Construction Safety: A Practical Guide

Everything you need to know about construction safety: its importance, the top 10 safety risks in construction, and digital tools you can use to mitigate these risks and ensure worker safety

director de seguridad en la construcción utilizando una tableta en la obra

What is Construction Safety?

Construction safety is a principle adhered to and enforced by construction safety managers. It is the result of safe equipment usage, worker protection from hazards, regular site inspections and risk assessments. A key component of construction safety is compliance with the safety and health regulations of the region.

Importance of Construction Safety

While the initial reason for improving construction safety may be to comply with workplace safety and health regulations, there are many other benefits to prioritizing construction safety, such as lessening the number of safety hazards and incidents. This is vital because safety hazards and incidents weaken the company’s reputation among industry professionals and regulatory agencies and can incur huge financial costs for the company.

In the United States, for nearly all types of OSHA violations, the maximum penalty is $13,653 per violation. For a willful or repeated OSHA violation, the maximum penalty is over ten times greater with $136,532 per violation. Meanwhile, incidents that result in injuries or illnesses have both direct and indirect costs. According to OSHA, it’s been estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs alone. 

Other direct costs of incidents resulting in injuries or illnesses are medical expenses and costs for legal services, while indirect costs can include training replacement or substitute workers, repairs of damaged equipment or property, lost productivity, and lower worker morale.

Another benefit of prioritizing construction safety is that it helps strengthen the trust between workers, construction safety managers, and company executives. This higher level of trust leads to better communication across the company, resulting in fewer misunderstandings and clashes. Construction safety programs can also increase worker productivity and efficiency. Workers are more equipped to do their jobs effectively and safely when they are given adequate training and protection by the company.

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Top 10 Construction Safety Risks

Though construction is known to be one of the most dangerous industries and generally involves high-risk activities, it may be helpful for construction safety managers to know what to look out for and pay extra attention to so that they can ensure that workers remain safe and protected from harm. To achieve this, construction safety managers can use a digital tool such as a mobile construction site inspection app with specific checklists for each risk. 

1. Working at Heights

Working at heights is defined as the performance of construction work at an elevated height of 2 meters or more. It is one of the biggest causes of preventable work injuries and fatalities around the world. As much as possible, working at heights should be avoided; however, this may not always be possible for most types of construction work. To help construction safety managers mitigate the risks of working at heights, here are four digital templates that are free to download and use.

Working at Heights Procedure Template

Construction safety managers can use this template to ensure the safety of workers performing construction work at elevated heights by following these steps:

  1. Record the nature of work and the team working onsite
  2. Identify activities associated with working at heights
  3. Determine potential risks like falling, slipping, or tripping
  4. Evaluate controls such as training, planning, and proper use of fall protection systems and construction safety equipment

Safety Harness Working at Heights Template

Construction safety managers can provide workers with this template for inspecting safety harnesses before use. Using this template, workers will be able to find out if the equipment is in good condition for working at heights. The following components should always be checked:

  • Lanyard
  • Tie-off adaptors / anchorages
  • Horizontal lifelines

OSHA Scaffold Inspection Checklist Template

Due to the extensive use of scaffolds in the industry, construction safety managers must ensure that scaffold inspections are performed accurately every 7 days after installation and only by a scaffold-competent person. To help guide this person in navigating OSHA scaffolding safety requirements, construction safety managers can provide them with the following template.

Ladder Inspection Checklist Template

Using ladders can be fatal if not correctly inspected and used. With this template, construction safety managers can assess the risk of ladders and minimize accidents involving ladders. This is achieved by following two key steps included in the template:

  • Create a ladder profile composed of the type, construction, length, class, weight supported, photos of the ladder and its tag or label
  • Identify defects in specific ladder components such as the feet of the ladder, the rung locks and spreader braces, side rails, bolts and rivets, ropes, steps and rungs

2. Falls, Slips, and Trips

Closely related with working at heights, falls, slips, and trips are often associated with ladders. As one of the top ten OSHA violations, ladder safety is vital in preventing such incidents. OSHA requires ladder inspections before initial use in each shift. Construction safety managers can satisfy this OSHA requirement by using a mobile inspection app to proactively catch issues that could lead to work-related injuries such as falls, slips, and trips.

3. Moving Equipment

Though scaffolds and ladders are considered to be of high risk, at least some are stationary, reducing their risk of endangering workers who are not using them. Unlike scaffolds and ladders, construction machinery, moving equipment or equipment used for lifting or lowering loads are greater threats to public safety. In 2019, a crane collapse in Seattle caused the deaths of four people, two of which were bystanders. To prevent similar accidents from occurring, construction safety managers should ensure that workers observe the proper safety procedures when operating moving or lifting equipment. Additionally, construction safety managers must satisfy relevant regional requirements. 

For example, OSHA, ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), and CMAA (Construction Management Association of America) standards require initial, frequent, and periodic crane inspections. Construction safety managers can use digital checklists like the ones below to conduct these regular inspections efficiently.

