The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports that there were 3,945 worker fatalities in private industry in 2012. Of that number, 775 or 19.6% were in construction. There are many causes of an accident on a construction site. The top causes of construction worker deaths on the job were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. These “Fatal Four” were responsible for nearly three out of five of the construction worker deaths.
Many accidents may be attributed to some type of negligence and may involve unsafe work site conditions, improper use of tools and-or equipment, and lack of protective safeguards.
Some examples of construction site accidents are more common than others. Below is a list of the more common ones starting with the Fatal Four.
- Falls. Falls accounted for 278 out of 775 (36%) total deaths in construction in 2012, according to OSHA. An injury of this type may occur when a worker near an open-sided floor steps backwards or sideways without looking. Falling hazards also commonly occur on stairwells with no guardrails. Since high elevations often play a role in these falls, the results can be catastrophic to workers who sustain serious injuries. The main cause of death in construction occurs where inadequate or no fall protection is provided.
- Struck by object. Seventy-eight construction workers died as a result of being struck by an object in 2012. A number of these deaths may have been prevented if the workers had undergone proper training and used equipment and machinery properly. Employees must remember to use parking brakes on non-moving vehicles, reverse vehicle alarms, tool guards, personal protection equipment, debris nets, catch platforms and more.
- Electrocutions. In 2012, 66 workers (9%) were seriously injured or killed by electrocution. Electrocution is when a person, tool or piece of equipment comes into contact with power lines or exposed electrical sources. Sometimes, these types of accident occur because workers are simply unaware of all energized power sources, from overhead and underground power lines to damaged receptacles and connectors. As an example, a construction worker carrying a metal ladder may strike an overhead power line.
- Caught-in/between. Although it seems obvious to never stand between a piece of heavy equipment and an immovable object, sometimes workers concentrating on their jobs find themselves in unexpected danger. Caught in/between accidents are when a worker’s body part is caught, crushed, squeezed, compressed or pinched between two or more objects. Examples include cave-ins or collapsing materials, body parts caught in the moving parts of an unguarded piece of machinery, equipment rollovers and getting pinned between fixed objects, like a wall, and piece of heavy equipment.
- Slip and falls. These are among the most common accidents on a construction site. These accidents may be linked to unsafe conditions including uncovered holes or trenches and exposed stakes.
- Ladder accidents. This is one of the leading causes of injury and long-term disability. Most ladder accidents, including falls, happen because workers use the wrong type of ladder for their job or they set up the ladder improperly, perhaps on a slippery or unstable surface, and the ladder unexpectedly shifts or slips. Workers also may experience a foot slip, or they may lose their balance, or overreach. Ladders may also be defective or improperly maintained.
- Scaffolding accidents. Despite strict regulations, scaffolding accidents occur. In a Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) study, 72% of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed the accident either to the planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object. In a general sense, most scaffolding accidents are caused by improper construction or negligent maintenance.
- Power tool and machinery accidents. Power tool and machinery injuries may occur for reasons that include mechanical defects, electrical failure, inadequate training and failure or lack of proper safety equipment. A significant number of injuries are caused by the use of power tools and large equipment.
- Musculoskeletal disorders. A leading cause of injuries, disability claims and medical costs in construction are sprains and strains of the muscles. Construction work can also cause injuries to the joints, bones, and nerves. These injuries often stem from job demands that constantly wear and tear on the body.
- Vehicle Accidents. Dangerous construction site vehicles include forklifts, graders, backhoes and dump trucks. A common forklift accident occurs when the vehicle is turned or maneuvered with the load raised. Large trucks all too often back up and hit a pedestrian. Another hazard on construction sites is falling from a vehicle.
While construction sites may appear to be dangerous, many of these accidents can be avoided through common sense and protective measures. Prevention begins with adequate awareness and a properly maintained working environment that is safe and secure.