Construction Focus Four: The Top Four Construction Hazards, and Tips to Avoid Them
Construction is one of the largest employers in the U.S., employing hundreds of thousands of workers in assorted trades. It also includes some of the most dangerous jobs in the country, due to common construction hazards at job sites.
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), almost one in five worker deaths in 2019 was in construction—a 5% increase over the prior year and the largest number of total fatalities since 2007.
2019 was not just a blip on the safety radar, either. During the time period of 2011 to 2019, fatal injuries in the construction industry rose by 41.1%, even though the number of workers climbed only 25% during the same timeframe. This is due to the fact that construction activities present several hazards that can compromise the health and safety of workers. The frequency of these construction hazards makes it imperative to understand them and to train workers to avoid them, with the goal of keeping those workers safe on the job at all times.
So what are the leading causes of worker death in the construction industry? Statistics show that the leading causes are falls, followed by “struck by object” incidents, electrocution, and caught-in or -between. In safety circles, these are known as the “Focus Four,” and together these four hazards were responsible for more than 60% of construction worker deaths in 2019.
Top Four Construction Hazards
The “Focus Four” are well-established forms of risk in the construction industry; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recognized these construction hazards as the main causes of the majority of financial, physical, and emotional losses in the construction industry. As mentioned above, OSHA’s Focus Four Hazards are:
- Fall Hazards
- Caught-In or Between Hazards
- Struck-By Hazards
- Electrical Hazards
Source: Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) Data Bulletin February 2021
Hazard 1: Fall Hazards
A fall hazard is anything at a construction site that could cause a worker to lose their balance or lose bodily support, resulting in a fall. Fall hazards on a jobsite are a severe, chronic, and recurring problem in the industry. Just about any walking or working surface can present a potential fall hazard.
According to the BLS, falls from heights are the leading cause of fatalities in construction, while falls on the same level are one of the leading causes of serious injuries. In 2019, falls accounted for 37.9% of all construction fatalities, or about 401 out of 1,102 total deaths.
Focus Four Tip: For falls, proper training is key. Review scaffold and ladder safety with any and all construction workers or employees that might use these. But also be aware: Most falls (56%) are from rooftops! So be sure to include rooftop safety measures in your training program, too.
Hazard 2: Caught-In or -Between Hazards
According to OSHA, caught-in or -between hazards are defined as injuries that result from a person being squeezed, caught, crushed, pinched, or compressed between two or more objects, or between parts of an object. These accounted for 5.4% of all construction fatalities in 2019. Some working conditions that especially contribute to caught-in or -between hazards include:
- Unguarded moving machinery, especially heavy machinery
- Equipment that is not locked out during maintenance
- Unprotected excavations and trenches
- Heavy equipment that causes walls to collapse during demolition
- Working between moving materials and immovable structures, vehicles, or equipment
Focus Four Tip: Most equipment has safety guards—make sure these are properly installed and maintained at all times. That said, construction workers still need to be aware of their environment at all times! They should know how to respect barricades, monitor equipment movement, and maintain appropriate distances. They should also be aware of trenches and wear proper safety equipment in and around them.
Hazard 3: Struck-By Hazards
Struck-by hazards accounted for 15.4% of all construction fatalities in 2019. Struck-by injuries are produced by forcible contact or impact between the injured person and an object or piece of equipment—not to be confused with caught-in or -between hazards. The difference is that, for struck-by accidents, the impact alone causes the injury, versus a caught accident where injury resulted from crushing injuries between objects.
To get a better idea, struck-by hazards are categorized as a flying object, falling object, swinging object, or rolling object, such as:
- Crane collapses
- Falling equipment loads
- Faulty overhead power lines
- Non-visible workers
- A blast of compressed air
Focus Four Tip: Caution and consistency are the order of the day when it comes to preventing struck-by accidents. Ensure that employees are storing loose materials and tools neatly and securely, especially if they need to be stored or secured at a height. Emphasize the need for construction workers to wear their personal protective equipment, especially steel-toed shoes and hard hats. Keep lines of vision open at all times, both for equipment operators and those simply moving about the environment.
Hazard 4: Electrocution Hazards
According to OSHA, electrocution results when a person is exposed to a lethal amount of electrical energy, accounting for 8.6% of all construction fatalities in 2019. The top three types of electrocution hazards in construction are 1) contact with overhead power lines, 2) contact with energized sources, and 3) improper use of extension and flexible cords.
An electrical hazard can be defined as a workplace occurrence that exposes workers to the following dangers, as outlined by the acronym BE SAFE found in OSHA’s Electrocution Hazards guide:
- Burns. The most common shock-related injury. Burns can occur in three different ways: electrical, arc/flash, or thermal contact
- Electrocution. This results when a human is exposed to a lethal amount of electrical energy.
- Shock. Results when the body becomes part of the electrical circuit by entering the body at one point and leaving at another. Electrical shocks might also lead to electrocution, but not always.
- Arc Flash/Arc Blast. This is the sudden release of electrical energy through the air when a high-voltage gap exists and there is a breakdown between conductors, giving off thermal radiation (heat) and intense light that can cause burns. Temperatures from an arc blast have been recorded to reach 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Fire. Most electrical fires result from problems with “fixed wiring,” such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Fire can also be caused by cord problems, plugs, receptacles, and switches.
- Explosions. Can occur when electricity ignites an explosive mixture of material in the air.
Note that these are all potential common hazards while doing electrical work—but they can occur anytime and anywhere electrical equipment is used.
Focus Four Tip: There are many steps to be taken around electrical safety. Be sure electrical equipment is being properly maintained, and that employees are being properly trained when it comes to electrical safety measures.
Focus Four Hazard Training
The Focus Four Hazards are so important for safety in the construction industry that they are covered extensively in both OSHA 10-hour Construction and OSHA 30-hour Construction training curricula. Providing training to workers on these hazards is a cornerstone of occupational safety for the construction industry.
One of the best ways to improve health and safety on a construction site is to ensure all workers have their OSHA cards. Some states or industries require workers to renew their cards annually (or other recurring cycle). If you don’t have that external mandate at your site, it might be worth developing a policy that workers complete their OSHA 10 or 30 hour training recently and renew every few years. It’s easier than ever to obtain an OSHA card with online training… just be sure to use an OSHA-Authorized online outreach training provider. It’s not worth wasting 10 hours, let alone 30 hours, with a provider who isn’t authorized or has had their status suspended or revoked.
Utilizing the Focus Four Hazards training at job sites is essential to ensure that the proper precautions are being taken for worker safety. The problem is not that the hazards and risks are unknown; it is that they are very difficult to control in a constantly changing work environment…like a construction site.
By understanding the top four hazards and giving your workers the proper training, everyone will be able to better recognize those hazards in the workplace and on the job site. That knowledge goes a long way in creating a safer work environment.
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