When something goes wrong on your job site, the consequences can be devastating. As costly and time-consuming as the aftermath of an accident can be, they are often caused by very small oversights and errors.
Usually, fixing these preventable circumstances is simple—that is, if you can catch them before it’s too late. Let’s take a look at the main factors that contribute to accidents, as well as how to identify and fix them.
4 Main Causes of Accidents in Construction
OSHA has collected data on the four main causes of accidents in the construction industry, and their findings point to more than half of all worker deaths resulting from this “Fatal Four.” While their role on each construction site can be different, depending on the conditions, equipment, and training that your team has, these four causes are deadly, damaging, and concerning no matter your team’s specialty.
While a fall may seem like a simple accident, OSHA has a fairly broad definition, including falls from heights as well as slips and trips. As the leading cause of construction fatalities falls happen for a variety of reasons, such as unprotected roof edges, unsafe ladder use, improper scaffold construction, and a lack of fall protection equipment. Slips and trips can happen because of misplaced items, spills, leaks, and misused equipment. OSHA recommends keeping workers on your site safe by requiring them to do the following:
- Use personal fall arrest equipment
- Install and maintain perimeter protection
- Cover and secure floor openings
- Label floor opening covers
- Use ladders and scaffolds safely and cautiously
Struck By Objects
A “struck-by,” according to OSHA, is an accident caused by the impact between a person and an object or piece of equipment. This includes machinery, falling materials, and any injury that a worker receives from accidental contact with an object. The damage from a struck-by can be even worse when proper safety equipment is lacking. PPE such as hard hats and safety glasses can reduce injuries resulting from a struck-by, while precautions such as high-visibility clothing and safety training can reduce the frequency of these accidents. Struck-by accidents are also closely related to caught-betweens, and both can be prevented through the same precautions.
Caught Between Objects
Being caught between objects is a daily risk on construction sites and compounds with every piece of heavy equipment or machinery present. OSHA defines a caught-between as an accident where a worker's body is caught, crushed, squeezed, compressed, or pinched between two or more objects. Similar to a struck-by, this can occur when a vehicle collides with someone and traps them between machinery or against a wall, but also includes injuries to limbs from being pulled into machinery, as well as falling materials. Your site can avoid these accidents by ensuring that trenches and excavations are always adequately protected by sloping, benching, or trench shield systems. Employees should be aware of the risks of moving equipment and operate machinery carefully. Jewelry, long hair, and loose clothing can also raise a worker’s risk of being caught in machinery, so consider your site’s guidelines on clothing and make any changes necessary.
Electrocution can occur from a number of sources, from new wiring to malfunctioning machinery, thunderstorms, or existing power lines. Whatever the source, an electrocution injury can result in nerve damage, muscular contractions, cardiac arrest, and even death. Often, these injuries are accompanied by burns. To avoid electrocution accidents, make sure that your team is aware of the existing wiring in the area, potential risks on site, and that anyone dealing directly with electricity has been through the required safety training. OSHA also recommends the following steps:
- Locate and identify utilities before starting work
- Look for overhead power lines when operating any equipment
- Identify and maintain a safe distance from power lines
- Operate portable electric tools only when they are grounded or double insulated
- Use ground-fault circuit interrupters for protection
- Be alert to electrical hazards when working with ladders, scaffolds, or other platforms
Related Article: Common Construction Accidents and How to Prevent Them
What Are the Other Reasons for Construction Accidents?
While the Fatal Four are responsible for the lion’s share of construction accidents, there are still several other factors to consider. These are the subtle things that go unnoticed until they cause huge issues. It’s always easier to identify and prevent them early on, rather than wait until they announce themselves.
Employers are responsible for providing fall protection and training for each employee. In addition, OSHA mandates that a competent person evaluate a harness that has been shock-tested or used in a fall.
From cleaning agents to insulation and heavy metals, the average construction worker is exposed to a dizzying array of toxins and fumes at work. While exposure to these substances can damage the health of workers in the long term, it can also cause devastating accidents on site. Exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes can cause slips and falls, burns, and other injuries.
Overexertion or Bodily Reactions
Overexertion typically brings to mind images of the heavy lifting in intense heat, or other physically demanding labor that quickly drains a worker’s energy. While this is definitely an example to be aware of, overexertion can also be more subtle, such as the gradual strain to joints and limbs from repetitive work such as sanding, drilling, digging, and using small tools like screwdrivers or knives. Bodily reactions can also occur during common tasks like carrying, pushing, and pulling materials, as well as twisting, crouching and kneeling to fit into tight spaces. Make sure that your employees have a shady place to rest with cool water available, and that they are able to divide heavy or demanding physical tasks between as many partners as needed to complete the work safely.
The root cause of many accidents is improper or incomplete training. While construction is a hazardous field that can never be completely risk-free, workers can and should be trained to recognize the potential dangers and solutions available on their site, including machinery, equipment, environmental risks, protective equipment, and oversight. Don’t hesitate to schedule a third-party safety audit if you aren’t 100% confident in your existing procedures and training. Any blind spot that you haven’t yet addressed is an accident waiting to happen.
Preventing Construction Accidents At Your Job Site
Safety harnesses are required by law because construction workers are continuously exposed to fall hazards and the risk of death. To meet OSHA standards, employers must provide safe workplaces, keep floors clean and dry, provide free personal protection equipment like safety harnesses, and train employees about workplace hazards.
On a construction site, people's lives are at risk, so it is critical to comply with OSHA fall protection requirements. For more information, get your free inspection preparation checklist today.
What is the most common cause of injury in construction?
According to OSHA, falls, slips and trips are the most common cause of injury. To prevent falls, invest in fall prevention training, as well as protective equipment, and make sure that your team makes proper use of scaffolding and ladders on site.
Why do accidents happen on-site?
In many cases, the answer is improper or incomplete training. Construction is a risky field, and making sure that your team knows how to assess and mitigate these risks is crucial. In the aftermath of an accident, be sure to conduct a thorough investigation into the exact causes, and put this information to use in the future with a corrective action plan.
What are the 4 major causes of fatalities in construction?
The four major causes of fatalities in construction are falls, workers being struck by machinery or debris, crushing or pinching as the result of being caught between or pulled into equipment, and electrocution. According to OSHA, these makeup nearly three out of every five construction fatalities.