’s important for employers to take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of their workers while on site.

The construction industry’s “fatal four” are:

These dangers are called the “fatal four” because they cause approximately 60% of fatal injuries in the construction industry. Of these four, falls are the most numerous because workers are frequently performing tasks at a height. In fact, fatal falls in construction account for 51% of all falls in the United States.

Most Common OSHA Violations in 2021

In order to prevent accidents such as the fatal four, OSHA has set forth several safety standards for worksites in the construction industry. As mentioned above, these standards have made an incredible difference in the safety of construction workers in the decades since 1970, but unfortunately, many companies continue to put profit over safety, and thereby put their employees at risk. In 2020 alone, 4,113 preventable injury-related deaths were reported in the industry. To this day, the construction industry remains the most dangerous to work in, experiencing the highest number of preventable fatal injuries in 2020—28% more than the transportation and warehousing industry, its closest competitor.

The top 10 most frequently cited violations include:

  • Fall protection
  • Respiratory protection
  • Ladders
  • Hazard communication
  • Scaffolding
  • Fall protection training
  • Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)
  • Eye and face protection
  • Powered industrial trucks
  • Machinery and machine guarding

Considering that falls are at the top of the “fatal four” list, it should come as no surprise that so many of these violations involve fall safety. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. In fact, fall protection was OSHA’s most frequently cited safety violation for the eleventh year in a row in 2021.

Nonfatal Injuries in Construction

Aside from the high number of fatalities that occur in the construction industry, nonfatal injuries are also a serious concern. According to OSHA, one in every ten construction workers is injured every year, and half of those incidents often go unreported.

Common nonfatal injuries in construction are:

Like the “fatal four,” falls, slips, and trips account for a significant number of injuries and days away from work in the construction industry. However, in the period between 2013 and 2019, contact with objects/equipment accounted for the highest percentage of nonfatal construction injuries. In 2019 alone, one in five nonfatal injuries were caused by struck-by incidents.

What Is Risk Mitigation?

To help prevent fatal and nonfatal injuries alike, construction companies should adhere to the four types of risk mitigation. This process begins even before a project is bid on and continues on throughout the project; safety must be considered every step of the way.

The four types of risk mitigation are:

  • Risk acceptance. Although it doesn’t reduce the effects of the risk, risk acceptance is common when the cost of the risk is lower than that of safer alternatives such as risk avoidance or limitation.
  • Risk avoidance. Often the most expensive option, risk avoidance removes any exposure to the risk.
  • Risk limitation. The most common option, risk limitation often combines risk acceptance and risk avoidance.
  • Risk transference. A common practice in the construction industry, risk transference involves handing risk off to a third party, such as outsourcing a job or a portion of the project.

How Can Risk Mitigation Make Construction Sites Safer?

Risk mitigation is an important aspect of keeping construction sites safe. It should be considered in every bid and plan throughout a project.

A risk mitigation plan should include:

  • A list of risks
  • A rating of each risk
  • An assessment of current processes
  • A plan of action

A plan is just the start of risk mitigation. Once team members have been identified to own your site’s risk management, they should work through this plan with each individual risk. Additionally, once these steps have been completed, the plan should be tested and workers should be effectively trained on the correct implementation.

To help prevent the “fatal four” more specifically, safety techniques must be implemented on construction sites after being assessed through the risk mitigation plan.

Some examples of these techniques include:

  • The three points of contact rule to prevent falls. This rule determines that three out of four limbs must be in contact with the vehicle, ladder, or platform a person is climbing or standing on to maximize stability.
  • Training on equipment like cranes and aerial lifts to prevent collisions or falling objects.
  • Improving communication amongst workers and between project managers and their teams.
  • Providing the proper protective equipment for the job.

These rules should not only be taught through training, but also maintained and enforced throughout the project. This is the only way to properly prepare employees for the dangers they may face in their time on the worksite.

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