Workplace safety is essential, especially in the construction industry. Every year, thousands of employees are injured on the job. In 2019, 1,066 workers in construction and extraction occupations were fatally wounded, making it the sector’s highest figure since 2007. Recognizing and understanding common construction equipment safety hazards is the first step in reducing the casualties each year.
Here are eight dangers you’ll want to watch out for in the workplace.
1. Struck by Objects
The struck-by category includes a broad range of potentially hazardous scenarios. In essence, it covers injuries produced from forcible contact or impact from equipment or falling objects. These situations represent some of the most prevalent construction safety risks for workers. In 2017, these scenarios led to 503 fatal injuries across all industries, with approximately 15% occurring in the construction field.
The most common types of struck-by hazards in construction include:
- Struck-by falling object
- Struck-by flying object
- Struck-by rolling object
- Struck-by swinging object
These hazards may occur if the equipment is left unsecured or if employees are not visible to operators. Falling bricks that strike a worker’s head leading to a concussion and death describe a struck-by incident. When the impact alone causes the injury, it’s labeled as a struck-by incident. If the wounds occur from being crushed between objects, then the damage is considered a caught-in and -between event.
2. Caught-in and -Between
Caught-in and -between describes any situation where an employee is injured through compression or crushing. This would include cave-ins or scenarios where clothing is caught inside of a piece of equipment. This category is a part of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) fatal four because it is one of four situations that lead to the greatest number of occupational deaths each year.
The most common types of caught-in or -between hazards include:
- Machinery with unguarded moving parts: An example would be when clothing is caught in moving parts, causing a person to fall and become entangled and crushed by the machinery.
- Pinned between: An example would include workers who become pinned between the equipment and the ground or a wall. These scenarios can cause broken bones and asphyxiation — some are even fatal.
- Buried in or by: Examples include cave-ins and trenches with hazardous environments, leading to suffocation, drowning and compression.
Workers should receive adequate training to protect against these types of hazards. It’s also important that equipment remains guarded, adequately supported and secured. It’s your responsibility as an employee to stay vigilant and protect yourself on excavation sites. You should follow your gut instincts and err on the side of caution rather than risk anyone’s health.
Employees in the construction industry are at risk of getting burned while on the job, especially when working with power lines and hazardous chemicals. Workers can treat most minor burns without leaving the job site, but severe ones usually require medical attention and can be deadly. Equipment becomes overheated when not correctly maintained, which can lead to dangerous situations. This type of thermal contact burn occurs from touching extremely hot objects.
Other typical burn causes include:
- Chemical burns: Construction workers are also at risk of injury from contact with hazardous materials.
- Arc and flash burns: These burns are caused during welding.
- Electrical burns: These types of injuries can occur from contact with power lines.
Construction burns can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and internal damage, so it’s always best to consult a medical professional after this type of injury. Blistering, swelling, pain and peeling are common symptoms that occur from a burn, so workers must get treated before their injuries become infected.
OSHA also includes electrocution as part of its fatal four-category due to the high number of injuries and deaths caused by this hazard each year. Electrocutions can occur while handling power lines, but they can also happen when working inside a building or utilizing faulty equipment.
Contractors must use the equipment as described and follow all safety protocols to reduce the risk of electrocution. More specifically, you should only use indoor products inside and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for extension cords. Overloading these items or using them in ways other than recommended will increase a person’s risk of getting shocked.
Falls are incredibly prevalent in the workplace, and most could be avoided if proper precautions were taken. Many falls occur because the equipment is unsecured or employees are not wearing protective clothing. Misuse of ladders is especially common and accounts for thousands of injuries each year.
To protect yourself against falls, you should prioritize maintaining your safety gear and using the most effective products. You can’t put a price on safety. It might seem like a hassle, but fall protection gear can save your life and prevent serious injuries from occurring. The buddy system can also reduce falling hazards because you have someone else watching your back and able to lend a hand should the situation call for it.
6. Airborne Material Exposure
Airborne chemicals and materials are expected at a job site. These respiratory hazards can lead to workers developing severe — and sometimes fatal — health conditions. Asbestos is prevalent in older homes, and workers can encounter it when installing certain types of fire-resistant drywall, floor tiles and pipes. If inhaled without personal protection equipment (PPE), you can develop lung cancer, mesothelioma and gastrointestinal cancer.
Other airborne materials common in construction occupations include:
- Lead: Exposure can lead to irreversible organ damage.
- Cadmium: Exposure at high levels over a short period can lead to chills, fever and muscle pain and cause lung damage. Extended exposure at low levels can cause lung, bone and kidney disease.
- Chromium: Exposure can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation, kidney and liver damage, and lung cancer.
To protect against these airborne materials, employees must always use PPE. They should also undergo specialized training to know how to handle these substances safely.
7. Vibration-Related Injury
Heavy construction equipment vibrates during use. Depending on the terrain and service regularity, workers may experience whole-body vibration transmitted through the machine’s cab and frame. Regular exposure to intense vibration can cause lower back pain, internal organ damage and spine irritation.
To reduce the adverse side effects, workers should take regular breaks and limit the number of hours they operate each piece of equipment.
8. Excessive Noise
Construction machines and job sites can be extremely noisy. Prolonged exposure to excessive noise can lead to irreversible hearing loss. Research shows 51% of all construction workers experience hazardous noise, and 31% report not wearing hearing protection. Approximately 14% of all construction workers have hearing difficulty, and 25% of those exposed to noise in the workplace have a hearing impairment.
Hearing protection will reduce the damage caused by noise, but workers must use the protective gear correctly to maximize the benefits.
Always Prioritize Safety
These eight construction equipment safety hazards are a reminder of why safety should always be a priority. Many of the side effects of these dangers are irreversible and can be deadly. Wearing safety gear and personal protection can save your life and might be the only thing standing between you and a severe injury. Remember, you can report severe workplace violations and dangers to OSHA.