More than 80,000 workers annually in the U.S. suffer an injury on construction sites, according to the Construction Industry Safety Initiative, the inspiration of major U.S. contractors who every year devote a week in May to raising the awareness of workplace safety. About a fifth of the 4,000 or so U.S. workplace fatalities that occur every year are in the construction industry, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Falls account for hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries in U.S. workplaces, according to the U.S. Labor Department, and falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. There were 291 fatal falls out of 828 total construction-industry fatalities in 2013, OSHA reported.
In view of these and other construction accident facts, OSHA for the second consecutive year has worked with firms in the construction industry on holding the National Fall Safety Stand-Down.
Industry and the military who participate in the Stand-Down pause voluntarily to bring workers together and to focus on preventing falls, by far the leading violation that OSHA cites.
"The people that fall are not just numbers, they are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers," Assistant Labor Secretary Dr. David Michaels said on May 4, the kickoff date of last month's Stand-Down. "The cost of building our nation and economy cannot be the lives of its workforce, and that's what this Stand-Down is all about."
OSHA recommends the following fall-prevention steps:
- Wear and use personal fall arrest equipment.
- Install and maintain perimeter protection.
- Cover and secure floor openings, and label floor opening covers.
- Use ladders and scaffolds safely.
OSHA boils down prevention to three words: Plan, Provide and Train. This means plan ahead to do the job safely, provide the proper equipment, and train workers in how to use safety equipment. The agency even provided cards in May to remind workers of these crucial safety steps.
Federal regulations actually have a sub-part devoted to fall-prevention safety measures that the industry must take.
In addition to falls, there are three other major sources of construction injury. Workers can be struck by heavy moving construction equipment. They also can be caught in between surfaces such as the sides of trenches. Electrocutions also are in the top four causes of construction-related injury. Exposure to silica dust and to asbestos is risky business as well.
Many tasks are considered construction, including residential and commercial construction and bridge building and repair. Roadway paving and demolition also come to mind.
Despite efforts to keep construction sites safe, there are times when equipment is not in good working order or other safety measures are lax. People get hurt as a result. Injuries in the construction injury cost people their lives. When the victims survive, they are beset in too many instances with debilitating injury and the accompanying financial and emotional tolls.
When safety protections are inadequate and people are injured, the company may be held liable. Victims of construction accidents should talk to an attorney to determine whether they may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and other losses.