10.3 million people were employed in construction in the U.S. in 2016. The construction industry has a higher than average rate of injuries and fatalities compared to other industries, making it vital that employers and workers follow safety procedures and comply with all federal, state, and local regulations.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for regulating and inspecting construction sites. In addition to mandatory policies, the agency has recommended practices that can improve construction site safety.
Some accidents are unavoidable. But through training, hazard awareness, and safe work practices, the risk of serious injury or death to construction workers and the public can be greatly reduced. This page will provide an overview of construction safety topics, and tips for increasing safety on construction sites.
Common Construction Site Accidents
Injuries at construction sites are common and can be fatal. The presence of power tools, vehicles, and unfinished, elevated, or damaged structures pose a range of potential threats to both workers and members of the public visiting or trespassing on the site.
Common Construction Safety Issues
While the majority of construction site accidents involve workers employed at the site, members of the public are sometimes injured or killed when something goes wrong in a public area, or when a person is trespassing. Accidents can sometimes involve children playing on the site.
Construction Safety Tips
It is not always possible to prevent an accident, but by following government regulations and safety procedures, the risk of one occurring is greatly reduced. Here are some of the most important construction site safety procedures that workers and employers should follow to help prevent accidents, injuries, and deaths.
Falling from a scaffold can be deadly. Scaffolds also pose a threat to people walking below, who may be struck and potentially killed by falling objects.
Scaffolds should only be put up, moved, and dismantled under proper supervision. Untrained employees should never work on a scaffold, and scaffolds and rigging must be inspected regularly by a supervisor, especially after any event that might weaken them. Damaged pieces need to be replaced or repaired immediately. Don’t use a scaffold that appears broken or damaged.
When erecting a scaffold, ensure it is on solid footing and never within 10 feet of power lines. According to OSHA guidelines, it must be able to safely support its own weight plus four times the maximum intended load. Adequate material must be used to plank the scaffold tightly, and guardrails, midrails, and toeboards must be used to reduce the risk of falls and falling objects.
Be cautious of anything that may make a scaffold slippy (like rain or spilled paint). Never use a scaffold covered by ice or snow.
Protect against falls and falling objects
Falls are responsible for the majority of deaths that take place on construction sites. In addition to falling from scaffolding, workers may fall from roofs, windows, or other elevated surfaces.
Guardrails can save lives. Clear warning lines should also be placed near the edges of roofs and holes in floors. Whenever possible, cover holes large enough for a person to fall through, or use a safety net or body harness.
When an object is dropped or knocked from an elevated surface, particularly from a great height, a person walking below may be killed. Toeboards reduce the likelihood of an object being knocked over the edge, and workers should be careful not to drop anything over guardrails. Never try to throw items to people below.
Wear protective clothing and headgear
All workers and visitors at construction sites must be adequately dressed to reduce their risk of harm. This typically includes wearing a hard hat in areas where something may hit your head. Hard hats should be regularly maintained and inspected for damage, like cracks or dents.
Other protective clothing will depend on the nature of the work and potential risks at the site. This may include the wearing of safety glasses or face shields to protect the eyes, safety footwear, and appropriate gloves.
Open trenches pose many dangers. Protective systems help to prevent collapses and save lives. Never enter an unprotected trench.
Trenches should be inspected before workers enter, and inspected again if an incident occurs that may damage them, like a rain storm. There must be a way for employees to safely get out of the trench, such as a ladder or ramp.
Keep equipment and other objects away from the edge of trenches, as they may fall in and strike someone.
Use machinery safely
Heavy machinery like cranes, forklifts, and bulldozers must never be operated by untrained workers. Machinery should always be inspected before use, and maximum load capacity should never be exceeded.
Construction sites can be loud. Your machinery should have a reverse signal alarm that can be heard over background noise, alerting those around you to get out of the way when the vehicle is in motion. Never use machinery with broken reverse signal alarms.
