The construction industry is one of the most hazardous industries in terms of serious work-related injuries, lost work time, disability, and on-the-job fatalities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 856 worker fatalities occurred in the construction industry in 2013, accounting for more than 20 percent of total worker fatalities. OSHA reports that 3.8 of every 100 workers were injured. Of course, most employers are well aware of this problem and are continually striving to reduce safety risks and prevent workplace injuries. Knowing the most common ways that work injures occur is a proactive first step in learning how to reduce them.
Common Injuries in the Construction Industry
There are probably as many causes of injury among construction workers as there are construction sites; the kinds of injuries those workers suffer vary just as widely. Fortunately, a small number of common causes account for a large percentage of total injuries. It is here that an effective plan for workplace safety at the construction site begins. Common injuries include:
- Falls – A frequent cause of workplace injuries, these incidents often occur in the form of falls from scaffolding, roofs, ladders, cranes, and other workplace equipment.
- Falling Objects – Falling objects such as tools or construction materials are a serious hazard for construction site workers.
- Equipment Accidents – Equipment like fork lifts, cranes, nail guns, and scaffolding on construction sites is often the source of injuries, which can occur with equipment failure, improper use, or failure to employ proper safety measures or equipment.
- Vehicle-Related Accidents – Being run over by construction trucks, most frequently during backing, or being crushed between vehicles and other objects are among the more common types of worker injuries.
- Repetitive Motion, Overexertion, and Environmental Injuries – These include injuries developing over weeks or months due to repetitive motion as well as sprains, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries resulting from overexertion, heat stress or heat stroke, and hypothermia or frostbite.
These common types of workplace incidents can be the source of injuries ranging from minor ailments like cuts and abrasions to serious injuries like amputations, fractures, organ damage, brain injury, or paralysis. Of course, in the most severe incidents, worker fatality is possible.
Tips for Preventing Workplace Injuries
Employers operating in physically demanding industries like construction can benefit from workplace physical ability testing programs, a safety measure that has been shown to reduce workplace injuries and the costs resulting from them, including workers' compensation costs. A well-designed physical ability testing program offers employers an accurate, science-based means of ensuring that new hires are physically capable of meeting the specific demands of the job. These programs can also help ensure that existing employees remain fit for duty, able to handle the physical demands of the job safely and efficiently.
Some of the most challenging physical aspects of construction include the manual materials handling (lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling) of heavy sacks of concrete, timbers, lumber, steel beams, and buckets of sand - just to name a few. In addition to handling heavy materials, construction employees have to assume awkward positions for prolonged periods of time for functions such as tying rebar, welding, grinding, and for electrical or plumbing installations. Climbing, crawling, and repetitive squatting or bending are also frequent.
Each of these job requirements places extreme demands on the body, but the back, shoulder, hip, and knee tend to bear the brunt of the work. In addition, this work is often performed in extreme temperatures while wearing heavy tool belts. The worker's cardiovascular system and endurance are heavily taxed during their long work day. Working on beams and scaffolding makes a strong sense of balance a must-have capability. A pre-hire physical ability test in the construction industry should be designed to address each of these requirements, some of the most physically demanding aspects of these very challenging jobs.
Injury prevention and safety education programs offer valuable help in increasing workplace safety, too. A well-designed program will include workplace assessments to identify the specific risks present in the workplace, while safety training helps to increase awareness of these risks and how to avoid them.
Other things employers can do to lower risk of worker injuries include keeping safety equipment updated and making sure that all employees are adequately trained in its use. Additionally, ensuring that clear workplace safety policies and procedures are in place and strictly enforced is essential, as is regular inspection and maintenance of all workplace equipment.
While these measures certainly cannot prevent all worker injuries, they can work to create a culture of safety in your workplace that leads to significant improvements in injury rates. Given the high cost of workplace injuries – both human and financial – investing a bit of your time, energy, and money into workplace safety is sure to yield worthwhile returns.