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Safety You Can See: Visual Communication for Construction Sites

By: Kevin Fipps, Contributor

In the bustling world of construction, where ambition meets skill, one factor must never be compromised: safety first. In 2020, 1,008 construction workers were killed in workplace accidents, representing 21% of all fatal occupational injuries.

  • 368 from slips, trips and falls
  • 247 transportation related
  • 153 from contact with objects and/or equipment
  • 174 caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments.

That same year, 174,100 total nonfatal injuries or illnesses were reported in the construction industry.

  • 74,500 required days away from work,
  • 31,900 caused job transfers or work restriction.

The National Safety Council estimates $1.3 million in direct and indirect costs for each work-related fatality and $42,000 for each medically consulted injury.[1]

Challenges to Construction Site Safety

Everyone knows that construction sites are dangerous. Aside from the obvious occupational hazards, there are several obstacles to worker safety on a construction site. These challenges include:

  • Skewed perception of risk: Workers may become desensitized to smaller, ongoing hazards and underestimate their chances of getting hurt.
  • Unavoidable environmental hazards: The constantly shifting environment on a construction site can create new hazards or change the shape of existing ones.
  • High turnover: Construction sites often have a high turnover rate, which can lead to a lack of experience and training.
  • Lack of communication: Communication breakdowns can lead to accidents and injuries.
  • Nature of construction work: Construction work is often done in high places, around heavy machinery and with power tools, making it easy for accidents to happen.
  • Size of construction sites: Construction sites are often large and complex, making it difficult to ensure that all workers are aware of potential hazards.

These challenges can make it difficult to ensure worker safety on a construction site. However, by addressing these issues and implementing effective safety measures, it is possible to create a safer working environment.

Eye on Construction Safety

Visual safety communication is one of the most effective ways to identify the hazards and risks associated with the construction industry. Here are five ways to use visual communication to protect workers and improve site safety:

  1. Communicate Instantly:

    In the fast-paced construction environment, safety cannot afford to wait. Visual communication through safety signs enables instant understanding, regardless of language barriers or literacy levels. Safety signs provide a universal language that can be comprehended by all workers. By employing clear symbols, images and colors, safety signs effectively communicate changes in the work environment, closed areas, temporary hazards or the use of equipment. This instantaneous communication empowers workers to make informed decisions, promoting a safer working environment without impeding productivity.

  1. Enhance Safety Training:

    A key component of construction safety is comprehensive and effective training. Research shows that 80% of human learning occurs through processing visual information. Safety signs, accompanied by images, charts, graphs and diagrams, offer an ideal medium to capture workers’ attention and convey important safety messages. By incorporating visual tools into safety training programs, workers can better understand the risks associated with their work environment. Training is reinforced by seeing these same visuals throughout the job site. As a result, workers are equipped with the knowledge needed to recognize and avoid potential hazards, significantly reducing the likelihood of accidents.

  1. Use the Right Tools:

    Safety signs, labels and other visual cues are the best way to convey safety messages.

  • Floor Markings: Clearly marked walking paths and equipment zones using floor marking lines ensure safe movement and prevent slips, trips and falls.
  • Posters and Banners: These visually appealing displays combine images and text to communicate safety messages, reinforcing crucial information in a memorable way.
  • Floor Signs: Hazardous areas or areas requiring specific personal protective equipment (PPE) can be indicated using floor signs, reducing the risk of accidents.
  • Safety Labels: Clearly labeled hazardous materials or areas ensure that workers are aware of potential dangers and can take appropriate precautions.
  • Instructional Videos and Animations: Utilizing multimedia resources to demonstrate proper safety procedures enhances training effectiveness and ensures that workers understand safety protocols.
  1. Keep Up with Regulations:

    OSHA regulations are designed to keep workers safe. Some of the most frequently cited violations[2] are hazard communication, PPE deployment and work zone traffic control. Signage helps workers identify hazards, follow safety procedures and avoid dangerous conditions. Post signs and labels in prominent locations such as entrances and exits, near heavy equipment or at the entrance to confined spaces to ensure compliance and encourage safe work habits.

  1. Make Safety Simple and Consistent:

    To effectively communicate safety messages, visuals should be simple, clear and concise. Excessive text should be avoided to prevent information overload. Safety signs should be consistent with industry standards and reflect the company’s safety culture. Use contrasting colors, such as black and yellow, to ensure that the message stands out and grabs attention. Train workers to understand the purpose and meaning behind safety signs, to recognize and respond appropriately to potential hazards.

Put it to Work

The construction industry has a moral and legal responsibility to prioritize the safety and well-being of its workers. Visual safety communication, with safety signs at the forefront, has proven to be a highly effective strategy for preventing construction injuries. By communicating instantly, improving safety training, utilizing the right tools, staying compliant with regulations and keeping messages simple and consistent, construction companies can significantly enhance safety awareness and reduce the risk of accidents, injuries and illnesses. The integration of safety signs as part of a comprehensive safety program promotes a culture of safety, protecting workers and fostering a more secure construction environment. WMHS

Kevin Fipps is a safety professional based in Portland, Oregon. He has extensive safety industry training and planning experience at multiple global operations. He also authors a monthly safety column called, Tips from Fipps. Read more about visual communications and safety at www.duralabel.com/resources.

[1]https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/work/costs/work-injury-costs/

[2]Top 10: OSHA Violations for 2022: Stay Compliant & Safe | Graphic Products

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