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Getting Ahead of Unsuspecting Worker Safety Health & Risks

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While construction companies need to focus on the “fatal four,” they also need to stay on top of emerging safety and health risks. Green jobs, new technologies, changes in business practices and in the workforce bring new dangers along with them. Some old health risks that haven’t gotten their fair share of attention before are now getting more focus. Awareness is the key to figuring how to guard against these new threats to worker safety and health. 

Know Your Risks

Many contractors are self-employed, and the self-employed are four times more likely to die from injuries when working, compared to employees. And if you’re 55 or older, you’re almost three times more likely (2.66) to die at work, whether self-employed or not.

The self-employed are four times more likely to die from injuries when working, compared to employees.

However, just knowing these statistics is not enough. If you’re an employer, it takes adding specialized sections to your workplace safety and health plan to give people the safety training tailored to the risks. If you are a self-employed contractor, then consider the risks you face every day and consider how to avoid or mitigate them. 

Green Jobs

Two challenges to health and safety are coming from the creation of new jobs in the green sector and existing jobs evolving to meet the green sector’s needs. New materials, methods, and technologies in the green sector also pose new risks. Each will have different effects on worker health and safety, from immediately dangerous to short term, to long term.   

As you encounter work in the green sector, or work that incorporates green into traditional design, it’s important to take a step back and consider how the work will affect safety and health, even if the task itself has never changed.

Aging Workforce

Most industries are facing the challenge of an aging worker population. The percentage of workers who continue working after they reach retirement age is rising, partly because of demographics and partly because of economics. Physical activity in construction can get challenging as a person ages, and such workers are at a greater risk of injury and illness, particularly slips and falls.

Take stock of your worksites and work practices to see where you can reduce risks through engineering and administrative controls. Foster teamwork and a culture of safety where people look out for each other. 

Inexperienced and Temporary

The changing workforce includes more self-employed contractors, temps, and foreign-born workers. Contract workers, temporary workers and those just starting out in construction face greater risk on the job than an experienced full-timer. Your construction sites are nothing like a manufacturing floor where machines are static and conditions controllable. There is a lot to keep track of, and new people are at a disadvantage.

Contract workers, temporary workers and those just starting out in construction face greater risk on the job than an experienced full-timer.

Pair up inexperienced workers with seasoned employees so they can learn the ropes thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to test them on their knowledge to make sure their training is adequate

New Tech

While new tech includes redesigns of old tools, digital technology also brings new threats.  

Drones can crash. People wearing virtual or alternate reality headsets can accidentally step through floor openings. They’re more likely to get hurt as the line between real and virtual gets blurred. Even the ubiquitous handheld devices can distract and stop people from noticing danger or interrupting their concentration when performing dangerous tasks. 

Take a long, careful look at any new tech you’re planning to adopt and imagine the ways people can become ill or injured. Then, add a chapter to your safety plan to cover the new risks.

Dust (and Not Just Silica Dust)

Silica dust gets most of the press because of recent regulations. However, it is not the only long-term threat to worker health. Sawdust, especially dust from pressure-treated lumber isn’t good for anybody’s lungs. Similarly, dust from earthworks or demolition also poses health threats. It’s usually best to consider engineering and administrative controls before making personal protective equipment mandatory because PPEs are subject to non-use and misuse.

Engineering controls for dust could include extractors, ventilators, vacuum systems, and water. Administrative controls might include limiting exposure by scheduling around dust-producing activities or setting minimum air quality standards for specific workspaces.  

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

MSDs in construction cause 32 percent of work-preventing injuries. However, unlike manufacturing, each job site is different. That creates a safety learning curve each time people start working on a new site.  

The workforce changes job to job. There are overlapping points of supervision, and the team is a mix of permanent and contingent workers. Throw in a few doing piecework, and you’ve got an extremely varied workforce with all levels of abilities and safety consciousness. 

The reality of safety on the job site is this: it takes a careful, consistent effort that’s never-ending.

To reduce MSDs you’ve got three different options. You can change the workplace, change the work practices, or use personal protective equipment. Use machines instead of brute force. Use benches, pallets or other methods to elevate work to waist level so people are not stooping or kneeling. Use material lifts, scaffolds and raised platforms to reduce overhead work. In case of tasks causing repetitive injuries, break crews up and rotate them so as to reduce the time spent on repeating motions. Modify tools so people work in neutral postures. Use padding to absorb machine vibrations.

The reality of safety on the job site is this: it takes a careful, consistent effort that’s never-ending.

Technology can be instrumental in successfully implementing a quality and safety program and why merging new technology with current best practices can increase program adoption and inform future program investments. Successful safety programs help build support, keep employees engaged, and provide valuable information. They act as a bridge between employees and management, providing oversight and expertise.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBookswebinars, and case studies you may enjoy:

The Future of Construction Safety

Building a Culture of Safety – One Hard Hat at a Time

Robbins & Morton Study

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