Did you know that in the last 25 years, over 400,000 Americans died from work-related accidents and sickness, while 50 million suffered severe injuries?
These injuries have cost employees and their families billions of dollars in missed earnings and output. Many of these accidents could have been prevented had the workers been more aware of their surroundings or taken precautionary measures beforehand. In many cases workers are in an unsafe environment to begin with, and the onus then falls on the company.
It’s pretty common knowledge that construction sites tend to be inherently hazardous environments with a variety of potential risks, including, but not limited to:
- Slips and falls
- Being trapped between dangerous equipment
- Electrocution from shock or voltage
- Falling objects
- Fires/explosions caused by flammable gasses or combustible material
So what can we do?
In this article we’ll explore 13 common causes of utility worker injuries and fatalities as well as how you can identify risk factors and reduce safety risks for your employees.
1. Staying Too Long on a Ladder or Platform and Improper Use of Scaffolding
Scaffolding and ladders are commonly used pieces of equipment. However, they can also lead to serious injuries and even death if not used properly. Always make sure that your scaffolding has the proper markings and certification. So, avoid standing on the top step of the scaffolding and always make sure to use the right type of ladder for the job. These ladders have a larger surface area, which means you’re less likely to slip off of them.
Do not climb a ladder until you have first ensured that it is properly fastened down. Always remember, whether you’re ascending or descending:
- Face the ladder
- Maintain a midline position between the two rails
- Keep three points of contact at all times by using either two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand when on a ladder
- Keep your hold strong
- Be sure your shoes are in top form
- Remove any muck, water, snow, ice, or oil from your shoes
- Be careful of where you place your feet or hands on an extension ladder, since the locks may block your view of the ladder’s rungs
- The rule of thumb is that only one person should be on a ladder at a time. Don’t climb the ladder until the other person has stepped off
- If you need to tie or untie an extension ladder, have someone else hold the base of the ladder
- Use safety equipment when working at high levels (e.g., safety belt, fall restraint, etc.)
- When operating at or near heights of more than 3 meters, be sure to check the regulations in your area
- When climbing a ladder, make sure that no straps or other attachments might get in the way
If you’re relying on a lift platform, make sure to check that it’s not malfunctioning. Malfunctions could cause the platform to drop unexpectedly, posing a risk of serious injury or death.
If the job is taking longer than expected, do not hesitate to ask for assistance. Excessive time spent on the ladder or platform can be detrimental to your health and well-being.
2. Lack of Fall Protection/Equipment
If you’re working at a height above 6 feet, you should always wear fall protection. If heights are between 10 and 6 feet, you should also wear fall protection if the task is considered to be high risk or dangerous. This includes tasks such as climbing, painting, or using ladders.
When wearing a harness, always make sure that the equipment is properly adjusted to your body. This can prevent your harness from slipping down or getting caught if you happen to fall. If the area you’re working in is slippery, you should be wearing steel-toed shoes to ensure that you’re protected in the event of a fall.
3. Lack of Job-site Awareness
Be aware of your surroundings, as you’re highly unlikely to get trapped or injured by another person that way. This includes avoiding areas where live electricity is present and staying away from moving machinery. Always look around you and be aware of what’s happening in the immediate vicinity.
Malfunctioning equipment can cause sparks, fires, or electrocution. Stay away from any equipment that appears to be broken. If you’re using a tool that’s been dropped and it’s still sparking, eliminate the source of the spark by switching to non-sparking tools. Sparks can cause fires and explosions, especially when working around combustible materials.
4. Overcrowding and Not Having a Co-worker Check Your Task
If there’s too much congestion in the area where you’re working, you could risk being in the way of a moving object or equipment. If you are working at an elevated height or on top of a roof, you should always have a partner check that you’re safe and properly secured before you continue working.
Similarly, if you’re working with another person, always check in and make sure that they’re safe and prepared for the task at hand. If you notice that a co-worker is in an unsafe position, make sure to let them know.
5. Carelessness When Using Tools and Machinery
Always inspect a tool or piece of equipment before use to ensure that it’s not broken or malfunctioning. If there are loose wires or punctures, you should report the damage to your supervisor.
Ensure that you’re wearing the appropriate safety gear when handling hazardous tools or working with harmful chemicals. Always make sure that your respirator is functional and that you have goggles or a face shield if you’re dealing with hazardous substances. Staying safe and out of harm’s way starts with you.
6. Limited Visibility Due to Dust and Fumes
The best way to avoid breathing in hazardous fumes or dust is to avoid it in the first place. This can be achieved by wearing a respirator when working in a dusty environment. If you must work in a dusty environment without a respirator, be sure to change locations frequently to minimize the amount of dust that you’re exposed to.
