Safety Is a Bottom-line Issue
It’s estimated that employers in the U.S. pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Direct costs include workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and costs of legal services. In addition, employers incur significant indirect costs for such things as training replacement employees, accident investigations, lost productivity, implementation of corrective measures, and lower employee morale and absenteeism.
The Impact on Construction
The construction industry remains one of the most dangerous industries. Out of 4,251 worker fatalities in the private sector in 2014, 874 (one in five) were in construction.* The four leading causes of worker deaths were:
- Falls — 349 (39.9%)
- Electrocutions — 74 (8.5%)
- Struck by object — 73 (8.4%)
- Caught-in/between (pinched in a small space and crushed, often in trenches) — 12 (1.4%)
Prioritizing Safety on the Worksite
You need to ensure that employee safety on the worksite is a top priority. A comprehensive and workable safety program that educates all employees on safe worksite practices and procedures can save lives. Moreover, addressing safety and health issues can add value to your business through:
- Lower workers’ compensation insurance costs
- Reduced medical expenditures
- Fewer quality issues
- Increased productivity
- Reduced turnover
- Better morale
Here are some key areas your safety program should address.
Scaffolding safety should be a priority since numerous accidents are caused by unsecure, unsafe scaffolding. According to OSHA, scaffolding should be sound, rigid, and sufficient to carry its own weight plus four times the maximum intended load without settling or displacement. It must be erected on solid footing and unstable objects cannot be used to support scaffolds or planks. Scaffolds must be equipped with guardrails, midrails, and toe boards. Moreover, scaffolds cannot be erected, moved, dismantled, or altered except under the supervision of a competent person.
Falls are the number one cause of fatalities in construction. Make sure your safety program emphasizes the use of safety nets, guardrails, and fall arrest systems or body harnesses whenever employees work high above the ground. OSHA recommends using guardrail systems with toe boards and warning lines to protect workers near the edges of floors and roofs. In addition, you could consider using aerial lifts or elevated platforms to provide safer elevated working surfaces.
Trench collapses are a potentially deadly event for construction workers. OSHA recommends that protective systems be used in and around trenches and that these protective systems be designed by a registered engineer when trenches are 20-feet deep or greater. Protective systems can consist of trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins. In addition, you should ensure that ladders, stairways, ramps, and other means for exiting a trench require no more than 25 feet of lateral travel for employees in the trench. And always have a competent person inspect trenches before employees enter and after any event that may present a hazard, such as a rainstorm, vibration, or excessive surcharge load.
The law requires you to provide certain types of protective clothing and equipment to employees. Required personal protective equipment (PPE) may include:
- Eye protection
- Hard hats
- Hearing protection
- Respiratory protection
- Face shields
- Fall protection
- Ladder safety device belts
- Reflective work vests
If you are interested in instituting a formal safety program in your organization, OSHA has checklists and other helpful resources on its website (www.osha.gov).
* OSHA Statistics