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The Most Common Causes of Construction Worker Injury

  • Construction sites are inherently dangerous places. The work is very physical. Construction workers are often required to use powerful and, at times, very large pieces of machinery. On some sites, workers are climbing to great heights or working on roadsides where traffic zips by only a few feet away. Sadly, due to the very nature of the job, construction workers face a serious risk of injuries on the job every day.

    According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Statistics (OSHA), of 4,693 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2016, 991 or 21.1 percent were in construction. That breaks down to one in five worker deaths last year in construction. The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls, followed by being by struck by an object, electrocution, and being caught in or between objects. These "Fatal Four" were responsible for more than half (63.7%) of the construction worker deaths in 2016. These “Fatal Four” are explored in greater detail below, along with the number of recorded fatalities during the measured period and OSHA-suggested remedies that can eliminate deaths and injuries in each category.

    • Falls – 384 out of 991 total construction deaths during calendar year 2016 (38.7%). Falls through wall openings or floor holes and from ladders, scaffolding, roofing, and unprotected edges are the most common falling hazards. Studies tell us that the proper use of guardrails, fall arrest systems, safety nets, covers, and restraint harnesses greatly reduce the risk of fall-related injuries and deaths.

    • Struck by an Object – 93 (9.4%). These occur when a worker is hit by a vehicle or flying, falling, swinging, or rolling objects. To decrease the chance of these accidents from occurring, workers should be trained on the importance of never placing themselves between moving and fixed objects, always wearing high-visibility clothes, and to be hyper-aware of suspended objects above them in areas where they work. 

    • Electrocutions - 82 (8.3%). Power lines, improper grounding, incorrect use of equipment, and faulty power cords are the most common hazards associated with construction site electrocutions. Workers should always use protective equipment when working with electrically powered tools. Employers also need to build a comprehensive list of all electrical hazards on the site and then post warning signs to alert workers of these specific electrical risks.

    • Caught-in/between – 72 (7.3%) This category includes construction workers killed when caught in or compressed by equipment or objects and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structures, equipment, or materials. Just like struck-by-accidents, caught-in/between hazards can be prevented through continued fortification of safety standards. This also includes workers learning to become more “aware” of their surroundings and the types of activity that are close to them on construction sites that are fluid with different sorts of activity. 

    Injuries and Deaths on a construction site can include the following:

    • Burns
    • Electrocution
    • Eye injury, including vision impairment or blindness
    • Broken bones
    • Knee and ankle injury
    • Neck, shoulder or back injury
    • Spinal cord injury, including paraplegia or quadriplegia
    • Illnesses caused by toxic chemicals
    • Head injury and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

    Top 10 Most Frequently Cited OSHA Standards Violated in Fiscal Year 2017 (October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2017)

    The following were the top 10 most frequently cited violations of safety standards by OSHA in fiscal year 2017: 

    1. Fall protection, construction
    2. Communication of hazards
    3. Scaffolding
    4. Respiratory protection
    5. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)
    6. Ladders, construction
    7. Powered industrial trucks
    8. Machinery and machine guarding
    9. Fall protection, inadequate training requirements
    10. Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment.