Unfortunately, construction job-site fatalities are still a threat. Every construction employee who steps onto a job-site, no matter how careful or skilled they are, is putting their life in danger.
But why is this the case? And what can we do to eliminate or mitigate the root causes of these fatalities?
No Job-Site Is Perfectly Safe
First, we need to understand that there’s no such thing as a perfectly safe job-site. Roughly 20 percent of workplace deaths in the United States happen in the construction industry – making it the second-most dangerous industry overall. No matter how much protective equipment you make available, no matter how many signs you post, and no matter how thorough you are in employee screening when making new hires, there’s always going to be a chance of injury or death because of the circumstances. On job-sites, people are often using complicated machinery and equipment, climbing to significant heights, and pushing themselves physically – so it’s only natural that injuries and fatalities occur at least occasionally.
Primary Causes of Death
But what can we do to reduce the fatality rate? What are the most common ways that job-site employees are killed?
Some of the most common causes of death on construction job-sites include:
- Falls. The most common cause of death on a job-site is falling from a great height. In many cases, a person dies after falling only 10 to 15 feet; falling down even a single story could be enough to end someone’s life. It’s good that many job-site workers are comfortable on ladders and are fine with working high up, but this excess of comfort sometimes leads to risky behavior that increases the risk of falling.
- Struck by hazards. Unfortunately, you’re also not safe on the ground. Another leading cause of job-site fatalities is people being struck by hazards, such as flying, falling, swinging, or rolling objects. If someone above you drops a tool, a piece of building material, or something even more innocuous, it could hit you in the head if you’re not prepared. Fortunately, helmets can prevent the majority of these incidents, but they don’t always provide perfect protection – and not all job-site workers wear them consistently.
- “Caught in” or “caught between” accidents. It’s also common for people to become caught in pieces of equipment or machinery, especially when those tools are being used irresponsibly. If you get caught in a moving machine, or if you end up pinned between a machine and a building, there may not be much hope to save you.
- Electrocution. Electrical work is some of the most dangerous work you can do on a job-site, since even a single mistake could lead to you being electrocuted. Workers must follow strict safety precautions, including turning off electricity during their work, but if these safety precautions are ignored or not followed fully, it can lead to devastating consequences.
The “True” Causes of Job-Site Fatalities
To make job-sites safer, we must take a closer look at the true, deeper causes of these job-site fatalities. In most cases, these are the culprits:
- Poor or nonexistent safety culture. If you want your workers to follow the rules you put in place for health and safety, you need to have a strong, unambiguous, safety-focused culture. Everyone on the job-site needs to make safety their top priority – and they need to take it seriously. If you haven’t prioritized safety in your core values, or if you’re inconsistent in enforcing this culture, it’s going to lead to an increased risk of injury.
- Lack of training or education. Fatalities are much more common for people who didn’t receive proper training or education for their responsibilities. If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment safely, you’re much more likely to use it irresponsibly.
- Lack of resources. Most job-site fatalities occur with employers who have 10 or fewer employees. There are many potential explanations for this; the most likely is that these companies don’t have as many resources as their larger counterparts. Accordingly, they may not have access to the equipment, training, or other assets necessary for creating a perfectly safe environment.
- Drug and alcohol use. Drug and alcohol use are rising, even in the context of the workplace. Job-site employees who drink alcohol or use drugs on the job are going to decrease safety for themselves and others, as their judgment may be impaired and they may suffer from worse coordination. It’s also unfortunately common for job-site workers to die on the site due to overdose.
- Improper use of safety equipment. It’s important to use your safety equipment responsibly. For example, your helmet isn’t going to protect you if it doesn’t fit right, or if you haven’t properly secured it. To overcome this potential safety risk, you need to make sure your employees are all trained and educated on the proper use of safety equipment.
- Perceived shortcuts. Workplace accidents also happen when job-site workers attempt to take shortcuts. Jumping from one ladder to another, for example, instead of climbing down, could result in a fall.
Better understanding the risk of job-site fatalities gives you the opportunity to intervene and improve the health and safety of your workplace. There’s no way to reduce the risk of a job-site fatality to zero, but with a simple combination of creating a better culture of safety, providing more protective equipment, and issuing more training and education, you can get quite close.