Construction Site Safety: Accident Cases and Rules to Keep
It’s not a secret to anyone that the construction site is among one of the most dangerous workplaces out there. One in every five deaths among US workers occurs in the construction industry. In 2020 alone, 1008 construction workers died while doing their job. These statistics prove one more time that construction companies have a lot of work to do to ensure construction site safety and their employees’ wellbeing. And with so many new technologies being introduced to the industry, it’s shocking that most companies still fail to ensure high safety management standards, increasing the number of fatal injuries.
But before we move on to some construction site safety rules that your company should adhere to, let’s start by defining construction site safety and understanding its importance.
What is construction site safety?
Construction sites are usually full of activities that can expose the workers to different hazards and dangers, like falling objects, working from the rooftops or scaffolding, using electrical circuits, exposure to heavy equipment, etc. Engaging in all these activities raises the risk of fatal injuries, making the construction site a highly dangerous workplace.
Construction site safety practices aim to eliminate these hazards through maintaining safety rules, training, and regulatory requirements.
Understanding and being aware of the potential dangers is one of the most crucial steps of safety management, so let’s start by looking at some of the most common risks and problems that workers confront on the construction site.
Accidents that occur on the construction site
Here are some of the most common accidents the construction employees might come across during their work:
1. Height-Related Accidents
Have you ever got shivers down your spine only by watching a construction employee working from the twenty-second floor? Well, that’s for a reason. Working from heights does not only seem scary — it really is pretty frightening. That’s because 34% of all construction deaths occur from falls. So it’s not surprising that fall protection got mentioned in the OSHO’s 2017 report as one of the most frequent violations.
The thing is that injuries caused by falls are more life-threatening and fatal than the other types of injuries. Surviving from a fall of more than 30 feet is almost impossible. But the sad part is that even six feet can be fatal if the employee lands on the wrong body parts. That’s because the neck, head, and spinal injuries, which are the main results of falls, leave workers with severe disabilities or even death, no matter what the height of fall was.
2. Demolition Accidents
The demolition of a building refers to the deliberate act of destroying, dismantling, or wrecking it, usually for reconstruction purposes or for building a different structure in its place.
Although it might seem simple for a person who is not well aware of the construction industry, in fact, demolition requires a high level of precision. So no, you don’t simply “know down” the structure. And when some companies fail to ensure that level of precision, demolition processes lead to fatal deaths for the workers.
According to the OSHA report, in 2019, there were 20 demolition-related deaths in the industry. Although this number decreased in 2020, it was mainly due to the pandemic, which affected the industry overall.
That’s why organizing construction site safety training and engaging in preparatory operations like the completion of engineering surveys are necessary for all the companies if they want to ensure safe demolition practices for their employees.
3. Trip and Falls / Slip and Falls
Another common safety hazard in the construction industry is slip and falls.
Thousands of construction workers get injured every year because of a slip or trip. Around 1000 of the injuries include dislocating joints or fracturing bones.
Usually, slips and trips can happen because there is something in the worker’s way, like materials or waste. Some slips and trips are also the cause of working on uneven surfaces.
However, most cases and injuries can be easily avoided if the company introduces effective management of the workplace, giving more access to the stairwells, corridors, routes, and site cabins.
4. Fires and Explosions
OSHA has reported that the construction industry confronts on average 36 fire and explosion deaths every year. Uncontrolled ignition is one of the scariest cases that can happen on the construction site.
The thing is, even a tiny speck of dust or an arc of flesh can all of the sudden turn the usual working routine of house building into a huge incident by setting the construction site on fire.
The main causes of the fire and explosion incidents include:
- Flammable liquids
- Chemical drums or tanks
- Heating devices
- Blasting or explosive agents
- Liquefied petroleum gas
- Electrical crashes
- Compressed gas cylinders
Fire and explosion incidents usually leave the construction workers with severe injuries, the most frequent of which are the eyes, brain, ear burns, or abdominal bleeding.
