Construction Site Safety Guide

Construction sites are a dangerous place. There are approximately 250,000 construction sites in the country, with almost 6.5 million workers employed at them. Every year there are roughly 150,000 injuries from construction site accidents, and more than 1,000 deaths. This makes the construction industry the most dangerous place to work in the entire nation.

Accident Statistics

  • The most common accident is a fall.
  • Workers between age 25 and 34 were most likely to be injured
  • Workers injure their back more than any other part of their body
  • Most cases cause workers to miss at least 31 days of work
  • 1 out of 10 construction workers will be injured this year

Common reasons injuries occur include:

  • Repetitive motion injury
  • Incorrect or reckless use of machinery and tools
  • Trench and scaffold collapses
  • Electric shock
  • Failure to use protective equipment

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive motion injuries occur when muscles are overworked. They can be result of many things such as heavy lifting, or something as simple as hammering a nail. To avoid such injuries, you should always be sure to lift with your legs, not your back, and to take breaks when you are feeling too much soreness in any particular muscle.

Tool Misuse

Incorrect use of tools and machinery are one of the most avoidable causes of accident there are. Safeguarding against this is as simple as using equipment for what it was designed for. Recklessness is also a major cause of injuries that are avoidable. Always be alert when on the job, and be aware of you and your coworkers.

Trenches

Trenches have been known to collapse, and are a major cause of injuries and fatalities. There are quite a few safety regulations for trenches, which will be discussed more in depth later on. Scaffolding have also been known to collapse, and they are where most falls occur. There are safety regulations for scaffolding in place too, which will be discussed more in depth later as well.

Electrical Sources

Whenever there is an open source of electricity, caution must always be used. Wires must be sorted and workers should wear the required protection when dealing with them.

Failure to use protective equipment is the most avoidable cause of injuries there is. Workers should always wear helmets, safe working shoes, and earplugs when working loud equipment, among other things.

Construction Site Rules and Regulations

There are rules and regulations that provide for the safety of the worker. All rules and regulations should be followed to the letter.

There are too many too list in full, but some examples are:

  • A fire escape plan must be in place. This will be approved by the fire department. The site must be accessible to fire department equipment including trucks and hoses.
  • Workers should dress properly. The basic attire is a basic shirt and long pants. Safety equipment includes hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs, safety gloves and work boots.
  • Long hair should be tied back, and jewelry should never be worn.
  • Electric tools should be unplugged when not in use, or if they need parts changed like a blade or bits. Blade guards should be set and tools must be carried properly to avoid injury to yourself and others.
  • Lifting should be done properly. Avoid lifting with your back and instead use your legs. Never carry something too heavy alone, even if you're capable. Have a coworker help you.

There are many laws in place the employer must follow in order give its workers a safe working environment. The laws are extensive and there are much too many to list in full, and they vary from state to state. They are viewable www.osha.gov.

Dress Code In-Depth

The exact dress code varies from site to site, but there are some universal codes that are always followed.

For example, workers should always wear:

  • Workers should wear a t-shirt or a long sleeve shirt. Sleeveless shirts such as tank tops, tube tops, or spaghetti string tops are almost always frowned upon.
  • Pants should be free from rips and holes. Absolutely no skirts or dresses.
  • Closed toe shoes must be worn. Work boots are always preferred.
  • No dangling jewelry or earrings.
  • Tight fitting clothes are usually prohibited.
  • Any writing on a shirt or otherwise must not be suggestive or profane.

Safety equipment is generally more standard across construction companies.

Recommended equipment include:

  • Hard hats, helmets or other forms of protective headgear. There are very few times when it's okay to go without headgear.
  • Shoes should provide safety in case you step on a nail or something falls on your foot.
  • Safety glasses should always be ready to use, especially when using power tools.
  • Proper gloves should be worn according to the task at hand.
  • Earplugs are necessary when loud machinery is in use.
  • If chemicals are present, masks should be worn.

Once again, the exact dress code and safety gear requirements vary, but the above are very rarely not enforced.

Safety Risks

The most common areas/incidences of risk in a construction site are the following:

  • Scaffolding
  • Fall protection
  • Ladders
  • Stairways
  • Trenches
  • Cranes
  • Hazard Communication
  • Forklifts
  • Head Protection

Scaffolding accident commonly occur when scaffolds are not built or used properly.

