Construction sites are filled with a hubbub of activity. Large equipment lifting, workers hammering, welders welding, and passers-by watching. Every construction project is a journey to a gratifying end result of a completed structure. Still, it is a hazardous job fraught with dangers that aren't limited to trips and falls.
There are also the risk of fire and water damage, as well as the unexpected like the pandemic shutdown. In addition to the hazards and challenges construction workers face every day, the pandemic has added the need to look out for the health of every worker.
This is why it's crucial for construction companies to implement a risk management program and enforce policies and procedures to protect themselves. The following looks at the seven biggest risks in the construction industry.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 20 percent of worker fatalities occurred in construction. Additionally, the industry's "Fatal Four" is responsible for 60 percent of the fatalities. What OSHA defines as the Fatal Four are falls, struck by an object, electrocutions, and caught-in or between equipment or objects. Eliminating the Fatal Four would save hundreds of lives in America every year.
While these four make up the largest cause of deaths, everyday injuries happen far more. The National Safety Council identifies construction as one of the top five occupations with the largest number of injuries that result in days away from work. Considering the shortage of qualified workers, it's not easy to find a replacement worker quickly to stay on schedule.
Workers encounter unsafe situations every day like unacceptable noise levels, exposure to extreme temperatures, and carrying heavy equipment. The job site has a constant stream of people, materials, and equipment coming and going. Then there's also the rugged ground and obstacles, which can cause workers to slip and fall.
Workers must follow procedures for managing cables, materials, and tools to prevent them from becoming an unnecessary hazard. Companies must enforce safety processes and policies to keep everyone vigilant.
Another consistently growing problem is construction equipment theft. The National Equipment Register's data reveals theft is a very expensive problem. Thieves manage to steal somewhere between $300 million to $1 billion worth of equipment every year. This data does not include frequently stolen objects such as building equipment and tools.
It's not surprising theft is an issue in construction because thieves know they can easily enter a construction site after-hours. An enormous 75 percent of stolen equipment never find their way back to the owner.
Thieves know they are not likely to get caught because many construction companies don't have layered security processes in place. With the high likelihood of getting away with theft, crooks take the risk because they can sell the equipment for a lot of money.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy states equipment theft isn't the only costly problem. Every year, $1 billion worth of copper is stolen. Considering it sells for an average of $3 per pound, thieves know they can find it on construction sites.
Equipment that undergoes frequent maintenance can be an increased safety risk. It may be time to upgrade the construction equipment. Older equipment that breaks down often may delay the project and increase costs. Other equipment problems include electrical, mechanical, and pressure equipment. It won't take long for lost workdays and missed deadlines to further drive up the costs. To minimize equipment problems, invest in an asset management system.
Thieves and trespassers can create property liability problems. For example, an intruder who gets hurt on the construction site could sue the company and hold them liable for the injury. Even if the person may have been doing something illegal, they can potentially win a liability lawsuit.
Here's another example of how a construction site could be liable. Squatters go to a construction site where it's warmer than on the streets. They spend the night and leave before anyone arrives on the site. If the squatter is injured on the site, it can lead to a liability lawsuit. This can happen despite the fact the person trespassed.
A liability claim can develop into a costly problem. A construction site that is the cause of damage or an accident could be held liable. However, the challenging part about liability lawsuits is that it's hard to prove who is responsible for the injury or accident.
Now construction sites have a new problem thanks to the pandemic. "COVID-19 in Austin, Texas: Epidemiological Assessment of Construction Work" is a report from researchers at the University of Texas that contains valuable insights. It divulges construction workers' chances of hospitalization multiply by eight times when the construction site doesn't take the recommended safety precautions.
Although the report covers the Austin metropolitan area, a Construction Dive article by Jenn Goodman says it applies to other locations.
"Many have offered anecdotal evidence about the potential danger of keeping sites operational, but the university's study is the first to quantify these risks, Adler told the Austin American-Statesman," Goodman writes.
UT's researchers have looked at different scenarios including the number of workers on a site and contact intensity levels. The researchers explain construction sites have "double the transmission risk of a typical workplace" due to the concentration of construction workers on the site and the nature of the job. To lower transmission risk on construction sites, it's important to put processes in place, which will "mitigate but not eliminate the risk."
The risk of fire is real. According to the National Fire Protection Association, city fire departments responded to an annual average of 3,820 construction site fires between 2011 and 2015. This has resulted in three civilian deaths, 232 firefighter injuries, 49 civilian injuries, and $176 million in direct property damage.
Structures under construction tend to be a high risk for fire. It's due to the structure not having fire protection systems in place. They don't have smoke detectors, sprinklers, or fire alarms. All these fire protection measures don't go in until near completion. Construction projects also rely on ignition sources. When flammable items and tools sit too close, it can produce a spark that leads to a fire.
Mother Nature is sometimes to blame because lightning can trigger fires. Structures under construction comprise solvents, waste materials, combustibles, and trash piles that could generate a fire when lightning strikes.
Risks remain even at the end of the day after everyone leaves the site. A large empty site puts the site at risk for trespassing, vandalism, and other malicious acts. These acts can instigate flooding or fire. Again, Mother Nature can still cause problems without a single person being on the site.
In addition to not having fire protection systems in place, construction sites have the disadvantage of the wind tunnel effect. This tends to happen in empty spaces.
All of these strengthens the need for fire protection on construction sites. This will protect the structure, the company's assets, and employees. An effective approach is to implement a multi-layer fire protection system.
With many power lines and cables on-site, it puts the site at risk for electrical problems. Ensure you assign electrical work to trained electricians. Avoid pressuring them to rush through the job. Build cushioning in the schedule for the electrical work. Better yet, schedule extra time because things happen that could delay the project.
There's no single way to reduce risk. Like with security and fire protection, you want to take a multi-layered approach to cut risk.
One of the most effective ways to reduce risk is through training. This includes training on construction site processes, proper equipment usage, and discussing what equipment and gear to use for which activity.
Companies with a high safety track record invest in the right personal protection equipment (PPE). They make sure the PPE fits properly and that employees wear them for the right tasks. High-quality PPE does help decrease injuries.
Another way to decrease risk while boosting productivity is to organize the construction site. In organizing the site, you map out the foot and equipment traffic. This helps prevent bottlenecks and minimize the chance of having a pedestrian accident.
This process involves plotting routes for transporting materials to shorten distances while keeping the vehicles away from foot traffic. The plan for organizing the site will include safe storage for materials and chemicals, limit redundancy for handling items, and list controls to limit breakage, waste, and theft.
One option that shrinks risk while providing many other benefits beyond safety is construction site video surveillance. It can help mitigate damage and liability, cut expenses, and spot areas for productivity and safety improvements.
Remote video surveillance pairs up video analytics with trained monitoring operators. The analytics work with the operators to look for obstacles that could cause falls, out-of-place tools and materials, and other safety hazards.
Remember that construction sites not only contend with injuries, but also theft, trespassing, vandalism, arson, and inclement weather.
The video surveillance system and monitor observe the property from a safe place away from the construction site. They can watch your site during severe weather. When a storm hits, the operator could contact someone if a problem comes up.
To learn more about construction security, download this free construction site security guide. To get a customized construction security solution that fits your requirements and budget, contact us.