5. Crane and Forklift Accidents
Yes, cranes and forklifts are essential for any construction project. They help to complete the work faster and improve productivity. However, they also come with their drawbacks. If the procedures are not followed correctly, cranes and forklifts can become the cause of serious accidents.
Some factors that can cause crane accidents to include:
- Not properly working equipment,
- Snapping and breaking cables,
- Operator error,
- Not stable loads,
- Overloaded basket,
And even if your company is using well-maintained and comparatively new equipment, there are still chances that it will fail to operate. But of course, ensuring construction site safety is the primary duty of the employer, so if the accident happens because the equipment was not properly maintained, the employee has the right and should demand compensation.
6. Trench Accidents
A trench is a kind of excavation that is deeper than its width and narrower than the length. It is a pretty common sight in the construction industry, as many construction projects, such as house building, will need trenches at some phase. However, trenches bring their own risks.
They can cause various accidents including cave-ins, dangerous fumes or gases, or falling loads and objects from above. The most dangerous of these accidents is the cave-in on the worker who is inside the trench. The factors that can cause cave-in accidents to include:
- Poor protection systems on the site
- Vibration from nearby traffic or equipment
- Excavated materials being placed too close to the trench
- Not inspecting the trench before each shift, and especially neglecting it after different weather events
7. Machinery Accidents
For most construction projects, dealing with heavy machinery is an inevitable part of the working process. Construction vehicles are used in all types of construction projects, including road construction, house building, or reconstruction.
They help decrease the building time and improve the overall efficiency of the work. For instance, a backhoe is able to dig a hole only in a few minutes, whereas without it, you would need a team of workers with shovels to do the same task.
But again, heavy machinery brings its own dangers. The most common heavy machinery-related accidents are:
A rollover happens when the machine fails to maintain its balance and topples to the side.
The collapse occurs when heavy machines crumple to the ground, mainly due to the weight of their cargo.
Malfunction refers to the cases when the machine fails to perform its task.
- Machine collisions
Machine collisions are when the machines run over the worker.
Although some of these incidents can happen accidentally, most of them are due to the company’s or workers’ negligence.
8. Exposure to dangerous chemicals or toxins
In construction, the health and safety of the workers are at risk as most of them are often exposed to chemicals and toxins. Some of the common dangerous substances and chemicals include:
- Gasoline fumes
- Hot tars
- Carbon monoxides
- Insulation materials
Most of the illnesses or injuries caused by toxic substances might show up years after the exposure. Some common diseases caused by them are lead poisoning, metal fume fever, cancer, and manganism.
9. Electrocution Cases
Electrocution is the severe injury or death caused by the electric shock, which is an electric current that passes through the body.
The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) has reported that the rate of electrocution in the construction industry remains extremely high. The proof is that 61% of all work-related electrocution deaths were among construction workers.
Electrocution causes mainly four types of injuries:
- Flash: when there is a superficial burn on the body.
- Flame: when the arc flash makes someone’s clothes ignite.
- Lightning: an electrical current that flows through a person’s body.
- True: when the person becomes part of the electrical circuit, and the electricity enters and exits the body.
10. Getting caught in between objects or materials
Getting caught between the objects is among the four main safety hazards defined by OSHA.
It is caused when the worker is compressed between gigantic objects or equipment, killed by being stuck, or crushed by materials and collapsing structures.
It can cause all types of injuries, but most accidents are fatal.
11. Elevator Shaft Accidents
The last one on our list of safety hazards is elevator shaft accidents.
When elevators get stuck at the top of the button, they can cause an open elevator shaft, and falling from that shaft can be deadly.
In construction, the elevator shafts are too narrow and long, so the fall victims can get bruises, scrapes, or broken bones from the accident. And if they do not have proper safety equipment, these accidents will cause more severe damages, like spinal damage, brain injuries, and even death.
