Construction site safety

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Construction is the most dangerous land-based work sector in Europe, after the fishing industry. In the European Union, the fatal accident rate is nearly 13 workers per 100,000 as against 5 per 100,000 for the all sector average.[1]

In the United States, there were 1,225 fatal occupational injuries in the construction sector in 2001 with an incidence rate of 13.3 per 100,000 employed workers.[2] For the same year the construction industry experienced 481,400 nonfatal injuries and illnesses at a rate of 7.9 per 100 full-time workers in the industry.[3] Construction has about 6% of U.S. workers, but 20% of the fatalities - the largest number of fatalities reported for any industry sector.[4] Hong Kong is also notorious for its high construction accidents rates. Although the accidents rate dropped from 350 per 1000 workers in mid-1980 to 60 per 1000 workers in 2007, it still accounted for nearly 20% of all the industrial accidents in Hong Kong.[5] In the United Kingdom, the construction industry is responsible for 31% of fatalities at work and 10% of major workplace injuries despite accounting for a mere 5% of employees.[6] What is more, most deaths on construction sites are actually caused by non construction activities such as electrical faults.[7] In Australia, the construction industry experienced 5.6 fatalities per 100,000 employees which is more than twice the average for all the industries in 2007–2008.[8]

The problem is not that the hazards and risks are unknown, it is that they are very difficult to control in a constantly changing work environment.

Furthermore, the costs of construction is very high. In Ghana, for example, although there were 10% of the reported accidents claims were settled, the total amount was $150,000 which was quite expensive when we try to compare the income of the country.[8]

Construction fatality rates[edit]

Country/Region Fatalities (per Annum per 100,000 Workers) Year Notes
EU 13.3 1996 [9]
France 112.1 1996 [9]
Germany 115.4 1996 [9]
Ireland 18.0 1996 [9]
Italy 114.4 1996 [9]
United Kingdom 2 2013/14 [10]
United States of America 10.8 2006 [11]

Nature of hazards[edit]

Hazards to construction workers[edit]

Various workplace safety signs commonly used at construction sites and industrial work environments.

The leading safety hazards on site are falls from height, motor vehicle crashes, excavation accidents, electrocution, machines, and being struck by falling objects.[8] Some of the main health hazards on site are asbestos, solvents, noise, and manual handling activities.[12]

Falls from heights are the leading cause of injury in the construction industry. In the OSHA Handbook (29 CFR), fall protection is needed in areas and activities that include, but are not limited to: ramps, runways, and other walkways; excavations; hoist areas; holes; formwork; leading edge work; unprotected sides and edges; overhand bricklaying and related work; roofing; precast erection; wall openings; residential construction; and other walking/working surfaces.

The height limit where fall protection is required is not defined. It used to be 2 metres in the previous issue of Work at Height Regulations. It is any height that may result in injury from a fall. Protection is also required when the employee is at risk to falling onto dangerous equipment.

Fall protection can be provided by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems, and warning line systems.

All employees should be trained to understand the proper way to use these systems and to identify hazards. The employee or employer will be responsible for providing fall protection systems and to ensure the use of these systems.

Employees on construction sites also need to be aware of dangers on the ground. The hazards of cables running across roadways were often seen, until cable ramp equipment was invented to protect hoses and other equipment which had to be laid out.[13][14]

Motor Vehicle Crashes are another major safety hazard on construction sites. It is important to be safety cautious while operation motor vehicles or Equipment on the site. Motor vehicles shall have a service brake system, emergency brake system, and a parking brake system. All vehicles must be equipped with an audible warning system if the operator chooses to use it. Vehicles must have windows and doors, power windshield wipers, and have a clear view of site from the rear window.

Equipment on the job site must have light and reflectors if intended for night use. The glass in the cab of the equipment must be safety glass. The equipment must be used for their intended task at all times on the job site.

Temporary fencing on a building site in Sydney, Australia.

Before any excavation has taken place, the contractor is responsible for notification of all applicable companies that excavation work is being performed. Location of utilities is a must before breaking ground. During excavation, the contractor is responsible for providing a safe work environment for employees and pedestrians. The contractor shall comply with all standards set forth in 29 CFR Subpart P.

Access and Egress is also an important part of excavation safety. Ramps used by equipment must be designed by a competent person, qualified in structural design.

No person is allowed to cross underneath or stand underneath any loading or digging equipment. Employees are to remain at a safe distance from all equipment while it is operational.

Inspect the equipment before every use.

Road Construction Safety[edit]

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created over 12,600 road construction projects, over 10,000 of which are currently in progress.[15] Workers in highway work zones are exposed to a variety of hazards and face risk of injury and death from construction equipment as well as passing motor vehicles. Workers on foot are exposed to passing traffic, often at high speeds, while workers who operate construction vehicles are at risk of injury due to overturn, collision, or being caught in running equipment. Regardless of the task assigned, all construction workers work in conditions of poor lighting, poor visibility, inclement weather, congested work areas, high volume traffic and speeds.[16] In 2011, there were a total of 119 fatal occupation fatalities in road construction sites. In 2010 there were 37,476 injuries in work zones, about 20,000 of those injuries are construction workers.[17]

Because they are so complicated, slight lapses in safety or awareness that might lead to mild accidents in other construction sites can be deadly for roadway construction workers. Causes of road worksite injuries include being struck by objects, trucks or mobile equipment (35%), falls or slips (20%), overexertion (15%), transportation incidents (12%), and exposure to harmful substances or environments (5%). Causes of fatalities include getting hit by trucks (58%), mobile machinery (22%), and automobiles (13%).[18]

