Every day, construction workers risk their lives on the job. While construction safety is a critical component of any project, many people overlook it. However, safety is the most crucial part of any job, so ensuring that you implement the proper procedures for making your construction site safe for everyone should be your first concern.
Here are 14 ways construction safety can be improved:
- Introduce good safety equipment
- Operate heavy equipment safely
- Maintain a clean job site
- Observe electrical safety
- Establish fall protection practices
- Observe excavation and trench safety
- Conduct your own site inspections
- Recognize repetitive motion injuries and minimize their risk
- Introduce automation
- Encourage workers to report hazards
- Train workers in first aid
- Address substance abuse
- Train your workforce in crew resource management
- Know that safety costs money
There is a lot that goes into worker safety at a construction site. Let us unpack each point and see how construction can be safer for everyone involved.
1. Introduce Good Safety Equipment
Construction workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize the risk of injury. PPE can include hard hats, goggles, gloves, and safety shoes.
Good safety equipment isn’t uncomfortable – it is quite the opposite. Workers should be able to wear it all day without feeling too hot or constricted. Equipment that is comfortable, functional, and adequately maintained encourages workers to use it regularly.
Knowing when, where, and how to use personal protective equipment is as essential as the equipment itself. Employers should provide workers with the proper training and ensure they use it correctly.
There is a wide range of protective equipment available on the market. Choose the correct type of PPE for the task. For example, if you are working with hazardous materials like asbestos, you will need to wear specialized gear that protects you from it.
Periodically check your safety equipment to ensure it is in good condition and working correctly. If equipment fails, it can put both workers and the project at risk.
2. Operate Heavy Equipment Safely
Heavy equipment is a staple in the construction industry. It can move materials, grade the land, and demolish structures. However, you’ll need to train workers to operate this equipment safely to minimize risk. Otherwise, improper use can result in overturns, crushing injuries, and being thrown from the equipment.
It is good practice for operators to inspect their equipment before use. Look for damage and make sure all safety features are in working order. On top of that, operators must ensure they use the correct size and type of equipment for the task. Only use the equipment for its intended purpose and never overload it.
When coordinating with equipment operators, eye contact and clear communication are key. Ensure they know what you want them to do and prepare for unexpected changes. When working around heavy equipment, always stay out of the blind spots.
Both equipment operators and other workers must be aware of their surroundings. Workers can wear high-visibility clothing so they will be easier to spot. Entries and exits to work areas should be well-marked and free of obstructions.
3. Maintain a Clean Job Site
A clean job site contributes to safety immensely. Keeping the work area free of debris, trip hazards, and tools is essential. Construction sites are no strangers to slips and falls.
Use cones and barricades to designate safe zones. Use temporary fencing to block off potentially dangerous areas and make cleaning tools and supplies accessible.
When working with tools, store them properly when not in use. Do not leave them out where someone could trip over them. Lock away hazardous tools like power saws when not in use.
Keep the area around the equipment clean, including the workspace beneath it and the surrounding areas. Doing so will help reduce the risk of fire and other accidents.
Organize materials and tools so workers can access them easily. Ideally, you should have designated storage space for all tools so that workers can always find the tools they need when they need them.
4. Observe Electrical Safety
Working with electricity can be dangerous, especially in construction, where workers are often close to exposed wires and cables. Shocks, electrocutions, and fires can occur when workers are not aware of electrical hazards.
Employers should take steps to protect their workers from electrical hazards. That may include ensuring that wiring is appropriately labeled and installing ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). Use caution when working around electricity. Never work on a live wire, and always verify the power is turned off before working on any equipment.
In addition, it’s best to inspect all electrical equipment before use and look for signs of damage. Do not overload outlets or use defective cords and plugs. Keep flammable materials away from electrical equipment.
When working with electricity, always use the appropriate personal protective equipment and train workers on how to work safely with electricity.
5. Establish Fall Protection Practices
Working at heights can be dangerous for a construction worker. Falls are a common cause of death in the construction industry.
Falls can happen when workers are ascending or descending a ladder, scaffold, or tower. People working on uneven surfaces or near openings in the floor are also at risk. Guardrails and toe boards can help prevent workers from falling.
Tools or materials can also fall and injure someone below. Employers can mitigate this risk by installing proper guards and using safe handling practices.
Stairway safety can involve having a designated landing area at the bottom of the stairs, prioritizing the installation of handrails, and having proper lighting. Note environmental factors that can make stairs treacherous such as ice and snow.
As for proper ladder usage, pick the right type and size for the task. Place the ladder on stable ground and avoid overreaching.
Workers must have personal fall arresting systems (PFAS) should the unthinkable happen. It is a harness meant to stop a worker’s fall using a suitable anchorage point.
6. Observe Excavation and Trench Safety
Trenching is one of the most dangerous activities in construction. Fatalities often occur when workers enter trenches that are already unstable. Take steps to prevent channels from becoming unstable in the first place, such as conducting proper soil analysis, shoring up the sides of the trench, and using trench boxes when necessary.
Rain and other weather conditions can quickly make trenches unstable. Have a safety plan in place for bad weather. This plan may include suspending work or using trench shields. No matter your method, be sure to inspect and monitor trenches regularly.
