Construction Site Accidents Know No Season
We associate the summer season with vacations and recreational activities. With children out of school and the weather ripe for outdoor adventures, it’s easy to see why summer equals time off for so many people.
However, for those that work outdoors, especially in one particular sector, the workdays actually become longer, more difficult and more dangerous. In the construction industry, it is especially true that accidents know no season.
The summer season is a very dangerous time indeed for construction workers. As we’ll see, construction jobs are already dangerous year-round, but the hottest months of the year make this occupation exceedingly perilous.
Year-Round Hazards on Construction Sites
Before we dive into the summer-specific dangers facing construction workers, let's take a look at just a few of the challenges that these workers face on a daily basis, regardless of the season. Construction work is so dangerous, and results in such a high number of fatal on-the-job injuries, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration actually have a nickname for the top four causes of construction worker fatalities - The Fatal Four. The appropriately ominous moniker includes falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object and being caught in or between objects.
Of these causes, the most fatal and, by far the most common, is falls. Falls occur frequently in the construction sector. One of the biggest reasons for slips and falls on construction sites is scaffolding collapses. Scaffolding collapses are responsible for a large number of fatalities and serious injuries among construction workers every single year. Other causes for falls include cluttered walkways, broken steps or guardrails and slippery surfaces, to name just a few.
Because of these and many other dangers, construction perennially makes lists of America’s most dangerous jobs. And when the summer season comes around, the number of workplace injuries increases, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Why Are Summer Months So Dangerous in Construction?
The answer to this question is multi-fold. The workdays are longer, and the number of jobs increases. The heat is cause for many different types of worker injuries. There are also frequent storms, causing treacherous rainfall (especially for those working around construction trenches) and lightning. There are even a higher number of perhaps unexpected injuries, like those to the eyes of construction workers.
Let’s begin with what is maybe the most obvious of summer hazards for construction workers.
Heat Illness and Heat Strokes
The heat of the summer months is a big concern for all outdoor workers, especially those in construction. In 2014, 2,630 workers fell victim to heat illness, while 18 workers lost their lives from heat stroke and heat-related causes. Workers who aren’t acclimated to the heat are especially vulnerable to these dangers. That includes new employees, temporary employees or workers returning to the job after a week or more away from the site.
To combat the vulnerabilities that workers face from heat in the summer months, OSHA has released a heat safety tool in the form of an app that calculates the heat index of a given worksite and gives a risk level for outdoor workers.
Lightning Storms and Heavy Rainfall
Summer storms pose yet another risk to construction workers, especially in regard to lightning and heavy downpours. Lightning strikes are very dangerous for workers who perform their jobs on high platforms, such as rooftops and scaffolding, or for those working on heavy equipment, such as bulldozers or cranes. Workers should also be careful not to touch or be around objects that conduct electricity.
Heavy rainstorms are particularly dangerous for workers in trenches. Construction site trenches should be inspected after every heavy rainfall to make sure that they still meet safety standards. For workers on rooftops, rainfall can create slick and dangerous surfaces. Due to the fact that these workers do their jobs at great heights, and due to the fact that falls are one of the most dangerous job hazards in construction to begin with, employers and supervisors should always make sure that rooftop workers are protected after storms or when strong winds are present.
Like many other outdoor workers, construction workers should be aware of the presence of poisonous plants on their worksites. Poisonous plants include poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. As many as nine out of 10 workers who come into direct contact with these plants will experience some form of physical reaction. In the most severe cases, workers can require immediate medical attention.
Employees should receive adequate training in identifying, avoiding and removing these poisonous plants. There are a number of safety precautions that workers should take to prevent exposure. They should also be instructed what to do if they come into contact with poisonous plants while on the job.
The eyes are one of the most vulnerable areas of a construction worker’s body. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that over 25,000 construction workers suffered injuries to their eyes that required at least some time off of work. Risks to construction worker’s eyes while on the job include heat, excessive light, humidity, strong winds and airborne debris. For these reasons, constructions workers should always wear protective eyewear while on the job.
As you can tell, the summer months are not all fun and games, especially for construction workers. The dangers we’ve discussed in this article only scratch the surface of hazards that emerge during the year’s hottest months. While construction workers themselves may be able to take some precautions as it relates to their own safety on-the-job, the bigger responsibility is that of their employers and their supervisors.
All supervisors and construction companies need to keep an eye on the weather and the safety of the workplace. It is not only the right thing to do to make sure employees are safe, it is also the law. A safe workplace is a right that all American workers are supposed to enjoy. In an industry fraught with serious injuries and a high number of fatalities, workplace safety should always be the highest priority.
Guajardo & Marks is a personal injury firm in Dallas, Texas. Contact them by calling 972-534-2839 or visiting their website.