6 Common Hazards in the Construction Industry

There are many ways employees can be injured on a construction site. Due to the nature of the work and the changing conditions in construction, it is vital that employees understand the hazards that are present and how to mitigate these hazards.

common hazards in the construction industry

This post will review six common construction industry hazards and best practices to mitigate the hazards.

Note: This post does not attempt to identify all hazards or best practices associated with construction work activities.

Construction Industry Hazards and Injury Statistics

There are many possible hazards that can be present on a construction site. The hazards faced will depend on a multitude of factors such as the type of work being completed, weather, number of employees, etc. Construction workers are more likely to be injured or killed on the job compared to many other industries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were a total of 1,102 fatal injuries in the construction industry in 2019. These deaths represented 20.7% of all on-the-job deaths in 2019. These are the most recent figures, which were published in 2021.

construction industry hazards

This post will discuss unprotected trenches, fall hazards, dropped objects, moving equipment and objects, confined spaces, and electrical hazards.

These hazards and best practices to mitigate the hazards are listed below in no particular order.

Hazard #1 – Unprotected Trenches

Excavation work is a common sight in the construction industry. While all excavations pose unique hazards for the employees working in or around them, trenches are especially dangerous for construction workers unless the proper precautions are taken.

There are key differences between an excavation and a trench. OSHA defines an excavation as any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground. In general, the depth of a trench is greater than its width, but the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet (4.6 m).

unprotected trenches

An estimated 20 construction workers have died each year over the last several years due to trench work activities. The cause of death in trenching fatalities is usually cave-ins.  Hazardous atmospheres and falling objects can also be of concern when employees have to enter trenches.

Best Practices to Mitigate this Hazard

Trench collapses are primarily prevented through cave-in protection systems. When properly installed and used, these systems protect employees from cave-ins while working in trenches. It is vital to not run equipment near the trench or stack materials next to the trench, which can lead to additional hazards for employees working in or around the trench.

Daily inspections of trenches and the work area are also a vital safeguard in protecting workers. Employees involved in excavation activities need to be trained on the hazards and best practices of this work to ensure they understand how to prevent injuries.

Hazard #2 – Fall Hazards

There are many construction employees who work at heights. Due to the exposure to working at heights, such as using ladders, working on scaffolding, etc., many workers are injured or killed due to falling to a lower level. In 2020, there were 351 fatal falls to a lower level out of 1,008 construction fatalities (BLS data).

fall hazards

Falls are one of OSHA’s “Fatal Four Hazards” in the construction industry. It was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that falls to lower levels were responsible for 36.3% of all fatalities in the construction industry in 2019.

Best Practices to Mitigate this Hazard

It is vital that employees are protected from fall hazards while working at heights. Elimination of these hazards should be the first choice to protect workers. When elimination is not possible there are many other safeguards that can be implemented to protect employees when working at heights.

These work tasks need to have extensive planning prior to the work beginning. Planning allows for safer and more efficient execution of the work. Fall prevention methods should be implemented to protect workers, such as guardrail systems can protect employees more effectively than fall arrest systems.

All employees should be trained to recognize fall hazards and best practices on how to prevent falls. All employees should also be trained on how to properly use fall arrest equipment prior to using it.

Hazard #3 – Dropped Objects

As mentioned above, there are a lot of work tasks that occur at heights or above the ground on a construction site. Employees who work in construction can be injured due to falling objects. Falling object incidents can occur during lifting activities, scaffolding work, and general construction activities when multiple levels are being worked on at once.

dropped objects

OSHA estimates that 50,000 struck-by falling object incidents occur on construction sites each year.

Best Practices to Mitigate this Hazard

Planning is key to reducing the risk of injuries due to falling objects. Exposure to these incidents can be greatly reduced by eliminating foot traffic below higher work levels. Other safeguards include toe boards and guardrails, tool tethers, and safety nets or barricades to protect lower work levels. PPE such as hardhats can reduce the severity of injuries if an object strikes an employee.

