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Safety First: Avoiding the “Fatal-Four” in Construction


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There are many rules and regulations governing the work of contractors and making sure it’s safe – insurance, contract bonds, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, etc. And still, working in construction continues to be associated with many serious hazards.

According to data by OSHA, 15 percent of all fatal work injuries in 2012 involved contractors. As a contractor, you need to ensure not only that you and your staff have all the necessary safety gear, but also that said gear is of good quality. Unsafe construction clothing and equipment is just one of the reasons for the many accidents that happen on construction sites. Another way to reduce the likelihood of accidents is to acquaint yourself with some of the most common types of work injuries. Here’s what made the top of the list, along with tips on how to protect your site.

#1 Falls

A total of 806 deaths occurred on construction sites in 2012. Out of them, 279 casualties (or 34.6 percent) were due to falls. Falls occur because many work sites have unprotected edges, holes on the floor, or openings in the walls. OSHA provides a list of a few things you can do to minimize the risk of falls.

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Whenever one of your workers is standing at a height of more than 6 feet, one or all of the following three safety systems must be in place: guardrail system, safety net system or personal fall arrest system. Out of the three, guardrail systems are perhaps the most useful, because they prevent falls rather than simply soften them.

Whenever you notice a floor hole, make sure to cover it up with something that can support twice the weight of anything that might be on top of it – staff, tools, equipment, etc. If you are starting work on an existing structure or building, it’s best to inspect the whole site for holes beforehand.

For more information read the Worker Deaths by Falls report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The report summarizes investigative findings gathered from many cases of work-related falls. Another useful read is this report by the Center for Construction Research and Training. It will give you an idea of which occupations are most prone to accidents caused by falls.

#2 Being Struck by an Object

Workers getting struck by an object is the second most common cause of injuries in construction. According to OSHA, 75 percent of all fatal cases of being struck by an object are caused by heavy equipment.

To reduce the likelihood of this kind of work accident, you need to take care of three main hazards:

#3 Electrocution

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Electrical incidents were responsible for 66 deaths (or 8.1 percent of construction-related deaths) in 2012. OSHA mandates that all workers working near electrical power circuits wear the necessary safety gear, such as flame and arc resistant work pants. The administration has further specific standards about wiring methods and components. Still, violations of these standards are among the most frequently cited violations during OSHA inspections.

Proximity to overhead or underground power lines carries another great hazard. De-energize lines whenever there are workers around them, and instruct your staff to assume they are energized unless specified otherwise.

Lacking ground-fault protection is another common source of electrocution. If due to wear and tear your workers come in contact with exposed wires, having functioning ground-fault circuit interrupters might save their lives.

Other frequent causes of electricity-related injuries include: a missing or discontinued path to ground, improper use of equipment and improper use of extension and flexible cords.

#4 Being Caught In/Between

The final most prevalent cause for work-related accidents and deaths is being caught in/between, which mainly occurs during work in trenches and excavations. While cave-in is potentially the most risky type of accident, a worker that is caught in/between can also suffer from asphyxiation, toxic fumes, drowning and even electrocution.

There are four main things you can do to protect the workers on your construction site from this kind of work hazard:

  • Set up protective systems. This includes being compliant with OSHA standards, providing safety exits, testing the soil at your site and doing other types of pre-job planning.
  • Inspect trenches. Trenches and excavations must be expected before you begin work on a new site, everyday before the start of a shift, after it rains and anytime you consider it necessary throughout a shift. This guide will assists you in inspecting trenches and excavations and identifying possible problems with them.
  • Secure spoil-piles. To reduce the likelihood of cave-ins, you must use retaining devices that extend above the trench and keep spoils and equipment at a minimum of 2 feet away from the excavation, or, if that’s not possible, move the spoils to a different place.
  • Provide a way out. You must secure a way out of excavation sites in the unfortunate event that a worker falls in. This could mean providing ladders, ramps or stairways, but there are many other ways to secure access out of trench or an excavation.


Understanding the risks of these four hazards and taking the appropriate measures to prevent them will make your construction site a much safer place.

In your work as a contractor, have you had to deal with any of these hazards? We would love to hear your story.


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