These were some of the most frequent problems that can occur on the construction site. Although many of the unfortunate cases could be hard to prevent by the company, some fatal incidents and severe injuries could be easily avoided if the construction company maintained the construction site safety rules.
That’s why construction workers should have insurance packages to get their compensation if accidents occur. At the same time, construction companies themselves acquire insurance to cover the compensations and reconstruction costs when needed.
Let’s take a closer look at the common construction insurance types.
Construction insurance is a broad term that includes a wide range of insurances and policies that protect workers or company owners during construction projects.
Here are some of the insurance types often used in the industry:
Builders Risk Insurance
COC or Course of Construction insurance protects property owners, contractors, or developers during major construction or reconstruction works. As the values associated with big projects are pretty high, it is almost inevitable that the company protects its investment with the COC insurance — with it, all the project stakeholders are protected if there’s a loss.
Typically COC covers:
- the costs of reconstruction,
- the labor needed to rebuild,
- off-site coverage,
- sewer backup,
- important records or papers,
- professional fees,
- off-site transit,
- the existing structure (its actual cash value).
Optionally, this insurance can also include earthquakes or floods. The main advantage of COC contracts is that their coverage is specific to the construction project and can be tailored according to the customer’s needs. For certain clients, COC insurance can also provide professional risk assessment services to help you avoid major accidents.
Commercial & Contractor General Liability Insurance
General liability insurance (GL), also known as business liability insurance, protects the construction company from a range of claims, including property damage, bodily injury, personal injury, etc.
GL usually covers:
- bodily injury or property damage liability
- relevant medical payments
- the advertising and personal injury
- damage made to the premises which were rented to you
For a construction company, owning GL insurance shows that your company is mature. Some of your clients might even require you to have GL insurance before they agree to work with you. Protect your business from liability claims
Errors & Omissions Insurance/ Professional Liability Insurance
E&O insurance stands short for Errors and Omissions insurance, also referred to as professional liability insurance. It helps construction companies protect themselves from lawsuits that blame them for a mistake of professional services that they haven’t made.
This insurance covers:
- the court costs
- attorney fees which can cost from $3K up to %150K
- administrative costs (paying office managers or court reporters)
- judgments or settlements, which can cause millions of dollars
Without E&O insurances, it would be too costly for the construction companies to cover all the court costs and settlements on their own.
Commercial Truck Insurances
As the name suggests, commercial truck insurance is the type of auto insurance used by construction companies or truck businesses that use trucks and truck drivers a lot. This insurance provides financial aid and legally protects the company from property damage or bodily injuries, along with coverage for cargo and trucking equipment.
On the other hand, commercial auto insurance covers a wider range of vehicles used by construction companies for different construction projects. (road construction, private project, industrial project, house building, etc.) Of course, it can also be used by other businesses using vehicles at work.
Truck insurance covers almost all types of trucks, including:
- Pickup trucks
- Cement mixers
- Tow trucks
- Box trucks
- Dump trucks
- Tractors and semi-trucks
This insurance will help you in case a truck accident happens, and your driver got bodily injuries, or it caused an advertising injury to the company. It covers all the medical payments and property damage caused to the company.
Inland Marine Insurance
Don’t let the term “marine” confuse you. Inland marine insurance has nothing to do with the sea. If the marine insurance covers products transported over water, the inland marine insurance covers the ones transported overland.
The type of products it covers from safety hazards include:
- Computers (servers, laptops, etc.),
- Networking and communication equipment,
- Contracting and construction equipment,
- Medical, scientific equipment,
- Photography equipment.
This insurance will help construction companies keep their construction products and equipment protected when they are being transported or delivered.
Contractor License Bonds
This one is for the contractors and clients of your construction company. A contractor license bond legally ensures them and the public that if your company does not fulfill the terms of the bond, they can get compensation.
For instance, if you fail to perform quality work on one of your client’s projects and refuse the reconstruction demands, your customer can easily file a claim against you.
