By MALLORY GRUBEN
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction accounted for more than 20% of all workplace deaths in 2020. In annual reports, the industry consistently lands in the top 10 highest rates for workplace injuries and deaths.
Most construction injuries result from one of the “focus four” causes: falling, getting hit by something, getting stuck somewhere, and getting shocked. But federal and state safety regulators are clear: Nearly all workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths are preventable. The Northwest Labor Press spoke with Oregon OSHA, Barry Moreland, safety director for the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center in Portland, and Mallorie Davies, state regulatory and policy coordinator for the Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers, for their advice on getting home from the construction site in one piece.
- Warm up before working: “Stretch and flex” programs that encourage 10-15 minutes of warm up before working go a long way in preventing musculoskeletal injuries like a sprain, fracture, or dislocation. And while workers limber up, they can talk through the plans for the day and identify any tasks that could be hazardous or warrant a second hand. “It’s about getting someone’s head in the game, so that we are ready to do strenuous tasks,” Moreland said.
- Make a plan and maintain situational awareness: Beyond talking about hazards, workers should create pre-task plans or a job hazard analysis to plot out daily tasks, potential dangers, and proposed safety solutions. Those plans should cover any risks of the focus four. For example, if there’s a heavy load, the job hazard analysis should cover how not to get pinned down by it if rigging were to fail, Davies said. Keep the job hazard analysis in mind all shift to stay aware of what’s happening around you, and avoid working on autopilot.
- Control hazardous energy: Live electrical wires, pressure systems, spinning motors, and other hazardous energy sources are a leading source of injury. Workers should know what hazardous energy is on site and take steps to control it. That’s especially important for electrical circuits, which should be de-energized to prevent shocks or electrocution, Moreland said. Don’t forget to check for voltage and to follow lockout/tagout procedures to ensure power isn’t turned on before the work is done.
- Use the right outfits and tools: It’s easy for machines and power tools to suck in loose gloves, sleeves, or hair — and pull a worker along with them. Wear proper fitting clothing and tie back anything that could catch. Do a preliminary check of your tools to make sure everything’s working right and there’s no damaged cords, and make sure all safety guards are in place. That includes personal fall arrest systems, and nets, toeboards, and tool leashes to prevent tools from falling onto another worker. For heavy machinery, a quick Google search can help identify blind spots, which vary. Knowing where a driver might not be able to see provides another level of safety for spotters and crew members, Davies said.
- Know when to pull the safety card: Workers have the right to refuse work that would reasonably result in an injury or death. If there are known hazards on a job site that you know could cause serious harm, don’t hesitate to call off work, Moreland said.
- Drive home safely: After safely finishing shift, there’s still one more hazard left: the drive home. Use hands free devices to avoid the distraction of texting and driving, and abide by the traffic laws. If you’re feeling extra exhausted from a long day’s work, stop for a short nap instead of driving while tired.