Global construction is currently one of the fastest growing markets with a total value expected to reach 14.4 trillion USD by 2030 becoming more than twice the size it was in 2020. As of April 2021, the monthly US spending on residential constructions was at 750.25bn USD. But along with this rapid growth, the number of injuries in the construction sites has also grown significantly. While there were 781 fatalities in 2011 in construction sites in the US, the number had risen to 1034 in 2020.
These numbers showcase the importance of safety on a construction site. In this article, we explore the role of safety officers on construction sites as well as some steps you can take to keep these areas safe.
As of 2002, the total cost of fatal and non-fatal construction-related injuries in the US was around 11.5bn USD, representing 15% of all industries. Constructions sites are one of the most dangerous workplaces and without proper safety measures, they can cause injuries and even death of the workers.
According to OSHA, one in ten construction workers are injured every year and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around 150,000 injuries reported every year in these working environments.
These numbers alone showcase the importance of construction safety. Without proper safety measures, every construction worker is at risk of injury. Some of the common causes of injuries, such as slipping, tripping, electric shock, etc can be avoided with proper safety measures.
Besides the injuries sustained by the workers, accidents at workplaces can prove to be highly expensive for companies as a whole. If the accidents or injuries occured due to a lack of safety measures on the part of the company, they may be liable to compensate the worker for their medical bills as well as the number of days they were not able to work due to the injury. According to some studies, almost 15% of workers’ compensation is spent on people who were injured at the workplace. According to OSHA, companies pay close to a billion dollars a week as compensation for disabling and non-fatal injuries.
Accidents can also damage company property and equipment which causes further losses for the organization. The accidents also have to be reported to regulatory agencies and if the organization is found to be at fault, it may face penalties or sanctions which increases its cost of operations.
The companies may also face indirect costs from the loss of productivity, the cost of replacement of employees and equipment, and higher insurance costs. Accidents can also affect the reputation of the construction company or the team which can in turn cause them to lose future business.
A safety officer is responsible for the overall safety of a workplace. They have to be well-versed in the possible risks at the workplace and the steps to mitigate them.
They are responsible for evaluating a construction site and the risks that may be present for the workers there. Based on this evaluation, they’ll develop a safety strategy for the site and implement it. They’re also responsible for being aware of the regulations regarding construction sites as well as the various equipment used and considering them while developing the safety plan and strategy.
Once the plan is developed, the safety officer will have to oversee its implementation at the workplace and ensure that there are no safety overlaps. They may also be responsible for training the workers on safe usage of tools, safety harnesses and other gear, and other practices for keeping the workplace safe.
Once implemented, the safety officer will be responsible for updating the safety requirements and policies as the construction proceeds. They will also be responsible for conducting periodic walkarounds and inspections around the construction site and logging the activities and rectifying any unsafe practices or conditions.
Safety officers are responsible for inspecting equipment and tools workers use at the construction site as well as the safety gear, harnesses, and other devices used to keep them safe. If any issues are found that make a piece of equipment or tool unsafe for use, safety officers are responsible for logging them and removing them from the workplace.
If any accidents or injuries occur at the workplace, the safety officer is responsible for conducting the investigations. They’re responsible for finding the cause of the accident and taking steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Safety officers are also responsible for coordinating and cooperating with regulatory authorities if required.
These include anywhere without adequate protection where a person can fall a significant height. This could be at high platforms, on scaffoldings, ladders, unstable surfaces, etc. These areas are one of the highest causes of fatalities among workers. Some of the common causes of falls from heights include a ladder slipping off, falling from a ladder while trying to reach across, not having a safe way to reach the site of construction, etc. Construction teams should avoid working from heights and work while standing on the ground as much as possible.
Without proper precautions, moving objects and vehicles can be highly hazardous for the workers at the site. If there is any moving equipment in the area, it should be clearly marked and workers should stay clear of its area. Equipment like JCB, forklifts, and cranes must only be operated by trained personnel and must be inspected carefully before they are used.
Exposure to fine particles is a constant hazard for workers at a construction site. Without proper protective equipment, workers may be exposed to high levels of dust or even toxic vapors. These substances can cause long-term damage to the lungs and the respiratory tract. At high concentrations, toxic vapors can be injurious to the skin and eyes. Workers must be properly trained to safely handle the equipment and wear protective equipment.
Construction sites often use a lot of electric equipment for cutting, drilling, welding, and other processes. And this equipment presents a risk of electrocution for both the operators as well as other workers in the area. To prevent accidents, the equipment must be carefully examined before use; if there are fraying cables they must be replaced immediately, loose connections or uninsulated wires must be taken care of before work. The equipment must be properly grounded and workers must wear protective gear.
Workers must be trained to steer clear of areas where there is a risk of falling objects. Workers must be provided with hard hats and other safety gear when there is a risk of falling objects in the area.
Many constructions have deep excavations and they present a safety hazard for workers. Excavations can create unstable surfaces that workers can fall into. Safety officers and other personnel monitor the site of the excavations for unstable areas and take steps to prevent accidents. Access to the site of excavation must be made safe and marked carefully. Excavation sites also usually involve heavy equipment which must be inspected periodically. Cranes and other equipment used for lifting weights must not exceed their limits and be operated only by trained professionals.
Workers must not lift heavy materials or equipment without the proper gear. Improper techniques can injure the workers and damage the equipment or material. If machinery is used for lifting or moving materials, it must be operated only by certified professionals. The equipment must also not be used for loads above their safety limits.
Workers at construction sites are often exposed to high noise levels from the machinery and the activities. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels can damage the ears of the workers and can cause deficiencies in hearing. Workers should stay away from high noise levels as much as possible and if needed must wear hearing protection. Operators of different equipment are at high risk of hearing damage and must take care to keep themselves safe from the noise.
Construction sites have a large number of complex machinery and without a proper maintenance strategy, they can present a safety risk to the operators and other employees. Equipment failure can cause heavy loads to fall or cause excessive noise. Failing equipment can also cause unpredictable downtimes halting work and loss of productivity. Construction companies must keep a log of equipment maintenance and their conditions and ensure that proper maintenance activities are performed on time.
Frequent walkarounds and inspections can help companies detect hazards and mitigate them quickly. For them to be effective, walkarounds must be rigorous and conducted frequently and regularly. Organizations can use detailed checklists to ensure that every safety element is covered and every piece of equipment is checked and inspected. If any safety issues are found, they must be removed immediately and logged.
The logs of the walkarounds must be analyzed regularly to check for repeated safety lapses and measures must be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Regular safety training can reduce the risk of accidents significantly. It can help build a culture of safety where workers take the initiative to follow the right practices without being pushed by the safety officers or the management. They’ll also be empowered to make safe decisions at the construction site reducing accidents and improving safety.
If possible the risk-prone areas have to be eliminated completely, but that is not always practical at a construction site. In such situations, it is important that the hazardous areas are clearly marked and access is restricted to essential personnel. Personnel entering the areas must be clearly aware of all the risks, must be wearing proper safety gear and proper precautions must be taken.
Just like the rest of the equipment, the safety gear must also be maintained in a good condition. They must be checked regularly and if needed must be replaced. It is also important to ensure that the safety gear is available in adequate numbers.