We all know that construction accident injuries tend to be common because construction sites can be dangerous places, and simply working on a construction site exposes workers and sometimes the general public to injury. But many construction site injuries are preventable with some common sense, and proper safety measures.
When proper safety measures are not used, the end result can be a catastrophic injury. What causes catastrophic injuries and deaths on construction sites? Being aware of the most dangerous and common hazards can make it less likely that you are a victim of an injury at a construction site.
Electrocution is a common cause of construction site injury. Electrocution does not just happen to electricians—in many cases, non-electrical workers are electrocuted when areas or objects they are working on come into contact with power lines, or when digging and coming into contact with live electrical wires. By some estimates, half of all electrocution injuries at worksites happen at construction sites.
Electrocution is also a threat for construction workers because many construction sites are outside, and that exposes workers to lightning strikes as well.
OSHA has requirements for workers whose job it is to work around electricity. The rules include protections for any live wires, signage where voltage is at or exceeds 600 volts, and keeping any outdoors electrical equipment in enclosed containers.
Electrocution is often deadly, and when it is not, it can cause extreme burns, nerve damage, and brain damage, and can interrupt the heart’s rhythms to cause cardiac arrest and potentially death. The cardiac arrest from the voltage going into the body can stop oxygen to the brain, leading to long-term brain damage.
Much of construction work is done at heights, and heights inevitably make falls much more dangerous. You do not need to be working on a high rise either; even the construction of one-story buildings can lead to falls from potentially deadly heights.
OSHA reports that in 2019, about 30% of all construction-related fatalities were the result of falls. In 2016, over 10,000 construction workers were injured in fall-related injuries. This makes fall injuries from roofs, scaffolding, or ladders the most deadly cause of construction site deaths.
OSHA requires a number of safeguards for workers on construction sites to avoid falls; the height where these safety measures have to be put in place depends on whether the construction is for general industry, shipyards, general construction, or whether the construction is taking place over a dangerous area, regardless of height.
There are things that a contractor can do to make the area safer for construction workers when it comes to avoiding falls. These include:
Falls do not just happen from rooftops or high buildings; ladders are a leading cause of construction site injuries and deaths, as well. Often, workers will overload ladders, or use the wrong type of ladder for the work being done. Ladders may not be laying on an even surface, and again, weather can make an otherwise stable ladder unstable.
Scaffolds are mobile platforms where workers can stand, place objects, and perform construction work in order to access out-of-reach and tall interior and exterior areas.
Scaffolding injuries are a leading killer in construction-related accidents. There are nearly 5,000 scaffolding injuries every single year. In fact, almost 90% of deaths on scaffolds happen on construction sites.
Scaffolding requires setup—setup that, unlike ladders, requires experience. Mobile scaffolding may be improperly set up or placed in areas that are not stable enough to handle a scaffold. Often, people who are untrained to use a scaffold go onto them to access areas that they need to access. Scaffolds oftentimes must be kept free of debris. Workers with tools, dripping paint or cement, or other items around them, can easily clutter a scaffold to the point that it can lead to a slip and trip on a scaffold.
In larger projects, there may be scaffolding stacked high, on top of and above each other; this means that when something happens—even if a small item falls from a scaffold—the workers on the lower scaffolds can be hit and can easily lose their balance.
Scaffolding is also unique because unlike ladders or active construction sides, scaffolding may be placed above pedestrians and people in the street. This is one type of construction accident that can easily injure or kill an innocent bystander who has nothing to do with working on a construction project. This actually happened in 2019, when scaffolding collapsed, sending debris into the streets.
Scaffolding injuries can include much the same types of injuries you would anticipate from falls from heights. These include death, paralysis, amputations, or broken bones. If there is head trauma, a victim can easily suffer a traumatic brain injury, as well.
Pedestrians below, often clueless as to what is going on above them, can be crushed; even a lighter item falling from a distance can incur enough velocity to be deadly to passersby below the scaffolding.
Trench collapses do not get a lot of publicity, mostly because unlike falls, trench collapses often happen underground, out of plain sight. Recently, two workers were killed in a trench collapse in St Paul, Minnesota, and two more workers were killed in a Texas trench collapse.
Trenches are so dangerous because above the trenches, earth and soil are usually being moved about, which can lead to a trench collapse. Victims often die, as the immediate crushing injuries or suffocation often happen before rescuers can reach workers. It can also take time for rescuers to get to injured workers, as rescuers must be mindful of causing a bigger collapse while trying to execute the rescue.
Trenches are not just for underground projects or to construct tunnels; everyday construction projects often require some degree of trenching, be it for plumbing or basements, or underground parking areas.
Any time large machinery is involved, there is the risk of serious injury. The risks can be crushing injuries, where large construction vehicles run over other workers or where large pieces of machinery, like cranes, topple over. When they fall, they often bring debris, concrete, and other heavy materials down with them.
Workers can easily be crushed by falling debris and equipment.
Operators of equipment can be trapped inside them when the equipment topples over or tips. Workers can easily be burned, should the machinery catch fire, as many are fueled by gasoline.
Also like our cars, heavy equipment needs servicing and maintenance. Many companies do not perform or negligently perform this work, making machinery malfunction a major cause of injuries to workers’ heads, backs, and limbs. Machinery does not operate on its own, and that means that when it injures someone, there is usually a human operator or a company that failed to service the equipment, that can be held at fault for the accident.
On top of all of these catastrophic injuries, are the regular, routine dangers of working on a construction site. Many of these kinds of dangers can be lessened by the use of basic construction safety equipment.
Many sites will expose workers to hazardous materials, chemicals that should not be breathed in, fumes, smoke, or just particulate matter in the air that can be damaging to the lungs.
Protective gear like gloves, safety glasses, and helmets not only protect workers from objects or impact but can save workers from injury and diseases that can arise from exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes that are often present at construction sites.
Hearing loss can be a slow injury that develops over time when proper ear protective gear is not worn. Feet can be easily crushed from even a moderate weighted object falling on them, if proper protective equipment for workers’ feet is not used. Proper foot gear can also provide traction, lessening the chance of slip and fall injuries.
Vests, hazmat suits, and other protection for the body can avoid chemical spills, burns, and some impacts to the torso area.
This all seems obvious, but many employers do not bother providing workers with equipment that fits or do not provide proper training on using protective equipment. Some employers will use and reuse equipment, to the point it does not provide the protection that it is supposed to be providing.
Call our Schaumburg construction accident attorneys at Claim Your Justice to schedule a free consultation at 847-434-3555 to help you if you or anybody you know has been injured at, or while working in, a construction site.
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