No doubt working in construction comes with health risks. Some of those are obvious, such as risks associated with slips and falls, or working at heights. Others, including the particular dangers of shift work, and the stress of the job, might be less apparent at first glance.
Here is an overview of some of the top risks to construction work, and what you can do about it today. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it can give you some ideas for how to keep you and your team safe.
1. Slips Trips and Falls
Tripping and falling are the most common of accidents involving construction workers. Nearly one-third of injuries and 40% of fatalities in construction result from slips, trips, and falls. These don’t even include the numbers for working at height or around ladders, which account for an additional 11%. The long-term risks include disability and fatality. There are a few steps you can take to keep your worksite safe.
The first is to ensure everyone has the appropriate training. Investing in Working At Heights training courses for all employees ensures that everyone on the site knows the correct procedures for working on scaffolding, rooftops, and ledges. That means knowing the right equipment and the proper safety procedures.
Keep it Clean
Another simple fix is to ensure good housekeeping practices. Keep your site free of obstructions. Ensure that you leave enough space to operate and maneuver any equipment. Label or guard any holes in the site, and practice safe lifting techniques. Finally, be sure every member of your crew is wearing the right safety gear. This could mean googles, gloves, helmet, knee pads and coveralls, as well as steel-toed work boots. Wearing the proper protective clothing may not prevent you from falling, but it can help to keep you safe if the worst should happen.
2. Electrical Failure or Equipment Failure
Another good housekeeping practice is to check that all equipment is in full working order. Always do a thorough inspection of the material before it gets to the job site. Make sure everyone on the site knows how to operate the machinery, as well as how to troubleshoot if things go wrong. Most importantly, stay vigilant. A construction site is a busy place, with a lot of moving parts. Train your employees to be mindful of where they are at all times, and check vehicles before and after every shift, to note down any defects as they come up. Regular maintenance schedules are vital to keeping everything running smoothly.
Related to equipment-related accidents are electrical accidents. Electrical injuries happen less often on a construction site, but they are more often fatal. Avoid storing equipment and machinery under power lines. Ensure your crew is trained in proper grounding techniques to avoid overloading circuits.
3. Exposure to Toxins
Toxic exposure in construction can mean a variety of different things. From asbestos to toxic molds to rodent and bird droppings carrying parasites, there are plenty of toxic materials on the average construction site. Air quality is also a concern since power tools can kick up a lot of dust. Ensure everyone on the site has appropriate WHMIS training, so no toxic chemicals are left unattended. Wear protective gear at all times, including facial masks where necessary. Always pour toxic liquids carefully from the container to avoid any splashing and spurting.
Keep your team up to date on the OSHA regulations regarding silica and asbestos, especially, since these tend to be common on job sites. Ensure that everyone in the workplace is fully informed as to what toxins and chemicals they may be exposed to, and can take the proper precautions, including the right equipment, WHMIS training if necessary, and emergency procedures in case of an accident.
If you know there will likely be hazardous materials on site, make sure everyone knows the recommended exposure listed by OSHA, and monitor exposure accordingly.
4. Noise and Vibration
Close contact with powerful machinery and loud work environments can pose serious long-term health risks. Not only can working in a noisy environment cause hearing loss and damage, but vibration can cause HAV or Hand Arm Vibration, and WBV or Whole Body Vibration. These conditions can cause everything from tinnitus to chronic back pain or even pinched nerves. To avoid these, familiarize yourself with the guidelines for limiting exposure to vibrations, including adequate rest periods.
5. Stress and Shift Work
One of the most silent risks of working in a construction site is the shift work. Many construction workers work 12-hour shifts. Even with a one week on, one week off approach, shift work is hugely detrimental to health. It’s been proven to raise stress levels, puts a strain on your heart, and can lead to a shorter life span. Worse, it severely inhibits your concentration.
On a working construction site, where heavy machinery, noise, and stressful deadlines are a fact of every day, this can spell disaster. Sleepiness interferes with decision-making, impacts hand-eye coordination, and results in poor judgment. Worse, the longer you work those late night hours, the harder it is to get back to a regular sleep schedule. Shift work tends to cause long-term sleep disruptions and insomnia.
Sticking to eight to ten-hour shifts drastically lowers the risk of accidents related to delayed reactions, poor hand-eye coordination, and other complications resulting from lack of sleep.
No doubt that working construction comes with risks. From slips, trips, and falls, to the stress of long hours, there’s no shortage of both long-term and more acute dangers on the job. Keeping yourself and your team safe should be the first concern of every construction worker or supervisor. Proper training, the right safety equipment, and communication on the job site can help keep everyone safe and keep your team productive.