For construction companies, agreeing to sign contractor license bonds proves to your clients or the public that you are confident that your company can fulfill all the project requirements.
Another type of surety bond is the construction bond which is used by investors to protect them against financial loss due to the company’s failure to complete the project and meet all the contract specifications successfully.
There are different types of construction bonds. Again, for the construction company signing the bond means ensuring the investors that everything will follow the initial plan. Otherwise, most investors might refuse to engage in the project, not having that guarantee.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
This insurance which is also known as the workers’ comp, is required by law in almost every state. It is the primary way you can protect your workers from safety hazards. This insurance covers all the medical expenses and the portions of lost wages when the employee gets injured on the job.
Typical coverage includes:
- Employee rehabilitation,
- Death benefits,
- Ongoing care costs,
- Lost waged,
- Medical expenses.
This insurance is mandatory: your construction company can’t work without it.
Construction site safety rules that should be kept to prevent accidents
As you’ve already understood, the construction site is full of perils and dangers, and no one can guarantee that no accident will happen. However, most of the safety hazards listed above can be avoided if the crew and the company strictly follow construction site safety rules.
Let’s skim through the most important and mandatory ones:
- Providing construction site safety training for all employees
Every employee should receive sufficient construction site safety training that will teach them how to follow the OSHA safety requirements to reduce the chance of severe injuries or death.
Holding frequent crew safety meetings, raising awareness
The entire crew should be aware of the potential safety hazards, so frequent crew safety meetings will help raise awareness and decrease the chance of accidents.
These meetings can be easily organized with construction software that can also be used to get live updates from the construction site and quickly notice when the construction site safety rules are not maintained.
Utilizing protective clothing and gear
This one is self-explanatory. Without proper gear and clothing, the workers should not even visit the construction site. Otherwise, the safety hazards will become hundreds of times more fatal.
Keeping the workspace clean
Remember we’ve talked about tips and falls? Well, one of the easiest ways to avoid them is to keep the workspace clean and organized. It might sound like an easy task, but it’s pretty hard to follow in the case of construction sites.
Maintaining proper equipment and tools
You need to ensure that all of the equipment and gear your construction workers use are in good shape. Otherwise, the malfunctioning tools might cause severe injuries and even deaths.
One of the most common safety hazards related to malfunctioning equipment is crane and forklift accidents.
Being careful with vehicles
Even if the equipment or vehicles are functioning, the workers still need to be cautious with them. Construction vehicles are sometimes hard to control, so the company should make sure that the employee is properly trained to use them.
Following OSHA guidelines and reporting any dangerous working conditions
If any construction worker notices that the OSHA guidelines are not being followed and the risk of a safety hazard is high, he/she should instantly report to the company. This will help avoid big accidents by taking action soon enough.
As we’ve mentioned, falls are one of the most common causes of severe injuries and death among construction workers. So it is important for the company to install fall protection systems to prevent and protect its workers from fatal falls during the job.
How should construction sites operate during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Recent studies have shown that the construction workforce is getting older. This means that it is especially important for the construction companies to keep all the Covid-19 rules and prevention practices in times of the pandemic.
Construction sites are vulnerable to the spread of the virus as the workers usually share the same tools and work on sites that companies rarely disinfect and clean at the end and the beginning of each shift.
However, to ensure a healthier environment, all of the Covid-19 guidelines should be followed, and although it is challenging, constant disinfection should be included in the safety management practice.
Construction site safety should be a priority for all construction companies, as the construction site remains one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world.
However, if the workers are equipped with enough knowledge and the company strictly follows the construction site safety rules, the number of incidents can be decreased.
Hopefully, one day we can look at the construction employee working on a roof and feel completely safe for him, knowing that the risk of fall or death is extremely low.
If you liked the article and are interested in other construction-related topics, don’t forget to check out other resources from our authors.