The construction industry is not necessarily known for being the safest career. However, it’s considerably safer today than compared to just a few decades ago—all thanks to the implementation of strict, federally enforced regulations. Unfortunately, no amount of preparation and enforcement can completely negate human error and negligence. Let’s discuss the top causes of accidents in the construction industry.
OSHA’s Fatal Four Causes of Catastrophic Injury
In 1970, the United States Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) following startling reports of escalating catastrophic injuries and fatalities in the workplace. As part of the United States Department of Labor, OSHA was designed to implement and enforce stricter safety standards and ensure safer working conditions for workers.
The original implementation of OSHA completely overhauled the construction industry’s previously outdated safety standards, dramatically improving workplace injury rates. However, as mentioned before, nothing can prevent all accidents. Below we will cover OSHA’s top four construction hazards, which are colloquially known as the ‘Fatal Four’ since they are the industry’s leading contributors to catastrophic injury and death.
OSHA describes accidents involving falls as injuries sustained when dropping from a higher level to another below. This includes falling from stairs, roofs, upper floors, ladders, scaffolding, large stacks of materials, and more. The main reasons falling injuries occur are failure to mark hazards, nonuse of safety harnesses or lanyards, and ignored recommended safety protocols. Falls are presently the leading cause of catastrophic injury and death in the construction industry.
Examples of falls:
- Scaffolding collapse due to exceeding recommended weight limits
- Improper ladder usage
- Falling through open-sided or unsecured flooring
- Stumbling from stairs without guardrails
- Following through open skylights
- Slipping on unsecured roofing materials to the ground below
2. Caught-In or Caught-Between
Caught-in or caught-between injuries occur when a worker is caught between two heavy pieces of machinery or objects, or when clothing or body parts are caught in the moving parts of a machine. These injuries are nearly always devastating, often resulting in crushing, amputation, strangulation, or even death. Caught-in and caught-between injuries are the fourth most common catastrophic injury in construction and can often result in death.
Examples of caught-in/between injuries:
- Being caught in a soil trench cave-in
- Loose clothing, dangling articles, or body parts being pulled into power tools such as saws, drills, grinders, or sanders
- Working under a vehicle when loose clothing is caught in moving motor parts
- Crushed between a vehicle and a wall
- Crushed under a hydraulic truck frame as it is lowering
- Crushed under a collapsing, unsecured wall
- Caught between heavy sheets of metal when securing bands failed
3. Struck-By Injuries
Struck-by injuries are injuries in which a moving object strikes a person. As opposed to caught-in or caught-between injuries, these injuries are incurred by forcible contact or impact, not crushing or pinning. These injuries are usually the result of lack of training, ignorance of recommended safety measures, or PPE failure or nonuse. Struck-by injuries are the second leading cause of catastrophic injury and death for construction workers.
Examples of struck-by injuries:
- Struck by a moving vehicle
- Objects slipping from hands and falling
- Swinging or falling equipment
- Falling overhead materials
- Discharged nail from a nail gun
- Materials launched by a saw
- Flying debris from striking tools
Electrocutions are defined as catastrophic injuries resulting from exposure to potentially lethal amounts of electrical energy. Electrical hazards are usually the result of worker miscommunication, lack of situational awareness, and PPE nonuse. While electricity-related injuries can vary in severity, it isn’t a risk to be taken lightly—it’s the third most common cause of construction workplace fatalities.
Examples of electrocutions:
- Relocating an aluminum ladder when it makes contact with overhead power lines
- Raised moving arms or baskets on heavy machinery coming into contact with power lines
- A coworker flipping the power on during electrical work
- Crossed wires during electrical service box installations
- Coming into contact with damaged wiring during construction
Other Common Construction Industry Accidents
While we may have just covered the top causes of construction accidents, workers should be aware of a few additional common injuries. Below you will find a few worthy mentions that might intersect slightly with the above materials but are worth mentioning.
Slips & Trips
Slips and trips are somewhat more minor fall injuries. They occur when slipping and tripping hazards do not have proper signage, incorrect PPE is used, or when unguarded materials and items are left out. Examples of risks include wet or slick surfaces, oil spills, extension or power cords, abandoned materials or tools, uneven or irregular flooring, and improper lighting.
Vehicle accidents occur when a worker is operating or riding inside a work vehicle and are involved in a collision. Work vehicle examples include forklifts, backhoes, graders, freight-hauling trucks, pickup trucks, cranes, and more. Accidents typically occur due to improper training or lack of situational awareness.
Hand Tools & Power Tools
Injuries when using hand tools and power tools usually result from improper PPE, misusing a tool, or using a tool for something other than its intended purpose. This can result in various injuries, such as cuts, contusions, crushes, fractures, and more. The most common tools that cause construction injury are box cutters, hammers, drills, saws, grinders and sanders, and shovels. Lack of tool maintenance can also lead to injury when the tool malfunctions or breaks.
Exposure to Hazardous Materials
Exposure to hazardous materials can increase workers' chance of developing lung and skin diseases. As a construction worker, you are often exposed to hazards such as gases, fumes, hazardous dust (such as sawdust, plaster dust, etc.), asbestos, and even toxic mold. Injuries due to hazardous material exposure are usually due to not usually proper PPE, such as face masks and ventilators, and not having the correct signage for dangerous areas or skills.
Useful Tips for Avoiding Construction Industry Injuries
Construction injuries and their causes are usually entirely preventable with proper education, training, and safety measures. Here are a few quick tips to help you avoid potential injury:
- Always wear proper PPE for your job site. This can include hard hats, safety glasses, steel-toed boots, non-skid boots, gloves, masks or ventilators, bibs, etc.
- Properly train all workers for their intended fields, including the tools they will use and intensive safety training.
- Exercise awareness of your surroundings when you are operating vehicles, power tools, and machinery.
- Exercise awareness of your surroundings when you are moving through the job site.
- Depower tools and equipment when it is not in use.
- Depower tools and equipment that you are performing repairs upon.
- Stow away any tools and equipment that are not in use.
- Use tools and equipment only for their intended purpose.
- Inspect tools and equipment for damage before use.
- Ensure that drivers/operators can see you when working in shared areas.
- Use netting or tool lanyards to prevent dropping equipment to a lower level.
- Avoid loose-fitting clothing, loose hair, or dangling jewelry that could get caught in machinery.
- Regularly inspect and perform maintenance on all scaffolding, safety harnesses, lanyards, or lifelines.
- Use spotters when operating large machinery.
- Use proper signage to notify others of potential hazards.
- Properly mark and clean up spills.
Please bear in mind that this list is not comprehensive. Refer to your company’s OSHA guidelines for more thorough instruction.
What Are Your Legal Options After a Construction Accident?
The formation of OSHA has provided extensive legal protections for workers should they suffer a workplace injury—including the right to fair compensation. However, the avenue from injury to compensation is not a quick or easy one. Because of this, it is recommended to enlist the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. We will ensure that you receive all due compensation in time to help you out when you need it the most. If you would like to discuss your options and see how we can help, sign up for a free case evaluation with Cooney & Conway today.