Construction workers are no strangers to the fact that they work in dangerous environments. Their sector is one fraught with workplace injuries, perennially making the list of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration refers to the top four causes of construction worker fatalities as the Fatal Four. The Fatal Four includes falls, electrocutions, being struck by or against on object and being caught in or between objects. These incidents account for more than half of all injuries to construction workers, with falls representing a majority of that percentage.
The construction sector is booming in the United States. Since some parts of our economy have been steadily improving since everything came crashing down in 2008, consumers - and therefore businesses - have been more willing to spend money. With these trends comes the building of new apartments, homes, office buildings, etc. As the construction business picks up a rapid pace, and construction workers are finding more employment opportunities, it is in our best interest to look for ways to improve the workplace safety of construction workers.
With so much attention given to the most common causes of construction worker fatalities and injuries, we thought it would be a good time to explore the other forms of construction worker injuries...
Eye Injuries – The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says that on a given day, 2,000 workers will suffer an eye injury that will require some form of medical treatment. Construction workers are more likely than many other types of workers to suffer these injuries. Objects, dust or debris can easily enter a worker's eyes if they aren't wearing protection. Overexposure to the sun and to high winds can also be very damaging to a person's eyes, so it is vital that employers and supervisors go to great lengths to make sure their employees are safeguarded against these dangers.
Poisonous Plants - When clearing debris or tearing down old structures, construction workers also come into contact with many types of plant life, some of which can be very dangerous, especially for those who are particularly sensitive to poisonous plants. For this reason, it is best if workers are trained to identify these types of plants and are outfitted appropriately to minimize the exposure of their skin to poisonous plants. Poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac can cause serious allergic reactions if they make contact with the skin.
Heat Injuries – In 2014, over 2,600 workers suffered heat illness and 18 workers lost their lives due to excessive heat. Workers build a tolerance to the heat over the course of several weeks or months, but that tolerance can diminish quickly once a worker isn't exposed to high temperatures on a regular basis. Workers that have spent time away from the job are especially susceptible to heat stroke or other heat-related injury and illnesses when they return to work. Staying well-hydrated is always key, and employers and coworkers should be mindful of signs of an overheated worker.
Repetitive Stress Injuries - Repetitive stress injuries (also called cumulative trauma disorders or repetitive motion injuries) are a very common form of construction worker injury. These types of injuries are unique in the fact that their onset is slow and recovery can be very difficult. Workers need to know proper lifting techniques and to wear protective equipment that will help reduce the chances of developing repetitive stress injuries to the back, neck, wrist, ankles, etc. The tools that construction workers use, such as drills or jackhammers, can also lead to repetitive stress injuries, and employers should make sure that the equipment used by their workers is as safe as possible.
Lead Exposure - Workers in construction are often exposed to lead, whether through old buildings that have leaded paint or through the materials they work with. Lead poisoning can cause a person injury and illness that have long-lasting effects. Supervisors, on-site managers and construction employers should make monitoring and testing for a lead a top priority on any site, especially where old structures are concerned.
Explosion-related Injuries - Explosions and fires can lead to many different types of injury, including internal organ damage, severe burns and hearing loss, to name just a few. The impact from an explosion and the exposure to a fire can cause some of the most painful and costly of all injuries.
Respiratory Illness and Injury - The amount of debris and dust on construction sites also puts workers at risk for respiratory illness and injury. Common examples of these hazards include silica, asbestos and diesel engine exhaust particles. Wearing the right types of protective gear will help reduce the chances of exposure, though many airborne particles can still penetrate basic forms of protection. Adhering to occupational workplace standards when it comes to testing is a key to preventing respiratory illness and injury among employees.
Hearing Injuries - Not only can workers suffer hearing loss due to explosions or loud blasts that may occur on a construction site, they are also facing the opportunity for diminished hearing by repeated exposure to the loud noises that are an inherent part of the job. Hearing loss can have a very slow onset. It can also be long-lasting, if not permanent, and make a worker more susceptible to serious injury. Every year, thousands of construction workers suffer some degree of hearing loss due to the excessive noise on the job.
There are many ways in which construction workers need to be protected while they are hard at work on their job. While safety awareness campaigns are rightfully centered around falls and equipment-related accidents, they are by no means the only ways in which workers might be hurt on a construction site.