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Eight Ways to Minimize Safety Risks on Construction Sites

While it’s impossible to prevent all accidents, you can reduce the risks your employees face by taking proactive steps to protect them.

By Robin Kix, Contributor

The construction industry accounts for a high proportion of workplace fatalities and injuries each year. In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that falls, slips, and trips accounted for 35.3% of workplace deaths1 and 21,400 nonfatal injuries among construction workers. Other concerning construction hazards2 identified by the BLS include overexertion, working outside in the heat, working in proximity to machinery, transportation incidents, and exposure to hazardous materials.

Construction companies should take the following steps to protect their employees and provide a safe and reasonably hazard-free work environment at construction sites.

1. Know and Implement OSHA Safety Guidelines

Construction companies are responsible for complying with the safety guidelines and regulations enforced by OSHA for construction sites and companies. These regulations govern things such as:

  • Fall protection systems and scaffolding
  • Trenching and excavation work
  • Provision of safety equipment
  • Training requirements
  • Sanitation, storage, and disposal
  • Lockout/tagout procedures

Numerous regulations and guidelines apply based on the features of a construction site and the type of work performed there. Before beginning work on a project, a general contractor should review the applicable standards and create policies that conform with them.

2. Conduct a Project-Specific Risk Assessment

Before agreeing to enter a contract for a construction project, complete a thorough safety risk assessment of the proposed project. This analysis includes identifying all the safety risks the project will involve and deciding whether they can be avoided or mitigated, or whether they must be accepted. Once your team has identified the risks, you can determine which parties will be responsible for mitigating them and create a plan for completing the project accordingly.

While implementing safety procedures might require you to spend money up-front, it costs less than dealing with the aftermath of a serious accident.

3. Purchase Appropriate Insurance and Bonds

Your company must have the right types of insurance and bonds in place to protect your business, employees, and subcontractors, as well as the project owner. At a minimum, you will need to purchase commercial liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. Commercial liability insurance will protect your company against liability if something occurs on the worksite that results in a lawsuit. Workers’ compensation insurance protects your employees if they are injured or sickened on the job and provides benefits to pay their medical expenses and a portion of their lost wages until they can return to work.

In addition, the project owner might require you to purchase surety bonds3 to protect against potential default or failure to pay your subcontractors. Obtaining the required insurance and bonds helps to mitigate potential liability risks and protect all parties involved. Many project owners won’t agree to do business with construction companies that are not licensed, bonded, and insured, so ensuring you have the right policies and bonds in place can also help you attract clients.

4. Provide Training and Encourage a Safety Culture

Both supervisors and front-line construction workers need to receive thorough safety training before work begins on a project. Supervisors should also be trained to identify safety violations and institute discipline, while employees should be encouraged to report safety violations they witness.

Construction workers should not begin work in an area until safety guidelines have been implemented. For example, workers should not have to enter a trenched area unless appropriate wall supports are in place. Finally, construction workers must not be disciplined or experience retaliation for reporting safety concerns or violations they have witnessed.

5. Provide Workers With Appropriate PPE

The PPE a worker might need4 will vary based on their job. On a construction site, most workers will need to wear steel-toed boots, hard hats, gloves, goggles, and high visibility apparel. In addition, some workers will need to wear flame-resistant outerwear and gloves, goggles, and respirators if their work involves electrical systems, welding, or hazardous materials.

Provide each worker with the safety equipment they need to perform their jobs and make sure they always wear everything required. Don’t allow workers to cut corners or fail to wear some or all of their gear. Train your supervisors to stop workers who violate the PPE requirements and make them don the required gear before continuing.

6. Ensure Workers Follow Safety Guidelines at All Times

All construction workers must follow the safety standards for the worksite at all times. It’s fairly common for workers to try to cut corners to complete tasks faster, but doing so can increase the risk of serious injuries. Institute disciplinary measures for workers who cut corners and fail to follow safety standards. Even if your company loses an employee because they fail to follow safe practices, it’s better to replace a worker than to face a serious construction accident.

7. Retrain Employees Regularly

The initial training your employees complete should not be the only safety training they receive. Schedule refresher courses regularly to keep your employees updated and make sure they know and continue to follow safety guidelines.

8. Inspect the Site Regularly

The construction site should be regularly inspected so that hazards can be quickly identified and corrected. The party or parties responsible for the safety of the worksite must follow a regular inspection schedule. It’s a good idea to institute an electronic system for the submission of inspection reports from the site to your central office to make sure they are followed and mitigation steps are completed promptly.

While it’s impossible to prevent all accidents on construction sites, you can reduce the risks your employees face at work by taking proactive steps to protect them. Following the OSHA safety regulations, training your employees and supervisors, conducting risk assessments, completing regular inspections, and purchasing the right insurance and bonds can help to reduce the risks that you and your employees face. While implementing safety procedures might require you to spend money up-front, it costs less than dealing with the aftermath of a serious construction site accident.

Robin Kix is the Renewal Department Manager, Lance Surety (suretybonds.org).

Footnotes:

  1. https://tinyurl.com/yk6v367h
  2. suretybonds.org/blog/construction-safety-statistics
  3. nasbp.org/getabond/about-surety
  4. allseasonsuniforms.com/blog/role-of-ppe-workplace-safety

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