OSHA Crane Inspection Checklist

This digital checklist can be used for the inspection, testing, and maintenance of overhead and gantry cranes. Construction safety managers can also use it to perform checks on connected electrical and hoisting equipment.

Daily Crane Inspection Checklist

This digital checklist for tower cranes can be used before, during, and after operational shifts. Construction safety managers can use it to do the following:

  1. Record work permits
  2. Evaluate operator competency
  3. Check emergency controls
  4. Observe safety measures applied
  5. Assess post job operation

Meanwhile, HSE requires LOLER inspections, which assess compliance with the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations of 1998. Subject to this regulation are cranes, hoists, industrial lift trucks, and accessories for attaching loads. To perform these inspections, construction safety managers in the UK can use a digital checklist similar to the one below.

LOLER Inspection Checklist

Based on the HSE regulations, this digital checklist can be used to verify the strength and stability of lifting equipment and confirm their proper positioning and installation. Preview this sample PDF report for more information on the specific items included in the digital checklist.

4. Noise

While the idea of noise as a construction safety risk may be surprising, statistics in the UK show that an estimated 17,000 people annually suffer from hearing conditions due to excessive noise at work. Performing noise risk assessments, especially in the construction industry, can help identify the sources of these risks and how they affect the health and safety of workers.

5. Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome

Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a permanent condition affecting the nerves and blood vessels of the hand. Construction workers are primarily at risk of developing HAVS due to the prolonged use of vibrating tools and equipment such as concrete breakers, hammer drills, and grinders. In the UK, the Vibration Regulations of 2005 require companies to conduct regular HAVS assessments. In 2018, a construction company was fined £500,000 ($691,900) and ordered to pay costs of £195,000 ($269,841) due to their poor compliance with the regulation.

6. Manual Handling

Manual handling is the lifting, lowering, carrying, and moving of objects during work operations. Aside from hand-arm vibration, the characteristics of high-risk manual handling involve repetitive, sustained, high, or sudden force; repetitive movement; sustained or awkward posture; and whole-body vibration. Assessing the risks of manual handling is crucial to protect workers from musculoskeletal disorders such as HAVS, epicondylitis (affecting the elbow), and rotator cuff injuries (affecting the shoulder). 

7. Collapsing Trenches

A trench is a narrow excavation made below the surface of the ground. According to OSHA, trenching work presents serious safety risks to all workers involved, with collapsing trenches or cave-ins posing the greatest risk as they are more likely to result in worker fatalities than other excavation-related incidents. To mitigate this risk, construction safety managers should perform at least daily excavation risk assessments to ensure that workers enter trenches only after adequate protection measures such as sloping, benching, shoring, and shielding are in place. 

Excavation and Trenching Risk Assessment 

Based on the OSHA excavation and trenching worksite analysis, this digital template can be used to evaluate the safety of an excavation site by checking protection systems, access areas, and spoil placements. It also contains sections for surface crossing and water management.

8. Electricity

Exposure to electricity has long been recognized as a construction safety risk, with electrocutions being the most deadly. Data from the Center for Construction Research and Training shows that lack of basic electrical safety knowledge while handling electrical equipment is one of the major causes of electrocutions among construction workers. As a preventative measure against electrocutions and other dangerous exposures to electricity, construction safety managers should conduct frequent electrical inspections and maintenance checks. This practice also helps construction companies comply with OSHA standards on electricity

9. Asbestos

According to HSE, asbestos is responsible for over 5,000 workplace deaths each year, with 2446 people in the UK dying from mesothelioma (a type of cancer) in 2018 due to past asbestos exposures. Due to the high fatality of diseases caused by asbestos, HSE has stated that a risk assessment must be performed before any work involving asbestos begins. Construction safety managers should keep in mind that failure to implement the appropriate controls may lead to the company being reported to HSE or the enforcing authority in their region. Failure to conduct asbestos inspections may also result in costly penalties from non-compliance with regulations.

Asbestos Inspection Checklist

Based on the HSE checklist for managing asbestos, this digital checklist can be used by construction safety managers to track their progress in asbestos management. Using this digital checklist ensures that the presence of asbestos is properly identified and planned for.

10. Dust

Silica dust is generated from the blasting, cutting, drilling, grinding, and polishing of common construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete, and mortar. Heavy and prolonged exposure to silica dust can cause lung cancer, silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. HSE estimates that around 4,000 deaths each year are due to COPD resulting from workplace exposures in the past. Since construction workers are a significant at-risk group, construction safety managers should perform dust risk assessments to regulate the emission of silica dust from construction tasks as well as comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations of 2002.

For the top 10 construction safety rules and tips, read here.

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SafetyCulture Content Team
The SafetyCulture content team is dedicated to providing high-quality, easy-to-understand information to help readers understand complex topics and improve workplace safety and quality. Our team of writers have extensive experience at producing articles for different fields such as safety, quality, health, and compliance.