Construction is a risky business by almost any measure: It not only has one of the highest business failure rates of any industry, but construction work also sits atop the list of the most dangerous jobs. In 2019, the construction industry accounted for about 20% of all work-related fatalities in the U.S. Because this line of work has a greater chance of injury or death than others, contractors must take great care to make sure work zones are safe and workers are protected. 

In this article, we’ll explore the most common jobsite safety risks — and what contractors can do to improve safety for all parties involved. 

Common jobsite safety risks

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), almost 3 out of 100 full-time workers were injured on the job in 2019. In that same year, 1,061 construction-related fatalities were recorded. 

Based on a history of site inspections and recorded injuries, OSHA developed the Focus Four initiative to highlight the four most common jobsite hazards:

  1. Falls: Employees are often injured by falling through unmarked or unguarded holes in walking surfaces, and slips and trips can be the result of materials or tools improperly placed throughout the jobsite. 
  2. Caught-in or between: Injuries or fatalities could occur when loose clothing gets caught in belts or pulleys while heavy equipment and foundation walls present two immovable objects that can crush or suffocate an employee. 
  3. Struck-by: Building materials being unloaded overhead by cranes or booms frequently result in struck-by incidents. 
  4. Electrocution: Contact with overhead power lines and electrical power boxes presents risks that can lead to serious injury or death during the construction phase. 

It’s no surprise that the 10 most frequent OSHA violations mirror the Focus Four risks: Fall protection, ladders, and scaffolding accounted for 60% of the top violations in 2021. 

Risks to employees are a top priority for contractors, and threats to health and safety aren’t the only cause for concern. Unsafe practices on the site could lead to construction delays, legal fees to defend violations, and breach of contract if safety issues are non-compliant with contract terms. 

7 best practices to improve construction site safety 

Here are some of the best steps that contractors can take to maintain safety and compliance standards on construction sites. 

1. Make safety a priority

Safety starts at the top of the organization. Owners and company leaders need to prioritize safety within their company culture. When compliance and accident prevention are part of the daily messaging and work routine, everyone becomes involved in safer operations. 

Keep in mind that any safety program’s success will hinge on consistent messaging and constant interaction with employees. 

2. Create a comprehensive site safety plan

A comprehensive and actionable safety plan will help meet compliance standards and reduce risk on the jobsite. 

At a minimum, a quality safety plan will include the following: 

  • A description of each project: its scope and location plus general site conditions 
  • Description of identifiable hazards on the project jobsite
  • Contact information for key safety and emergency personnel
  • Procedure and protocol for handling common safety issues and emergencies 
  • A description of local, state, and federal safety regulations
  • Instructions for reporting safety incidents or hazards, including “near misses” 
  • Feedback instructions for the plan itself

Contractors should review and update their safety plans periodically.

3. Conduct regular jobsite safety training

Once a safety plan is in place, the key to avoiding mishaps revolves around training. It’s especially important to train new hires or those who don’t have construction site experience. By the same token, training should be a regular exercise for employees who are veteran construction workers since safety reinforcement will help the cause. 

4. Service and update equipment regularly

Old, worn equipment and tools can malfunction or break and cause injury. New, ergonomic tools and equipment have benefits that are two-fold.

Modern tools of the trade can help productivity and reduce body strain that can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. This investment can also help cut down on struck-by and caught-in incidents, two common hazards on the jobsite. 

5. Keep open lines of communication

After a jobsite is evaluated for potential hazards, distribute information throughout the organization so that all stakeholders and employees are aware of any adverse conditions. Modern technology, including smart devices and construction management software, makes real-time communication simple between the office and the jobsite. 

6. Document & track safety incidents

As the saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Managing and reducing safety requires contractors to keep a careful record of injuries as well as near misses

Modern construction software platforms include tools to record and report on safety incidents. Regular safety reports help managers identify the root cause of common hazards and reduce future impact. Proper and detailed documentation could make a difference in a legal case in which responsibility for a mishap must be determined. 

7. Work with your insurance provider

Contractors often carry a variety of insurance policies to protect their company from financial loss in the event of a mistake or accident on the jobsite. Your insurance company has a vested interest in reducing claims, and they can often provide tools and recommendations to reduce jobsite risk – and premium costs. 

Keeping your worksite crews healthy and safe is important in and of itself. But safety is also an essential business practice for construction companies.

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