Code professionals take great pride in the role they play shaping the communities in which we live, work and play. The choices we make — big or small — can have a huge impact on our safety and the safety of those around us. This is especially true in the construction industry, where thousands of men and women rely on each other every day to stay safe.

  • Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. The fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average in this category for all industries.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one out of five private industry fatalities occur in construction, and the health and productivity of more than seven million U.S. construction workers are impacted by non-fatal injuries on the jobsite.
  • According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, construction workers falling from various places on construction sites comprise the majority of construction fatalities at nearly 39 percent; nearly 10 percent of deaths occur from falling objects hit employees; over 8 percent occur when an employee is electrocuted; and more than 7 percent are due to a worker being caught in or compressed by objects or equipment.
  • The 2017 Travelers Risk Index reports that nearly half of the construction firms surveyed said employee safety is a top worry, and their concern about employee safety is among the highest of all 12 industries polled.

As safety remains a top industry priority, construction organizations and industry stakeholders are increasingly turning to situation awareness, improved practices and emerging technologies to help address this concern.

In recognition of Construction Safety Week, taking place May 7–11, 2018, the International Code Council has some key strategies to improve safety on the construction jobsite and elevate safety awareness to a new level.

Beware the Fatal Four

There are many ways worksite injuries and deaths can occur, but construction professionals should watch out for four particular scenarios — known as the Fatal Four — which are falling, being struck by an object, electrocution, and being caught in or between objects.

Construction companies should protect their employees by guarding floor holes; providing guardrails, toe boards, and fall protection equipment; erecting canopies or barricading construction areas; ensuring that scaffolds, aerial lifts and other machinery are at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines; providing and ensuring the use of hard hats; properly training all machine operators; and ensuring that competent safety monitors are within reach of the employees they are monitoring. Construction employees should inspect ladders and scaffolding; always stand on the floor of lifts; pay attention to maximum load rules for scaffolds and other equipment; and hoist tools after climbing a scaffold.

Practice good housekeeping

Promote and enforce construction safety practices. The saying, “A clean workplace is a safe workplace,” is not too far from the truth. A housekeeping issue is often a contributing cause of a job site accident, such as a trip and fall.

Plan ahead to make sure all the appropriate equipment, tools and safety gear is available and staged prior to starting the day. For example, proper planning and staging will ensure employees have the 8-foot ladder they need instead of trying to make do with a 6-foot ladder by standing on the top step.

Enforce and reinforce safety

Top management and foremen need to enforce the rules when they observe or become aware of an unsafe act or condition. At the same time, they need to reinforce positive behaviors. When you see the crew taking the time to work safely, you should take the time to recognize their effort.

Empower employees to be part of the safety program by encouraging them to report safety concerns to foremen, supervisors or upper management. If a hazard or concern is reported, management must act on it — not ignore it or blow it off — to keep your safety program functional. Take advantage of the time during new employee orientations, formal safety meetings or tool box talks to remind employees that they should say something if they see something. Many accidents can be avoided if someone just speaks up.

Training and onboarding

Construction employees work hard every day in environments that can often be dangerous. Data shows that it’s crucial for construction companies and their workers to implement regular safety training — and put that training to practice. Having less-experienced workers on-site can increase the likelihood of workplace accidents. Construction claim data show that 52 percent of workplace injuries occur in the first year of employment. Bolster your hiring practices by including a corporate onboarding process and a site-specific orientation with a job hazard analysis and safety equipment training.

Provide training for any equipment that will be used for both new and current employees. Don’t assume new employees who may have “years of experience” can operate equipment safely. You cannot be certain as to the level of training they received from a previous employer. It is never a bad idea for current employees to review procedures on how to operate equipment safely.

Everyone needs a plan

Analyze past jobsite incidents, as well as near misses, and review work policies, procedures, buildings, equipment and employee practices to identify risks before they result in an injury or a loss.

Focus on the risks identified during your risk evaluation — these may change depending on the project — and implement solutions to help minimize damage or injury. These can vary from developing engineering controls to creating administrative policies or instituting a new worker supervisory training program.

A safety plan is most effective when management is committed to its success and it is communicated and implemented. Audit your worksites to ensure plans are being followed. As your business environment changes, revise the safety program and make adjustments when needed.

Embrace new technology

In the last year, technology at the jobsite has moved beyond project management software to include wearables, sensors, robots and drones, which are all contributing to the overall safety culture. Eighty-two percent of contractors using wearables, for example, are reporting site safety improvements, according to the Dodge Data & Analytics “Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017” report.

Avoid complacency

Job sites present new safety challenges every day. Employees can become complacent when they perceive risk as part of the job. Both management and employees need to maintain constant vigilance of their surroundings. Learn from past mistakes and implement changes on future projects to reduce risk and send the message that any amount of danger is unacceptable. Use data to document and recognize risky behaviors and investigate near misses.

Prioritize safety with teamwork

Safety on a jobsite goes beyond reducing injuries. It’s about coming together to protect one another and ensure we get home safely every night. The key to effective job site safety is teamwork. It takes a team to complete a construction project and it takes a team to make sure everyone goes home the same way they arrived. You should take as much care to keep your fellow employee safe as you do to keep yourself safe.

As owners recognize that workers are experiencing risk on a daily basis, they need to systematically empower them to make safe choices every day. By prioritizing and investing in safety across the organization, companies can communicate the value they place on their workforce. Everyone — from the CEO to the workers on site – should participate in ongoing training and safety improvement. While owners of construction companies are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for their employees, it is everyone’s responsibility to follow rules, procedures and protocols to avoid accidents.

About Construction Safety Week

Now in its fifth year and sponsored by members of The Construction Industry Safety Initiative, Safety Week is dedicated to raising the awareness of the construction industry’s continuing commitment to eliminating worker injury, and to clearly communicate its dedication to a shared culture of care and concern. Every week must be Safety Week. Click here to learn more.