Media Safety Campaigns Road construction safety remains a priority among workers. Several states have implemented campaigns addressing construction zone dangers and encouraging motorists to use caution when driving through work zones.[19][20] National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week is held yearly. The national event began in 1999 and has gained popularity and media attention each year since. The purpose of the event is to draw national attention to motorist and worker safety issues in work zones. This year National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week will be held in Washington, D.C. on April 15–19.[21]

Efforts to improve safety[edit]

Although construction is one of the worst industries in Europe in terms of safety, there have been, and are, various groups working towards improving construction conditions and safety. Construction conditions have improved ten-fold from 15 years ago, and as technology increases, so does the safety and working conditions of construction jobs.

In the United States, efforts have been made in the first decade of the 21st century to improve safety for both road workers and drivers in construction zone. In 2004, Title 23 Part 630 Subpart J of the Code of Federal Regulations was updated by congress to include new regulations that direct state agencies to systematically create and adopt comprehensive pans to address safety in road construction zones that receive federal funding.[22]

Though the regulations are mostly very broad in defining how states must create and implement plans, the regulations do set out specific requirements on how state agencies must plan for “significant project”: “Significant projects are those anticipated to cause sustained work zone impacts greater than what is considered tolerable based on state policy and/or engineering judgment.” [22] For these “significant projects”, state agencies are required to create Traffic Management Plans (TMP) and Temporary Traffic Control (TTC) plans to address ongoing safety concerns. State agencies must also create Public Information (PI) strategies to educate the public about potential safety and traffic disruption concerns.[23]

Personal protective equipment[edit]

Hard hats and steel-toe boots are perhaps the most common personal protective equipment worn by construction workers around the world. A risk assessment may deem that other protective equipment is appropriate, such as gloves, goggles, or high-visibility clothing.[24]

Hazards to non-workers[edit]

Many construction sites cannot completely exclude non-workers. Road construction sites must often allow traffic to pass through. This places non-workers at some degree of risk.

This sign and advisory plate penetrated the wind-shield and roof of a car in a side-impact test crash. A safer sign would have stiffer uprights, no advisory plate and the flashing light would be moved to the point of the sign to spread the impact force.

Road construction sites are blocked-off and traffic is redirected. The sites and vehicles are protected by signs and barricades. However, sometimes even these signs and barricades can be a hazard to vehicle traffic. For example, improperly designed barricades can cause cars that strike them to roll over or even be thrown into the air. Even a simple safety sign can penetrate the wind-shield or roof of a car if hit from certain angles. The majority of death in construction are caused by hazards relating to construction activity. However, many deaths are also caused by non construction activities, such as electrical hazards. A notable example of this occurred when Andy Roberts, a father of four, was killed while changing a light bulb at a construction site when he came into contact with a loose bare wire that was carrying two thousand volts of electricity and died. (August 1988 New York (U.S.A)). Events like this motivated the passing of further safety laws relating to non construction activities such as electrical work laws.

Applicable laws[edit]

Under European Union Law, there are European Union Directives in place to protect workers, notably Directive 89/391 (the Framework Directive) and Directive 92/57 (the Temporary and Mobile Sites Directive). This legislation is transposed into the Member States and places requirements on employers (and others) to assess and protect workers health and safety.

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets and enforces standards concerning workplace safety and health.

In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for standards enforcement, while in Northern Ireland, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is responsible. In Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is responsible for standards and enforcement.

The French system of Worker Compensation for accidents was established in 1898 for workers in private sector. The employers are liable for accidents at work. Therefore, they have to pay the monetary compensation to the victims of accidents occur during work hours on sites and accidents occur during commuting between home and work.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Health and safety at work statistics". eurostat. European Commission. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  2. ^ BLS. 2002 Census of fatal occupational injuries. Fatal injuries. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Safety and Health Statistics Program [1]
  3. ^ BLS. Survey of occupational injuries and illnesses. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Safety and Health Statistics Program. 2002. Nonfatal (OSHA recordable) injuries and illnesses. Industry incidence rates and counts. [2]
  4. ^ "NIOSH Construction". United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  5. ^ "Workers’ Compensation for Non-fatal Construction Accidents: Review of Hong Kong Court Cases, by Rita Yi Man Li and Sun Wah Poon". Asian Social Science. Retrieved 2011-08-28. 
  6. ^ "HSE - Construction Industry Statistics". Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved 2015-04-17. 
  7. ^ Protec, International. "Protection". Protec. Protec International Ltd. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Construction Safety, by Rita Yi Man Li and Sun Wah Poon". Springer.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Springer" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  9. ^ a b c d e review: Construction Related Fatality Statistics
  10. ^ (PDF)  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Most Dangerous Jobs
  12. ^ Swanson, Naomi; Tisdale-Pardi, Julie; MacDonald, Leslie; Tiesman, Hope M. (13 May 2013). "Women’s Health at Work". National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  13. ^ "Electrical" (PDF). OSHA.Gov. OSHA. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Specifications of Cable Ramp Systems". Brahman Systems. Retrieved 17 May 2013.  External link in |work= (help)
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  19. ^ http://www.ncdot.govt/resources/news/news_detail.asp?ID=850
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^
  24. ^ Dalby, Joseph (1998-02-01). EU Law for the Construction Industry. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-632-04067-X. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]