For much of American history, workplaces have been dangerous and unregulated environments rich in potential for dangerous accidents. However, by the late 1960s, workplace safety became an issue too big to ignore. In fact, 14,000 workers were dying every year in workplace accidents. Thousands more suffered from occupational illness and disabling injuries.
A public outcry for a “safety bill of rights” for workers led to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The act ensures the health and safety of working people in America. But 50 years later, not every employer operates in the spirit of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Too often, we read tragic headlines about deadly and preventable workplace accidents. The death of New York City construction worker Mario Salas, who was killed while repairing a reportedly unsafe facade, is just one recent example.
Accidents like these can happen when negligent employers try to cut corners to get work done faster and cheaper. The Harvard Business Review found that workplace injuries are more common when companies are facing financial pressure. Managers under pressure are more likely to make employees work longer hours and give workers bigger workloads. The study also notes that they also cut down on safety-related expenditures.
For construction workers who do risky but essential work, any compromises to worksite safety can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one in every ten construction workers is hurt on the job each year. Of the 5,333 workers who died on the job in 2019, 20 percent were construction workers, OSHA reports.
Knowing what makes a construction site safe or unsafe can be a lifesaver for construction workers. Read on to learn about the tell-tale signs of unsafe construction worksites and how you can avoid injuries while on the job.
What Are Employers Required to Do to Make Workplaces Safe?
To protect workers from injuries, all employers are required by OSHA law to keep their workplaces safe. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some of these responsibilities include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Providing a workplace free from hazards
- Examining workplace conditions to ensure they meet OSHA standards
- Providing the proper tools and safety equipment to employees and regularly maintaining said equipment
- Clearly communicating potential hazards to employees through posters, labels, or signage.
- Providing employee safety training in a language and vocabulary that all workers can understand
- Maintaining records of all employee injuries that occurred in the workplace and work-related illnesses
- Informing employees of their rights as workers by placing a poster listing these rights in a prominent location within the workplace
For some industries like construction, there are additional hazards to consider. For example, employers that handle hazardous chemicals in the workplace are required to have a hazard communication program and train employees on said hazards.
What Are the Most Common Workplace Hazards on Construction Sites?
Unfortunately, not all employers follow the guidelines established by OSHA. Some unscrupulous companies may put their workers’ lives at risk by failing to invest in or maintain the proper safety equipment.
Others may try to save time and money by skipping important employee safety training. The Construction Industry Institute shows that for every 1 percent of the construction project budget that is invested in training, worker productivity increases by 11 percent. Despite these benefits, some companies continue to offer insufficient safety training.
Reluctance to embrace training procedures can create a workplace full of hazards and accidents waiting to happen. This is especially true for construction sites that are already inherently dangerous. Some of the most common hazards on construction sites, according to OSHA’s constructive worker safety series, are:
Working From Heights Without Sufficient Protection
Many construction jobs require workers to work from heights on ladders or scaffolding. Employers are supposed to take preventive measures to protect workers from falls like installing safety nets and guard rails. They are also supposed to make sure scaffolds and ladders are properly secured and maintained. When employers fail to do this, workers are at risk of falling from great heights.
Falls are the top cause of fatal injuries on the job for construction workers. Workers may be at risk of falling even if they are not working from heights. Stairways and walkways that are littered with debris and dangerous objects are another major contributor to slips, trips, and falls on construction sites.
Many construction jobs require excavation and trenching to install pipelines, conduits, and cables. Employers are responsible for inspecting trenches for signs of collapse risk. They are also tasked with fully securing trenches and providing exits (such as ladders or stairways) for workers to exit the trench. However, not all employers follow these protocols.
Unprotected trenches can be extremely dangerous. In fact, it is not uncommon for trenches to collapse while workers are inside them. This is why trenching is widely considered to be one of the most hazardous construction jobs.
Exposure to Asbestos
Although the use of asbestos is limited in the United States, it is technically not banned. When demolishing older buildings, construction workers can be exposed to the deadly mineral. Because asbestos was a common building material in past decades, workers still come across asbestos on a daily basis without knowing it.
Without proper protective equipment, construction workers are at risk of breathing in the deadly asbestos fibers. These asbestos fibers can become embedded in the lungs and eventually cause mesothelioma—a fatal and incurable form of lung cancer. Mesothelioma often develops years or even decades after the worker was initially exposed to asbestos.
Lack of Personal Protective Equipment
Protective equipment is not only important for protecting construction workers from asbestos, but also from toxic dust in the air. Exposure to this dust can lead to asthma, lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchitis. Workers should wear masks, safety glasses, and face shields when exposed to these chemicals.
Noise is another safety hazard on construction sites. The loud noises of power tools and equipment can cause hearing loss if workers are not provided equipment like soundproof headphones. Employers can be fined for failing to provide workers with the proper protective equipment needed for the job.
Exposure to Electricity
Electricity is a huge workplace hazard for construction workers. When workers work from heights, they may be at risk of making contact with live powerlines. Excavation jobs also bring their own electrocution risks. Excavation workers may come into contact with underground powerlines.
Workers can also be put at risk of electrocution when working with poorly maintained tools or equipment that have frayed or damaged wires. Employers are responsible for conducting the necessary maintenance to keep all tools and equipment in good working order. They are also responsible for providing the proper equipment to prevent electrocution. This includes safety glasses, insulated gloves, and grounded or double insulated electrical tools.
Lack of Protection From Falling and Moving Objects
Falling objects and debris are a serious danger on construction sites. Even small objects can injure or even kill someone if dropped from great heights. Employers must provide tethering to prevent tools and equipment from falling. As one might expect, employers are also tasked with implementing mandatory safety training. This training is designed to emphasize the importance of properly securing objects on the job.
Another common hazard for construction workers is moving objects like cranes, forklifts, and other equipment with moving parts. If not properly executed, a worker can be pinned between or crushed by heavy machinery. This can lead to amputations and even death. Employers are responsible for providing proper safety training to reduce the risk of crush injuries. They must also ensure that all workers are given access to adequate protective equipment such as high-visibility vests.
Many of these hazards contribute to the leading causes of death on construction sites. These hazards are often referred to as the “fatal four” and include:
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Struck-by moving objects
- Caught-in/between objects
Remember, your employer is legally obligated to provide a safe working environment to all employees. If you see any of these work hazards on your construction site, speak to your supervisor immediately.
If your employer continues to ignore the dangerous condition or hazards on your construction site, you can file an anonymous OSHA complaint or call 1-800-321-OSHA and request a workplace inspection.
Have You Been Injured at Work? We Can Help
Shulman & Hill has helped many New Yorkers who were injured on the job receive compensation for their losses. Our attorneys have a proven track record of success in recovering compensation for construction workers injured at work.
In fact, the attorneys at Shulman & Hill successfully obtained a $485,000 settlement for a 61-year-old construction worker who suffered a partial amputation of two fingers while cutting wood with a circular saw. They also secured $300,000 for a 50-year-old construction worker who injured his shoulder at work.
If you were hurt on the job due to your employer’s negligence, call 212-221-1000 to speak with a workplace injury attorney about your legal options. You can also schedule a free case consultation online.