About 6.5 million construction workers work in more than 250,000 construction sites throughout the US daily. These workers are exposed to several different occupational health and safety hazards every day. The reason is that construction workers must work with dangerous equipment at an equally dangerous work site that requires them to navigate carefully.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports, the construction industry is significantly higher on the national average for fatal injury than any other industry. For this reason, OSHA has set some standards and protocols which are set in place to ensure the safety of construction workers and keep their work environment safe. However, working in such undesirable circumstances still results in accidents and health issues. For this reason, let us discuss the top health and safety risks construction workers face in detail.
1. Airborne and material exposure
Construction workers are exposed to toxic materials and respiratory hazards on a daily basis. Some of these toxic materials include:
Asbestos: Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was popularly used in construction material for its fire-resistant properties before its ban. When demolishing an old building, construction workers are at a risk of exposure to the airborne particles of asbestos, which upon ingestion can lead to several different diseases, which include asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, emphysema, gastrointestinal cancer, etc. Asbestos is called a silent killer because the symptoms of asbestos exposure are so subtle that it gets really hard to diagnose it unless the patient goes through elaborate testing. But once the symptoms show up, there isn’t much time before severe conditions such as pleural mesothelioma or lung cancer appear.
Lead: Lead is another toxic material commonly used in paint, tank linings, roofs, electrical conduits, cornices, etc. While lead has also been banned, it is still used in steel structures to prevent rust. Therefore, construction workers participating in renovation, demolition, or installation projects risk inhaling or digesting lead, which can cause irreversible system and organ damage.
Chromium: Construction workers can get exposed to hexavalent chromium through fumes, mists, or contaminated dust while working with paints, dyes, inks, stainless steel, plastics, primers, coatings, etc. Inhaling or digesting this system can cause several respiratory issues, skin irritation, kidney damage, teeth damage, eye irritation, perforated eardrums, and much more.
Cadmium: Construction workers can get exposed to cadmium if they breathe in mist, fumes, or contaminated dust while painting or welding. Any kind of exposure to cadmium can cause gastrointestinal, renal, cardiovascular, reproductive, and respiratory damage.
Other chemical products and silica are also present in different construction materials where the construction workers operate machinery and work all day long. Protective gear and training can help save the construction workers from these hazards to some degree.
OSHA states that falling results in the highest number of injuries and fatalities for construction workers every year. Such accidents happen due to failure or misuse of proper protective equipment, unstable work surfaces, human error, etc. While these falls can happen in various situations, most of these falls happen while the workers are on a ladder. Falling from a ladder causes about 36 fatalities and approximately 25,000 injuries to construction workers each year. A fall tends to happen when:
- A worker is using an improper ladder for a specific task
- Workers are not properly trained about how they can be safe on a ladder
- The ladder is damaged or missing some safety devices
- The ladder carries more load than it is intended for
- A metallic ladder is used near a power line or during electrical work
- Contaminants cause the ladder to slip, which can cause a loss of balance
Following manufacturer guidelines and OSHA standards can help prevent ladder falls and reduce the risk of injury. 3. Tripping or Slipping
A construction site is often a maze of debris, equipment, dirt, and much more. Navigating this maze can be highly dangerous even when construction workers are being cautious, and as a result, they may trip or slip.
As OSHA states, a slip is when someone loses their balance because of traction or friction between the surface and the foot. On the other hand, trips happen when some object hits the foot or the leg, which causes them to lose their balance. Several substances can cause a person to trip or slip while navigating a construction site. It includes mud, water, grease, dust, oil, powder, plastic, gravel, debris, slopped surface, hoses, cords, wires, cables, clutter, etc.
In most cases, slips and trips only result in minor injuries, including bruises, sprains, strains, lacerations, abrasions, fractures, and contusions. But if the working site is cleaned and all the factors posing risks are removed, the risk of slipping and tripping can be reduced.
4. Struck-by incidents
Such an accident happens when a construction worker is struck by a falling, flying, or moving object. In many cases, it can be a vehicle, resulting in immediate death or serious injuries. About 75% of the struck-by fatalities involve the movement of cranes or trucks.
Such an injury can happen when a worker is pinned between a wall and a vehicle, struck by some swinging backhoe, or crushed underneath an overturned construction vehicle like a crane. Apart from that, it can also include injuries from falling or flying debris when they work beneath scaffolds, cranes, or any place where overhead construction is going on.
In such a case, wearing protective gear, training, and following proper protocol can help reduce the risk of serious injuries or fatalities in such accidents.
5. Electrical incidents
Construction projects also pose the threat of electrocution and electric shocks. Such injuries happen when a worker works with high voltage electricity lines which can cause burns, electrocution, or falls when touched. Also, working with equipment that comes in contact with the direct power line can cause electrical incidents.
Such incidents can also happen if the electrical equipment used for construction is old and faulty. Short circuits, exposed wires, and lack of ground-fault protection can cause the current to channel through the worker’s body.
Construction workers work hard and risk their lives daily to provide vital services. Since they are subjected to many environmental factors and health and safety hazards, they are more likely to become victims of some injury or even death. For this reason, it is crucial to follow the safety protection guidelines set by OSHA to ensure that everyone on the construction site is safe.