The Fatal Four
Controlling Safety Risks on the Construction Jobsites
When people think of dangerous jobs, they often think of things like crocodile wrangling or professional base-jumping. But it’s not just exotic jobs that can be dangerous. You might be surprised to learn that construction contributes to almost 20% of work-related deaths in the U.S. every year—that’s about 1 in 5. Of that 20%, more than half are caused by “the Fatal Four” —falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, or being caught in or between two objects.
Because of that, controlling safety risks on the jobsite is an important responsibility. Let’s take a few minutes to discuss these four major risks more deeply, as well as some things you can do to help control them.
- Falls – A century ago, a fall in construction meant almost certain death. These days, through improved work standards and advances in safety equipment, that risk has been drastically reduced. But reduced doesn’t mean eliminated. Falls still contribute to about 30% of construction-related deaths each year, as well as plenty of broken bones and other injuries. To reduce the risk of dangerous falls, make sure proper safety equipment is available and used by any worker on a leading edge 6 feet or higher. Proper safety equipment can include anything from harnesses and guardrails to safety nets. Visit OSHA.gov for complete fall protection guidelines.
- Falling Objects – Objects falling from the sky are pretty rare in our day-to-day lives. But on a jobsite where workers spend a fair portion of their day divorced from the ground, falling objects are certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. Falling and flying objects can result in serious injuries, including concussions, blindness, and death. To prevent this risk, workers should wear appropriate protective gear, including hard hats and safety glasses, and items should be properly secured to prevent falling or collapsing. Guardrails or debris nets should be considered to catch falling objects before they reach the ground. And whenever possible, workers should avoid working under moving loads on cranes or other hoists.
- Electrocution – Electrocution might appear to be the most avoidable risk, but as the fourth leading cause of construction fatalities, it definitely still requires some attention. Most accidents seem to arise from a lack of basic electrical knowledge. There are a few key things that workers can do to reduce their risk of electrocution. First, if not completely sure of the inactivity of a power line or energized object, keep your distance. OSHA requires a distance of 10 feet for power lines up to 50,000 volts and an extra 4 inches for every 10,000 volts thereafter. Second, double check equipment. Make sure that everything is properly grounded, and if maintenance is being performed, unplug first. Lastly, workers should always wear appropriate gear for the task being performed.
- Caught In or Between – In this category, types of risks include being caught in machinery, trench/excavation collapse, and being pinned between equipment and a solid object or any derivative thereof. Perhaps the most horrifying of the Fatal Four, any iteration can mean maiming, complete amputation, or death. Fortunately, there are some basic precautions jobsites can take to reduce this risk. Installing guards on moving parts can prevent employees from getting too close to potentially risky machinery. Bracing sides appropriately in trenches and providing a means of escape will protect against collapse. Seatbelts with rollover protection in heavy machinery can prevent being pinned underneath, while instructing workers on the dangers of passing in between machinery and solid structures can make workers more aware of their surroundings. Risk areas such as trenches and scaffolding should also be inspected daily for vulnerability. And finally, persons not involved in demolition or other specific tasks should be prohibited from entering the worksite without authorization.
These four are just a portion of the risks facing those on a typical jobsite. Managing or taking part in construction work is a big responsibility. Workers should use caution and common sense in every situation and always be sure to report any irresponsible behavior or weaknesses in protective equipment. With proper awareness and the right precautions, we can see worksite fatalities decrease dramatically over the coming years. For more information about jobsite safety, visit OSHA.gov.