By Shanthi Rajan
It’s no secret that accidents are too frequent on construction sites. Job sites are among the most dangerous workplaces in the US. Thousands of people die or are injured on construction sites each year. The construction industry has the highest number of fatal accidents. The accident rate at the construction job sites is 71 percent higher than in other work sites.
Despite spending on average 2.6 percent of their budget on safety training, on-site safety still needs much improvement to keep workers safe.
Here are some construction accident statistics from OSHA:
- 1 in 5 employee-related deaths in the US is from construction
- Approximately 1,061 workers die per year as a result of falls
- OSHA says 60 percent of construction fatalities are from the “Fatal Four” – electrocutions, falls, being struck by an object, and being caught in between machinery
- Younger and newer workers account for most of the accidents
- Each year, construction accidents and injuries result in workers’ comp claims that cost an estimated $2.5 billion
- An estimated 130,000 construction workers missed a day of work due to an injury
- Smaller employers account for approximately 75 percent of injuries
According to OSHA, implementing a safety program could save a construction company $4-$6 for every $1 put into the safety program. The estimated average cost of a construction injury is $42,000 per person. When employers take the time to implement in-depth safety programs and prioritize safety protocols, their employees are less likely to be injured on the job.
Signage, safety huddle, equipment, and training all aim to minimize the number of accidents on the job site. Despite all these efforts, the dynamic nature of construction sites results in injuries and fatalities. Many people continue to get hurt while on the jobsite.
Many fatal accidents are preventable. Accidents happen more often when the contractor companies do not adopt safety as a culture.
Accidents can result in a work stoppage that can cost everyone involved in the project. On-site safety is as much a culture as it is an accident prevention program. General contractors and sub-contractors can work together to enforce the safety culture both on & off the job site.
A culture of safety must be implemented top-down and set by the upper management. Contractors who put safety first will enforce the culture of safety. A safety office with clear responsibilities for evaluating, advising and implementing safety protocols on and off the field can help build a safety culture.
Giving priority to job site safety when a project is being planned and field work scheduled goes a long way in preventing incidents later. Project planners must consider the cost and time involved in safety-related activities like strong scaffolding, crane spotting, trench worker training, equipment operator downtime, sick days, and more.
Here are a few onsite practices that can be part of the safety culture:
- Daily safety huddle. 15 minutes before work starts for the day, every foreman or supervisor should hold a huddle to discuss the day’s work planned and the safety protocols in place. Tracking daily huddles for compliance and congratulatory badges will reinforce the safety culture
- Daily 2×10-min work breaks are shown to both reduce accidents and improve work quality
- Mandatory harnesses and tethers when working at heights can prevent fatal falls. Video and image analysis tools can help enforce the use of safety equipment
- Site cleanliness with no debris or construction waste prevents accidents and injuries
- Many workers leave their power tools plugged in, resulting in tripping injuries. Onsite safety culture must reinforce unplugging power tools when not in use
- Coordinated and shared work plan where every team onsite knows where they are supposed to be and how for how long
- Mentor and train younger workers on-site about site behavior, tool use, work methods and staying focussed on work safety
- Awarding safety behavior, running safety drills, and training employees help reinforce the safety culture both on & off the site
- Upgrade equipment to take advantage of built-in safety upgrades
- Check equipment operator licenses for validity and if training updates are required
Safety inspections & checklists
The standards of OSHA, ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), and CMAA (Construction Management Association of America) require initial, frequent, and periodic inspections of crane and other lifting equipment. Today it is easy to set up a digital checklist with images to conduct these regular inspections efficiently. Mobile apps and video tools make it possible to automate routing equipment inspections.
Contractors can improve safety with routine onsite inspections for compliance and rectifying issues through enforcement protocols and training. The safety officer must schedule surprise site visits and record their findings.
Keeping track of who, what, when & where is a big task on a construction site. Contractors who use construction management solutions that connect the entire team – Owners, GCs, Subs & Designers–do better with planning, organizing, coordinating, and structuring job site work.
Technology for Safety
Sometimes when there’s an accident on a job site, someone’s not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing, when they’re supposed to be doing it. This gap in instructions may occur due to schedule changes, misinterpretation, poor judgment, or other reasons.
The best way to prevent this is by providing clear instructions to every worker. This is most typically the task of the foreman. A mobile app to pull daily task plans from the scheduled work list makes it easy to delegate work and keep everyone in sync.
Construction management software can make the exact plans with instructions available to each worker when they need them. This eliminates all potential misunderstandings and keeps everyone on task. A CMS can efficiently communicate work progress and inform subs when they are scheduled to start on site.
Work package planning with crew count, equipment & material helps track if a scheduled task is ready to start. Having only the correct number of people on the job site goes a long way in preventing people from getting hurt.
Onsite Material Tracking
Construction materials are often heavy, unstable, and stored in locations that make them easy to access and move. Accidents occur while moving construction materials around. They fall, roll, tip, bend, break, or otherwise end up in a state where they endanger the crew around them.
Communicating when materials are delivered, handled and moved across the site to on-site contractors can keep people out of trouble. Continuously monitoring material stores for quantity, movement & waste will help stop accidents before they have a chance to happen.
Every construction project uses specialized equipment for various complex tasks. From excavators to 100 ft tall cranes, many equipment and tools are familiar sights on any job site. This specialized equipment must be operated only by trained operators with special licenses. Checking operator license, training and adherence to operating procedures must be part of safety inspections. Keep only equipment needed on the site. Tracking and recording equipment delivery, use and removal from the site must be part of the standard operating procedure. Construction managers can easily manage onsite equipment with mobile apps designed for this purpose. As with people and materials, the less equipment around, the better.
Job sites are full of construction crews from all walks of life and work for various companies. While on a project, they must stay in sync and work harmoniously.
Communication is the key to keeping the project team connected and sharing critical safety and progress data. Mobile-based location-aware solutions can help connect the field to the office and workers on the job site to each other.
Construction site safety is a matter of culture, protocol, and technology. The right mix of all three can keep workers safe and sites humming. With OSHA’s data showing that for every $1 spent on site worker safety, the ROI is $4-$6, contractors who focus on safety culture are rewarded with happy workers, no down days, and better returns.
Shanthi Rajan is the founder and CEO of Linarc, the newest construction project management solution for mid to large-scale projects. She’s a seasoned entrepreneur focussed on enterprise applications. She is a product leader with experience in all aspects of company building – ideation, product development including product-market fit, product strategy, building teams and go-to market. She has built multiple successful companies.