Safe at Home

Perhaps one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a construction company is a job site fatality. It affects many aspects of the company, from finances to employee morale. This is especially relevant for residential construction, since nearly 25 percent of all on-the-job construction fatalities occur at residential work sites. In its study of residential fatalities, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) identifies the four main causes of 93 percent of residential fatalities and draws a link between an employee’s length of employment and the occurrence of fatal accidents.

The NAHB found that 6 percent of residential fatalities occurred to electrical professionals. The hazards that caused these accidents exist in four categories: falls, contact with objects and equipment, exposure to harmful substances, and vehicular accidents.

Falls in residential construction are most common among workers installing roofs, walls or decking. Most fatal falls occurred from a ladder, roof or scaffold, but the NAHB also found that fatalities occur from falls down a flight of stairs or by slipping through floor joists.

The possible objects or equipment a residential construction worker may come in contact with vary due to the different aspects of residential construction occurring on a site at any given time. An employee can be struck by a hammer falling from an elevated surface or caught in an excavation cave-in.

Three of the top four exposures that caused worker fatalities were related to contact with some aspect of electricity. Workers most frequently came into contact with overhead power lines; wiring; transformers or other electric components; and the electrical current of tools, appliances or light fixtures. Fatalities of this class make up the vast majority (67 percent) of fatalities caused by exposure to harmful substances. Other potentially harmful substances workers come into contact with include paints or varnishes or substances that cause allergic reactions, such as bee sting venom.

The majority of vehicular accidents were highway accidents involving a collision between vehicles or vehicles and mobile equipment. About 45 percent of the fatalities reported were not using safety equipment, such as seat belts.

After looking at these four hazards, a safety program for a residential construction company practically seems to write itself. A work site analysis should be done to highlight the areas of safety that must be included. By addressing and controlling these four hazards, an employer would have a good foundation and can directly reduce the number of fatal accidents on the job site. All safety programs, including one for residential construction, should include responsibilities of both the employer and employee. The employer’s responsibilities should include the following:

• Maintaining a hazard-free workplace

• Training employees to keep safe from any hazards that cannot be controlled out of the workplace

• Conducting regular job site safety inspections

• Having an employee trained in first aid and CPR on each job site

The employees’ main safety responsibility is to follow the employer’s safety program. The following will lead to an even safer workplace:

• Wearing and caring for all personal protective equipment

• Using safety features of tools and equipment

• Never allowing the work of one employee to put another in danger

• Never using drugs or alcohol when on the job

The NAHB’s study of residential fatalities states length of employment is linked to the likelihood of an injury or fatality. Two-thirds of fatalities occur when employees are with their current employer for less than five years. It could be a result of inexperience on the employee’s part, but it also calls into question the efficacy of the employer’s safety program. This helps illustrate the importance of companies investing time and money into their safety-training program, and that this training must begin at the time a new employee is hired.

Training needs to be formal and comprehensive, not simply the traditional “learn as you go” safety training. By properly training new hires, the fatality rate on residential construction sites will drop significantly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests new employees receive a safety orientation before setting foot on a job site, so they have enough training to allow them to do their job safely.

Despite all the hazards and the high number of residential construction fatalities, OSHA often does not get to most of these job sites. The projects are often small-scale, with the work moving quickly and being completed before inspectors are even aware the job exists. Often, safety problems are only documented after a serious injury or fatality occurs. Also, home building is largely viewed to be a gateway into construction work, so many of the workers are inexperienced with and unaware of many construction hazards. Formal skill and safety training doesn’t always occur beforehand but is done on the job. These increase the likelihood of residential construction fatalities, many of which could be reduced through proper safety training.

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or Joe O’Connor edited this article.

About the Author

Diane Kelly

Safety Columnist

Diane Kelly is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkell...

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