If you’re working around toxic fumes, make sure to read the warning signs. If a fume or substance is flammable, keep a fire extinguisher nearby. If they contain chemicals, make sure to use a chemical-resistant glove. On the other hand, if you experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, or irritation, you should move to a different part of the site or seek medical immediate attention.
7. Exposure to Harmful Chemicals and Toxins
We sometimes forget how dangerous certain chemicals and toxins can be. This can be especially harmful if you are not wearing the proper protective gear. Always take the appropriate precautions when working with chemicals. If you’re not sure what precautions to take, ask your supervisor or look it up online. If you’re working with chemicals that contain toxins, you should always wear a respirator and eye protection.
8. Exposure to Extreme Temperatures
When working outside in the summer, be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and proper clothing. In contrast, when you’re working outside in the winter, you should wear warm clothing and gloves.
Keep an eye on the weather and the temperature. If there’s a possibility of a storm or heavy rainfall, secure loose items on the job site. When you see ice or snow on the ground, be sure to use salt or sand to make walking easier. When working in a hot environment, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. The same goes for cold environments, but you should avoid drinking large amounts of water to avoid swelling.
Most struck-by events occur when employees create brick barriers, labor near moving vehicles, or are injured by falling or flying debris. 247 workers died in transportation incidents in 2020, such as being struck by a vehicle, while 153 die every 15 seconds in equipment-related accidents. 75% of struck-by occurrences include a truck or crane, according to OSHA.
The Center for Construction Research and Training recommends that employees stay to planned courses, pay attention to spotter/flagger signals, and listen for sirens and horns. It is also suggested that machine operators examine their vehicles before use, use mirrors and backup alarms when driving, restrict visibility while backing up, and switch off their radios when parked.
10. Electrical Risks
Even when precautions are taken, working with electricity poses hazards. Workers increase their risk of electrocution by failing to take precautions while exposed to electricity on the job.
The following are the leading causes of electrical injuries, according to OSHA:
- Making contact with electricity wires
- Insufficient safeguards against ground faults
- There is no continuous route to the earth
- Devices are misused
- Misuse of adaptors, extension cords, and other flexible cables
OSHA advises implementing and strictly enforcing safe work practices to reduce the occurrence of electrical mishaps in the workplace. This includes doing basic things like turning off power to electrical devices before inspecting or repairing them, keeping electric tools in good operating condition, taking precautions around live power lines, and wearing safety gear.
From 2011 to 2018, 1,030 construction workers died in trenching incidents, most commonly due to a cave-in while working on subsurface utilities. Luckily, there are actions one may take to avoid such an incident in the workplace.
Before entering a trench, OSHA recommends a soil assessment to determine the best personal protection measures, such as sloping, benching, shoring, or shielding. The agency provided five vital suggestions for ensuring the safety of employees, including:
- Guaranteeing the availability of secure entry and exit
- Implementing cave-in-resistant features in trenches
- Checking if there are any potential atmospheric dangers in the area
- Keeping debris from piling up near the trench’s edge
- Avoiding going into a trench before having a trained professional check it out first
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls account for the majority of fatalities in the construction business. The BLS reports that in 2020, 368 construction workers lost their lives due to falls.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are four main dangers on construction sites that lead to falls and subsequent injuries:
- Unprotected sides, wall apertures, and floor holes
- Improper scaffold construction
- Rebars of steel, projecting without protection
- Ladder abuse
The OSHA advises that, before beginning work, building sites be surveyed for potential hazards to reduce the risk of injuries caused by falls. Workers must also be given the correct training and tools for operating safely at heights.
13. Health Issues
Construction work may cause serious respiratory difficulties. According to the BLS, 50 deaths occurred from toxic inhalation at work in 2020. When respiratory risks are present on a worksite, OSHA mandates employers to implement:
- Technical controls, such as an exhaust fan
- Work practice controls, such as wet-cutting, and
- Administrative controls, such as limiting worker exposure
OSHA mandates businesses to supply respirators if these approaches don’t give enough respiratory protection. You might also require a complete respirator program at your workplace.
Despite even the most comprehensive plan and attentive workers, accidents can still happen. When accidents do occur, you must move quickly to provide on site medical care.
Field1st can help you create a thorough injury care protocol in case of an accident. Our proactive approach to therapy and focus on getting patients back to work quickly help them heal fast and continue their usual tasks. We help you to minimize OSHA-reported accidents at your workplace with a combination of hazard assessment tools, safety defense training, and real-time data monitoring and reporting.
Call today for a free quote!