10 neglected construction safety concerns

June 30, 2008
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With so many risks on the job, it is no surprise that construction workers are more prone to serious injuries and in some cases, fatalities, than other industries. As a result, employers must continually strive for workplace safety compliance and most importantly, their employees’ health and vitality.

1 Scaffolding
Workers assigned to scaffolding jobs should be properly trained and continually aware of their environment as falling debris, electrocution from power lines, and falls related to unstable platforms can result in serious injuries. Supported and suspended scaffolds should be properly outfitted with guardrails to prevent workers from falling from an open side, and workers should be secured in appropriate fall protection. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), scaffolds and scaffold components must be capable of supporting at least four times the maximum intended load.

2 Fall protection
All employees whose work conditions include the danger of falling should undergo fall protection training regularly. Company training courses should identify specific hazards and familiarize employees with all fall protection equipment used in the workplace. A review of the written prevention and rescue plan will assure employees that help is never far away.

Fall protection equipment should be inspected each time it is used and by a qualified person once every year — and that inspection should be documented. The equipment should be inspected according to manufacturer’s recommendation and OSHA requirements. A thorough visual inspection for signs of stress and wear should be performed every time a harness is used.

3 Ladder safety
The misuse of portable ladders can lead to injuries such as sprains and broken bones, but in extreme cases also head and neck trauma — or even death. Ladders should be secured and safely positioned at appropriate angles and prior to use be visually inspected for damaged components including hinges, rungs/steps, side rails and feet. Side rails should extend at least 3 feet above the landing and be secured at the top to a sturdy support. Portable ladders should be used in compliance with the weight standard they are designed to hold and should also comply with OSHA standards as specified in 29 CFR 1926.1053(a)(1).

4 Respiratory safety
OSHA has established a respiratory protection standard covering detailed procedures for reducing and eliminating respiratory hazards. The specifications of these standards can be found in OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1910.134. All measures for respiratory protection are required to adhere to these standards, so it is important that employers understand them before determining the best course of action for upgrading workplace respiratory safety.

As a starting point for compliance, employers should have an exposure assessment performed to determine exposure levels and fume components (including from welding) and exposure levels. A certified industrial hygienist or other qualified occupational health specialist conducts this assessment. Employers can also contact their insurance companies to get recommendations on how the assessment should be completed.

5 PPE
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn to reduce employees’ exposures to occupational hazards and is required to be available on-site by OSHA. In fact, new OSHA regulations dictate that where PPE is required, employers are now responsible for providing it. Otherwise, employers are ultimately responsible for determining the level of PPE their employees use for optimum protection. Hard hats, eye, ear and hand protection, earplugs and other protective equipment provide protection from falling objects, head injuries, sparks, dust/fragments and burns.

Unfortunately, many workers choose to forgo this level of protection due to discomfort or disinterest. In response to this issue, many safety distributors now offer a range of comfortable and more fashionable gear to choose from, including eyewear that resists fog and prescription-strength safety glasses.

6 First aid and fire safety
It is common sense that first aid and fire safety are key programs on any given job site. However, many sites lack enough first aid stations, kits and materials such as gauze, bandages, ice packs, burn ointment and eyewash stations. Similarly, fire extinguishers should be kept in ample supply, regularly inspected and used for the type of fire they are effective on. Workers should be adequately trained about fire hazards on the construction site and what to do in an emergency. Fire emergency plans should outline the assignments of key personnel, provide evacuation routes and be reviewed regularly.

7 Confined spaces
Working in confined spaces can be an inconspicuous risk, as fatalities most often occur due to invisible circumstances such as oxygen-deficient, toxic or combustible atmospheres. Also known as permit-required confined spaces, they should be tested prior to entry and continuously monitored using a properly configured and calibrated monitor. The monitors, once connected to a docking station, also help maintain a proper calibration record for these confined spaces.

Workers must also use lockout/tagout (LOTO) to safeguard themselves from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities in confined spaces such as vessels. Approximately 3 million workers service equipment and face the greatest risk of injury if every worker in the confined space does not properly “lock out” the hazard and then “tag out” of the space once their work is completed. Compliance with the OSHA lockout/tagout standard 29 CFR 1910.147 prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year.

8 Recordkeeping
Maintaining up-to-date records of equipment inspections and injury logs is not only required by OSHA, but is also the best way to protect employers from legal ramifications in the event of injury and death.

9 Welding safety
Welding injuries, from minor flash burns to eye injuries, can be painful and cause disfigurement or career-ending disabilities. Wearing the proper PPE is an easy way welders can protect themselves against these risks and preserve their livelihood.

Unfortunately, overconfidence leads welders to think they are immune to such injury, or they may choose not to use PPE because it is too expensive or the job is too small. Some welders under-protect themselves because they feel the PPE is too warm or restrictive to wear. Fortunately, workers now can find new PPE garments made of lightweight materials that wick away sweat to stay comfortable. Welders now have many options in materials, flame-retardant traits, fabric weight and accessories to suit up for the job.

Welding helmets should be equipped with the proper filter lens in either a passive or an autodarkening style to shield against the arc’s bright light. Remember that ANSI Z87.1 lists welding helmets as secondary eye protection that must be used with the primary protection provided by safety glasses or goggles.

Airborne hazards should also be assessed and the necessary engineering controls implemented to maintain acceptable exposure levels using ventilation, fans or fume extractors.

10 Training
The key to preventing many workplace accidents and injuries is frequent and effective employee training programs. These programs exist for virtually all construction safety components including fall protection, fire safety and welding safety among others.

Although many employers provide on-the-job training through their on-staff safety specialists, there are voluntary educational programs available for additional certification such as OSHA’s Outreach Training Program.

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