When using a crane, always ensure the outriggers are fully extended. Barricade the area around the boom’s swing, and never lift a load over people’s heads. Keep cranes well away from overhead power lines, as striking these is a common cause of fatal accidents.
Always wear a seatbelt when operating machinery, and never fool around while using the equipment.
Use adequate ladders
Ladders are often necessary to access different levels of a construction site. If a ladder is too short to reach the work area, do not use it, and never carry more weight than a ladder can support. Be careful not to use ladders with any metallic components near electrical sources.
Inspect all ladders before use. Defects like missing rungs or broken safety devices can cause you to lose your grip and fall, or for the ladder to collapse beneath you. Broken ladders should be clearly marked to alert other workers that they’re not suitable for use, and replaced as soon as possible.
Handle chemicals properly
Chemical burns and other injuries resulting from toxic chemicals are more common on construction sites than many realize. If chemicals are present at a site, a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) must be used and maintained. Employees should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for handling the chemical, and must be trained on risks and cleanup procedures.
Construction sites using chemicals require a written spill control plan and spill cleanup kits. Spills should be dealt with immediately, and chemicals should be stored stored securely and safely when not in use.
Be careful around electricity
To prevent electric shocks and electrical explosions, you should never work on an electrical circuit until you are certain that the power is off and grounds are attached. When using electrical tools, ensure they are either grounded or double insulated.
Secure site at end of day
If a construction site is not clearly signposted and secured, it is possible for members of the public to enter it by accident and risk injury. Trespassers may also knowingly try to enter.
Always secure the site at the end of the day, putting away as much equipment as possible, and covering or putting barriers around any exposed holes or trenches. Remove ladders to reduce the likelihood of a trespasser climbing a structure or scaffolding. If necessary, a guard or video surveillance may be required at all hours.
Construction Site Safety and the Public
Members of the public can be harmed when walking onto a construction site or under scaffolding. Here are a few things that you can do when on or near construction sites to protect yourself from injury.
- Never enter a secured construction site unless authorized to do so
- Never climb a fence or barricade to enter a secured construction site
- Never try to enter areas of a construction site that are closed off
- Always wear a hard hat if instructed
- Pay attention to warning signs and instructions from workers
- Avoid walking beneath scaffolding that appears dangerous or has objects precariously close to the edge of platforms
- Keep your children away from construction sites, and warn them about the dangers of playing on them
What to Do After a Construction Site Accident
Accidents can happen even when all regulations and guidelines are followed.
Report All Accidents.
If you or someone else is injured on the construction site, call 911 immediately for emergency medical assistance. Particularly in the event of a fall, never move an injured person unless it’s necessary to remove them from further danger (such as a collapsing structure). They may have a spinal injury, and moving them could paralyze them.
If no one is seriously injured, you should still seek medical attention as soon as possible. Construction sites are required to have a first-aid kit. In cases where the nearest medical center is not reasonably accessible in an emergency situation, sites are also required to have at least one employee certified in first-aid training present at all times.
All accidents, however small, need to be reported to a supervisor. Even if no one was hurt, equipment may be damaged or safety procedures may need to be tightened.
Construction Site Safety Statistics
More injuries and deaths occur on construction sites every year than most other workplaces. Of all construction site accidents that result in death, nearly half occur in smaller companies (with 10 employees or fewer) or to self-employed workers. Safety procedures should be followed by all construction workers, including the self-employed, to reduce the risk of serious injury or death.
Falls are the most common cause of death on construction sites, making up about one in every three fatalities. Many deadly falls occur from scaffolding. Every year, around 50 deaths and 4,500 injuries are scaffolding-related.
Accidents while operating heavy machinery lead to around 100 deaths and 95,000 injuries each year. One of the most common accidents is a forklift tipping over, which can be fatal.
Ladders and stairways can also be dangerous, particularly when a worker falls. Every year, nearly 25,000 construction site injuries are caused by accidents on ladders and stairways.
In addition to employees, at least one child dies every year while playing on a construction site, and more are injured. Construction sites are not a safe place for children to play.