Hazard #4 – Moving Equipment and Objects

There is a lot of moving equipment present on a construction site. This equipment includes cranes, trucks, dozers, excavators, forklifts, and more. There can be many employees and moving equipment packed into small work areas on a construction site. This combination leads to an increased risk of employees being injured by moving equipment.

Moving objects are also a significant hazard to employees. Materials are frequently moved with heavy equipment or lifted by cranes to accomplish construction work tasks.

The National Safety Council estimates that in 2020, 716 workers died and 196,140 workers were injured due to resulting from contact with moving equipment or objects. These numbers include all industries.

Struck-by incidents are one of OSHA’s “Fatal Four Hazards” in the construction industry. It was estimated that these incidents were responsible for 8.4% of all fatalities in the construction industry in 2019. There were 80 fatalities in the construction industry in 2019 due to employees being struck by vehicles and 90 fatalities due to being struck by moving equipment or objects.

Best Practices to Mitigate this Hazard

Exposure to struck-by hazards can be reduced by eliminating foot traffic in areas where moving equipment and objects are. Employees should not place themselves in the line of fire. Proper planning and communication can reduce the risk of these injuries.

moving equipment safety

Physical barricades can also be effective in protecting employees from coming into contact with moving equipment or objects. PPE is the last line of defense in protecting employees from these common hazards.

Hazard #5 – Confined Spaces

Confined space work is common in the construction industry. OSHA defines confined spaces as “work areas that (1) are large enough for an employee to enter, (2) have limited means of entry or exit, and (3) are not designed for continuous occupancy.”

Entering confined spaces poses many different types of hazards that can result in severe injuries or fatalities if the proper safety practices are not followed.

Some common but serious hazards that can be present in confined space work activities include engulfment hazards, hazardous atmospheres, explosive environments, and physical hazards.

confined spaces

In the most recent injury and fatality statistics published by the BLS, it was stated that 166 workers died during confined space work in the construction industry in 2017 and 148 workers died in 2018.

Best Practices to Mitigate this Hazard

All confined work activities need to be taken seriously by all parties involved. Proper preplanning is vital to identify hazards and safeguards to mitigate hazards. OSHA has regulations that must be followed when work is being done in a permit-required confined space.

OSHA defines a permit-required space as a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics:

(1) Contains or has a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;

(2) Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant;

(3) Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section; or

(4) Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.

The exact safety measures that need to be taken will vary greatly depending on the confined space environment and the work that is being performed. OSHA’s permit-required confined space for general industry requirements for this work can be viewed here. Construction-specific materials can be viewed here.

Hazard #6 – Electrical

There are many electrical hazards that construction workers can be exposed to. Installing electrical systems, maintaining equipment or systems, and energized electrical lines are a few of the many possible common electrical hazards on a construction site.

electrical hazards

Electrical hazards are one of OSHA’s “Fatal Four Hazards” in the construction industry. It was estimated that these incidents were responsible for 8.5% of all fatalities in the construction industry in 2019.

Best Practices to Mitigate this Hazard

There are many best practices to prevent electrical injuries, depending on the work being performed. Any electrical system should be completely de-energized prior to work being performed. Following proper lockout/tagout procedures is a key safeguard in protecting employees from electrical hazards.

Live electrical lines should be barricaded when possible to ensure moving equipment does not strike lines. All lines should be properly marked.

When excavating, all utilities in the work area need to be marked or “daylighted” by a soft digging method prior to work commencing.

All employees involved in electrical work need to be trained on the hazards of the work and best practices to follow to prevent injuries and property loss incidents. PPE is the last line of defense in protecting employees but it is also a vital safeguard for employees.

Summary

This post does not attempt to identify all possible hazards and best practices for construction work activities. The hazards listed in this post are common hazards that lead to frequent and severe injuries for construction workers when safety best practices are not followed. It is vital to not become complacent when completing work activities in the construction industry.

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