Operating heavy equipment around trenches can be dangerous as it can cause the sides of the channel to collapse. Ensure that trenches are marked and that equipment operators know their location.
Consult with local utility companies before starting any excavation work. They may have underground lines or equipment that you are not aware of.
7. Conduct Your Own Site Inspections
You don’t need to wait for OSHA to do all the work. Employers can conduct their site inspections, and doing so is always a good idea. Monitoring safety will allow you to identify potential hazards and take corrective action.
Make regular site inspections a part of your safety plan. These inspections can help you catch minor issues before they become big problems. Assessments also help identify unsafe work practices and ensure workers follow safety procedures.
One way to make these inspections easier is to use drones for aerial inspections. They can also probe more hazardous areas that may be too dangerous for people to enter. Other technologies like wearables can help monitor workers’ vitals in real-time, making inspecting their health easy.
When conducting an inspection, use a checklist to make sure you cover all the bases. Look for potential hazards and take steps to correct them. Keep a record of your inspections to track progress and identify areas that need improvement.
8. Recognize Repetitive Motion Injuries and Minimize Their Risk
Construction workers are at high risk for developing repetitive motion injuries. These injuries occur when workers do the same task repeatedly, such as bending, reaching, and twisting. Repetitive motion injuries do not happen overnight. They are the result of years of exposure to the same motions.
Employers can take steps to prevent their workers from developing repetitive motion injuries. The best way to protect your workers from these injuries is to rotate workers’ duties and ensure workers take breaks regularly.
Workers can help protect themselves from repetitive motion injuries by using proper posture and gripping tools. They can also stretch regularly to keep their muscles loose.
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, stop working and see a doctor. Don’t try to tough it out. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to prevent further injury.
9. Introduce Automation
There is a constant strive to find new and innovative ways to improve safety in the construction industry. One such method is automation.
The manufacturing and automotive industries have already embraced automation. Now, it is making its way into construction. Automated machines can do welding, cutting, and drilling, eliminating many safety risks on site.
The safety advantages of using automation in construction are many. Automated machines are less likely to make human errors. They don’t get tired and aren’t as sensitive to inclement weather as humans, and they can aid with repetitive tasks and help alleviate the aforementioned repetitive motion injuries. Workers operating them can do so from a safe distance.
Train operators of automated machines to use them safely. There are also safety features built into the devices, such as sensors that stop the engine if it comes in contact with something it’s not supposed to.
10. Encourage Workers To Report Hazards
Getting input from your workers is the best way to prevent injury on site. No one knows the work conditions like the workers, after all. You can encourage workers to leave reports and input in various ways, such as suggestion boxes or safety committees.
Give employees information about the hazards they may encounter on the job to help them identify potential dangers before they become a problem.
When workers see something that isn’t safe, encourage them to report it to their supervisor immediately. By doing so, they can keep themselves and their co-workers safe.
When workers are part of the process, they are more likely to take ownership of their safety. Regular communication is critical. Keep workers up-to-date on new safety policies and procedures and let them know about any changes or updates to equipment. Most importantly, listen to their suggestions and concerns.
11. Train Workers in First Aid
Training workers in first aid is essential for two reasons. First, it can minimize the damage done by injury. Second, it buys paramedics time to arrive and helps you keep your worksite fatality-free.
Provide training to workers on how to respond to common construction hazards. Training can include burns, cuts, fractures, basic first aid, and CPR.
Employers may need to provide specific training for certain jobs in some cases. For example, a welder must learn how to handle fire safely.
In addition to first aid training, workers should be made aware of the location of the nearest medical facility. Have a plan in place for transporting injured workers to the hospital.
12. Address Substance Abuse
Construction work can be demanding, and it can be easy for workers to become overwhelmed. Some may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.
Regular alcohol and drug screenings can help identify substance abuse problems. Employers can enact a policy to deal with workers who test positive. This policy may also include treatment and rehabilitation options.
Make sure workers are aware of the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Let them know that substance abuse will not be tolerated on the job.
However, employers can also meet their workers halfway. Addressing the work-life balance is essential. Encourage workers to take time off when they need it. Offer flexible work schedules. Let workers know that they can take time off for doctor’s appointments or care for a sick family member.
13. Train Your Workforce in Crew Resource Management
Working with a team in the construction industry can be dangerous if everyone isn’t in agreement, so communication is key to preventing accidents. Employers can implement a crew resource management (CRM) program to help ensure workers can communicate with each other and higher-ups effectively.
The airline industry pioneered CRM to help make flying safer. The theory is that flight crews can prevent accidents by having everyone on the same page, working together as a team, and communicating effectively.
CRM involves training all workers in the team, from the supervisor to the newest employee. Workers should be familiar with the company’s safety policies and how to recognize and report hazards.
14. Know That Safety Costs Money
No one wants to think about an accident happening on the job. However, it’s important to remember that safety costs money.
Employers can’t provide a safe workplace if they don’t have the money for training, equipment, and incident response.
Employers need to budget for safety. Don’t wait until there is an accident before taking action. Prevention is always cheaper than cure, and insurance companies tend to agree. Construction companies with poor safety records can expect to pay higher premiums.