Being in construction is a dangerous line of work, requiring the use of power tools and heavy machinery. As most construction is done outside, workers are often exposed to environmental conditions, such as extreme heat, cold, or inclement weather, that can pose safety risks as well. Falling from height is another ever-present risk for construction workers as well.
Taken together, all these risk factors make environmental health and safety practices a crucial component of any construction company. Without adequate safety measures put in place, workers face a high likelihood of being injured, often fatally. Workplace accidents also slow down progress on construction projects, resulting in missed deadlines and cost overruns. In other words, workplace safety on construction sites should be the first thing on every contractor’s mind.
The Dangers Are Very Real
The construction industry may not be inherently unsafe, but it does contain several high-risk situations and scenarios that other types of work simply don’t encounter. Office staff, for example, rarely have to worry about the risk of physical injuries while designing PowerPoint presentations and updating spreadsheets while sitting in ergonomic office chairs. Construction workers, by comparison, are nearly always at risk for some accident or injury to occur while on the job.
Statistics bear this out, as well. While the construction industry only accounts for around 6 percent of the labor workforce in the United States, construction workers suffer 20 percent of fatal workplace injuries every year. To put that in perspective, construction accidents account for one out of every five workplace-related deaths in the US. Construction workers also suffer the third-highest work fatal injury rate at 10.2 per 100,000 workers. Only the agricultural and transportation industries have higher rates.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth More Than a Pound of Cure
As absolutely devastating as construction industry accidents can be, perhaps the most tragic aspect is how truly preventable they are. In many situations, the severity of injuries can be positively impacted by astonishing margins by using solid safety practices and protocols. Contractors that have robust workplace safety policies in place, provide adequate training to workers, and supply those workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from hazards and reduce injuries.
Proper and consistent use of PPE on construction work sites is perhaps the biggest determinator when it comes to whether a worker is injured or emerges relatively unscathed. Falls from height, for example, are the biggest cause of fatal deaths in the construction industry. In 2016 alone, 370 workers - more than one out of every three workers that died that year – lost their lives from falls. In nearly every case, workers were not wearing the proper PPE in the form of a harness, which would have stopped their fall.
The Economic Impact Can Be Ruinous
There is no question that the impact on construction workers that suffer injuries on the job is profound. Even if an injury isn’t fatal, there’s a chance that such an injury could result in long-lasting or even permanent disability for that worker and irrevocably change the trajectory of their lives and livelihood. Workplace accidents in the construction industry cost the United States $5 billion a year in related costs and also have a major economic impact on not just project development but also on adjacent industries.
Workplace accidents are disruptive in the extreme. Damage to equipment or materials halts progress on a project and necessitates extra resources to be spent on repairs or replacements, placing timelines and budgets in jeopardy. Insurance premiums can skyrocket as well, further ballooning costs. When construction is not completed, those that planned to occupy the building are displaced and unable to do business themselves, resulting in an ever-growing cascade of failures and interruptions.
The Solution? Better Training and Compliance
The impact that construction accidents have, both to individuals and the rest of the economy, is clear and unmistakable. Preventing construction accidents, therefore, becomes a primary requirement for success in the construction industry. Thankfully, the solution to high levels of workplace injury in the construction sector is just as clear: workplace safety initiatives that are designed specifically to protect workers in the construction industry from harm.
Ensuring that construction companies have robust and fully developed workplace safety policies and procedures in place saves lives and money. It’s an investment that pays off, as research shows that for every $1 invested in workplace safety, companies save between $4 to $6. Yet despite this, many construction companies stress productivity over safety; in fact, a 2017 study found that 58 percent of construction workers felt their employees chose productivity first and safety second.
Safety Will Always Remain The Most Important Thing On Construction Sites
New approaches to workplace safety in the construction industry are, slowly but surely, making construction sites less dangerous than they have been in the past. An increasing number of construction companies have gotten on board with designing effective safety protocols, providing their employees with the training and PPE they need to stay safe, and enforcing those protocols with an eye towards reducing overall risk levels.
Yet new dangers to construction workers emerge all the time. Construction workers were found to be up to five times more likely to contract COVID-19 than other workers during the coronavirus pandemic, and with additional variants of the virus this trend may continue. Companies that don’t take workplace safety as seriously as they should also negatively impact worker injury rates. All these variables, plus countless more, all play a role in continuing to make workplace safety key for the industry.