There are an estimated 4,500 accidents that can be avoided by simply doing the following:

  • Scaffolds must be structurally sound, well capable of carrying its own weight and more, and be built on solid footing.
  • Unstable objects should not be used to support the scaffold.
  • Scaffolds must not be built, altered, moved and dismantled without the supervision of a capable person.
  • Any repair necessary to the scaffold must be done immediately.
  • Guardrails, midrails and toeboards are mandatory.
  • Platforms must be tightly planked and built with appropriate material.
  • A capable person should inspect the scaffold once finished, and at designated intervals.
  • All rope must be protected from sources of heat.
  • Workers must be educated about the proper use of scaffolds.
  • Scaffolds must be at least 10 feet from electric power lines.

Falls

Falls are consistently ranked as the biggest cause of fatalities in the construction industry each year. There are a lot of factors involved in falls, including unstable footing, failure to use protective equipment and human error. Using guardrails, fall arrest systems, safety nets, covers and restraint systems can help prevent deaths and injuries from falls.

  • Ariel lifts and elevated platforms are a safe alternative to other elevated working surfaces, and should be considered.
  • Erect guardrails with toeboards with warning lines or install control line systems for workers near the edges of roofs and floors.
  • Cover any holes in the floor.
  • Use safety nets or other personal fall arrest systems, such as body harnesses.

Ladders and Stairways

Ladders and stairways are another source of common, avoidable injuries that plague construction workers. There are an estimated 25,000 injuries caused by falls of ladders and stairways.

To prevent falls off ladders:

  • Always be sure to use the correct ladder for the job.
  • Always inspect the ladder before use to determine if there are any faults or damage to the ladder. Also make sure the ladder is not greasy or slippery.
  • Ladders must be long enough to reach the working area safely.
  • Always mark defective or damaged ladders clearly.
  • Never go over the ladder's weight limit.
  • Avoid using metal ladders when near any source of electricity.

To prevent falls from stairways, always be sure to:

  • Keep stairways clear of any impediments or debris.
  • Always make sure that stairways are dry and not slippery.
  • Have treads cover each step and the landing.
  • Handrails are always encouraged.

Trenching accident are a rising cause of injuries and fatalities.

This is avoidable by simply doing the following:

  • Never under any circumstance enter an unprotected trench.
  • Always put in place a protective system for trenches 10 feet deep or greater.
  • For trenches 20 feet deep or greater, have a professional engineer design a protective system for it.
  • Always provide an exit to a trench within 25 feet of lateral travel for workers in case of emergency.
  • Keep spoils two feet back at least from the edge of a trench.
  • Have a trench inspected by a capable person prior to entry and after any hazard-increasing event such as a rainstorm or earthquake.
  • There a strict regulations regard trench slopes. These can be found in the OSHA Technical Manual, Section V, Chap. 2, Excavations: Hazard Recognition in Trenching and Shoring.

Cranes

Cranes can cause significant injuries if not inspected or used properly. Injuries often occur when a worker is hit by an overhead load, or is within a crane's swing radius.

Crane injuries can be avoided by doing the following:

  • Inspect crane controls before use to insure that they're working correctly.
  • Inspect wire ropes, chains and hooks for damage.
  • Know the the weight of the load you want the crane to lift, and ensure it is within the crane's rated capacity.
  • Test the load by raising it a few inches to confirm balance and the brake system's effectiveness.
  • Inspect all rigging prior to use.
  • Extend outriggers fully.
  • Never move loads over workers.
  • Barricade accessible areas that are within the crane’s swing radius.
  • Watch for and maintain a safe distance from electrical lines.

Hazard Communication

Hazard communication is vital to keeping workers safe from the likes of chemical buns and respiratory problems as well as fires and explosions.

  • Maintain a thorough list of chemicals that account for every single chemical in the facility.
  • Have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on each and every one of those chemicals.
  • Make that knowledge easily accessible to every worker.
  • Make sure workers understand how to read the MSDS.
  • Follow manufacturer's instruction when dealing with chemicals.
  • Train workers how to properly handle every chemical that is to be used.
  • Provide spill cleanup kits where chemicals are stored and used.
  • Have a spill control plan written.
  • Train workers to properly dispose of and clean up chemicals. Also be sure to train them how to protect themselves from chemicals.
  • Store chemicals safely and responsibility.

Powered Industrial Vehicles

Powered industrial vehicles are responsible for a large number of injuries every year. Proper procedure can reduce the amount of injuries sustained by workers. Forklifts are the largest cause of the injuries.

  • Anyone who drives a forklift should be trained to do so properly.
  • Drivers should be over 18 years of age before they are allowed to operate a forklift.
  • Keep forklifts properly maintained.
  • Do not modify forklifts without the approval of its manufacturer.
  • Examine forklifts before use for defects.
  • Always follow safe operating procedure when using forklifts.
  • Drive safely, and never exceed 5 mph.
  • Horseplay should not be tolerated.
  • Do not handle loads that exceed a forklift's maximum capacity.
  • Remove defective forklifts from service immediately.
  • Always wear your seat belt when operating a forklift.
  • Assure that the reverse signal is working and audible.

Head Injuries

Head injuries can be devastating, and proper care should always be taken to avoid them.

  • All workers must wear hard hats whenever there is cause to do so.
  • Head protection should be checked for cracks, ships, or any other defects that could its usefulness.

Safety Checklist

If you feel like your construction site is lacking, here is a sample safety checklist that you an use to validate whether or not it is meeting common safety standards. Safe Places of Work

  • Can workers reach their area of work safely? Are roads, passages, staircases, and ladders in good condition?
  • Are there guard rails in place on all scaffolds and other elevated platforms?
  • Are all working structures stable and adequately braced?
  • Are all holes guard railed, and clearly marked to prevent falls?
  • Are all work areas free from impediments and obstructions that workers may trip over?
  • Is the site clean? Are materials stored properly and safely?
  • Is waste being disposed of properly?
  • Is the working area adequately lit?

Scaffolding

  • Were all of the scaffolds built, modified, or dismantled by a capable person?
  • Do all scaffold platforms have a safe way of accessing them?
  • Are all scaffolds secure and structurally sound? Are they inspected before use every time?
  • Are there adequate guard rails in place to prevent accidental falls?
  • Are the platforms fully boarded and arranged to avoid tripping?
  • Are there notices in place to prevent working form using incomplete, or defective scaffolds?
  • Does a capable person inspect the scaffolds at least weekly?

Powered Equipment

  • Has all equipment been erected by a capable person?
  • Is fixed equipment properly connected to the structure against which it operates?
  • Are precautions in place to prevent workers from being struck by moving equipment?
  • Are operators of said equipment trained and competent to use this equipment?

Excavations

  • Is an adequate supply of supporting materials made available before excavation work begins?
  • Are the materials strong enough to support the sides?
  • Are workers safe when placing supports? Do workers have to lay supports while in an unsupported trench?
  • Are the walls of the excavation sloped? If so, is the angle correct so as to prevent collapse?
  • Is there safe access to and from the excavation?
  • Are there guard rails in place to prevent works form falling in?
  • Are though guard rails secure?
  • Does the excavation affect any neighboring structures?
  • Is an excavation inspected by a competent person before each shift?
  • Is an excavation inspected by a competent person after each accidental collapse, or any other event that may have affected its stability?

Roof Work

  • Is there protection in place to prevent workers from falling off?
  • Is there protection in place to prevent materials from falling off?
  • Are harnesses available of needed?
  • Are people excluded from below when the roof is being worked?
  • If not, are their precautions taken to prevent debris from falling on the workers below?

Confined Spaces

  • Can working in confined spaces be avoided?
  • Has a risk assessment been carried out?
  • Is a Safe System of Work in place and being worked to?
  • Has the space been monitored for possible toxic pathogens before entry?
  • Is continuous monitoring necessary while working in the space?
  • Are workers both trained and medically fit?
  • Are there rescue measures in place?
  • Can they be put into use immediately?

Ladders

  • Are the correct ladders being used when called for?
  • Are all ladder used in good conditions?
  • Are all ladders secured before use?
  • Do all ladders reach the intended height sufficiently?
  • Are all ladders being used correctly?

Tools and Machinery

  • Are the right tools being used for the project?
  • Is the correct equipment being used for the project?
  • Are operators all trained and capable of using all equipment and tools provided?
  • Are all tools and equipment inspected properly before use?

Fire and Emergencies

  • Have emergency plans been developed?
  • Are workers aware of the plans?
  • Is there a working way to raise an alarm?
  • Are there an adequate amount of escape routes and are they kept clear?

Hazardous Substances

  • Have all chemicals been properly identified?
  • Have the risks involved with chemicals been properly assessed?
  • Are precautions in place in case of accidents?
  • Is protective equipment provided to the workers? Do they use it?

Additional Construction Site Safety Resources

If you would like to learn more about how to prevent injuries at your construction site, or if you would like to learn more about the rule sand regulations regarding construction sites, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website at Osha.gov. Along with information about other industries, you can find the rules and regulations listed clearly in the site's database.

Another great website for safety is CDC.gov. That site has many helpful tools to help teach workers and employers about safe working environments and health related issues on the job site.

Finally, a resource to read over is NIST.gov. Under the National Construction Safety Team Act (NCST), signed into law in October 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is authorized to investigate major building failures in the United States.

Author: Conrad Mackie