The Current State of Construction Safety
It's no secret that those working on construction sites face certain risks that would not pertain to 9-5 office jobs. In fact, year after year, construction has consistently ranked as the industry with the most workplace associated fatalities in the United States - not exactly the type of list anyone wants to top.
Heavy machinery, complex tools, and dangerous heights are just a few hazards that construction workers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and it's up to project authorities to make sure that the jobsite is as safe as possible. The good news is that recent innovations in tools and gear have helped make construction sites much safer, and there are far fewer workplace fatalities than ever before. This is also due in part to significant increases in safety regulations, and the creation of new roles that focus entirely on workplace safety. Although there is still a long way to go before reaching the goal of zero jobsite deaths per year, there is certainly a driving force to make construction a safer industry.
Safety Gear For the Modern World
Fall prevention is one of the most pertinent construction safety management concerns, as falls account for 42% of jobsite fatalities, so it makes sense that gear and equipment companies are constantly finding new ways to ensure the security of individuals working from risky heights. Systems for fall protection are set into place on jobsites by employing a combination of construction safety equipment, like lifeline cables, reinforced scaffolding, and as of late, smart gadgets that send out alerts if a fall occurs.
Other common incidents are "struck-by" accidents, which occur when a worker is hit or struck by falling materials or moving vehicles. In some instances, workers can protect themselves by wearing proper construction safety gear: hard hats, safety glasses, face masks, high visibility garments, and other PPE. While workers are required to wear standard protective gear on construction sites, slowing down the number of injuries that occur every year, PPE is now supplemented with high-tech industrial wearables that further decrease worker injury rates. Once these new tools, such as smart glasses and helmets, make their way into the mainstream, we will likely see a huge drop in construction-related injuries and deaths. As the gear gets smarter, jobsites will become safer, and eventually we can prevent workplace injury altogether.
It wasn't even until recent times that proper construction safety gear was present on all American jobsites. Even the ubiquitous hard hat has only been around for 100 years! However, in this age in which every person and their dog owns more than one smart gadget, all of the safety gear we're now used to seeing on jobsites are getting modern makeovers. In the grand scheme of things, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a relatively new invention, and despite the construction industry's lack of urgency in adopting new technology, safety equipment such as harnesses and respiratory devices are frequently updated with improvements. These can range from simply producing gear in more sizes to fit different body types to adding sensors that wirelessly submit information to jobsite authorities, all of which yield life-saving results.
The dropping rate of American construction site deaths over the last half a century also has a lot to do with the formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, which was founded under the Nixon administration in 1970. With new standards set in place, private sector employers were able to create widespread, uniform safety practices across the nation. For the construction industry, this meant the implementation of new hazard-prevention systems, and the creation of more safety-specific jobs. Construction site managers, safety managers, and other site leaders are responsible for educating workers on safety practices, enforcing rules and regulations, and regularly inspecting the site and equipment to report any risks or hazards.
There are a number of workflows that revolve around safety on construction sites, including Jobsite Hazard Analyses (JHAs) and Incident Reports. One of the most effective ways for safety personnel, superintendents, and foremen to educate crews about incident prevention are educational safety meetings most often called toolbox talks. Toolbox talks can be held weekly, bi-weekly, or even daily, depending on the project and company guidelines, and cover the broad spectrum of workplace safety. They can cover general safety rules that apply on any construction site, or they can be more project or role-specific.
These meetings can't guarantee the prevention of accidents, but they ensure that workers are as educated as possible on the safety measures that can be taken to avoid incidences. In addition to the keeping workers safe, which is of course the priority, documentation that a toolbox talk has occurred does also help a company in case of a legal dispute, which is why attendance signatures are collected during meetings. By including toolbox talks in the regular schedule, field workers will consistently receive proper training to gain greater overall safety knowledge and awareness, which is a huge factor in incident prevention.
Building a Safer Future
As we continue to improve construction safety management through technological advances in equipment, and proper leadership roles, we will hopefully see a decline in the number of workplace accidents, and, just maybe, avoid incidents altogether. Effective PPE and tools with smart safety mechanisms directly protect workers from existing hazards, but jobsite leaders can get ahead of these risks and take preventative measures to eliminate danger before workers are in harms way. Currently, it is up to safety managers, superintendents, and foremen to research safety topics to cover with their crews, and it is often difficult or frustrating to find content on the exact subjects they are looking for.
In the near future, clunky methods for setting accident prevention systems into place will become outdated as the industry warms up to the digital age and construction management software expands its horizons beyond administrative duties. The streamlining of these processes will not only help reduce the amount of time spent searching for safety information, but most importantly will contribute to lowering the construction-related fatality rate to zero. And we can all agree that's a goal worth working for.