Posted on: October 10, 2018 2:51 pm
There’s no doubt about it — construction workers face a lot of hazards on the jobsite. In fact, the construction industry is the most dangerous working environment in the country. Here are a few statistics to put it into perspective:
- Around 150,000 injuries every year are the result of construction site accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- Some accidents are severe enough to be fatal — usually more than 1,000 annually.
- One in 10 construction workers experiences an injury every year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- One in five work-related deaths in 2016 were in construction, according to OSHA.
The vast majority of construction accidents are avoidable. The key to defying the statistics is to prioritize safety in all aspects of your work. In this guide to jobsite safety, we’ll talk about the importance of safety training, how to operate equipment cautiously and how to stay safe in all conditions. Finally, we’ll look at the ways Cat machinery and Alban CAT can help your workers remain safe.
The Importance of Safety Training
The importance of safety training may already seem obvious based on the stats shared above. However, it is not uncommon for workers to start working without having received any training. This problem is partly due to the nature of the construction industry, where workers frequently jump from one jobsite to another.
Experience can help workers become savvy about important safety practices, but new workers don’t come in with this expert knowledge. This is likely why the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto found that employees who are in their first month on the job are three times more likely to experience a lost-time injury than workers with more than a year of experience at their job. Some of these workers may get training a month or two into work, but for some, that could be too late.
Safety training shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought but as a highly-prioritized precaution to prevent as many accidents as possible, for both new and longtime workers. If you think of safety training as simply checking a box, then you limit what it can do. Instead, make sure your workers know just how crucial safety training is to your company and encourage them to give it the attention it deserves.
It’s important to be explicit in safety training about the potential hazards workers will encounter and how to avoid a tragedy due to the most dangerous hazards. Understanding what leads to construction site injuries and fatalities is important if you want to proactively exercise caution where it counts. Most construction worker deaths are due to what is often called the “Fatal Four”:
- Falls: Falling is, by far, the most common cause of jobsite fatalities for construction workers.
- Struck by Object: The second most frequent cause of death for construction workers is the impact from an object.
- Electrocutions: Another serious problem, electrocution, can occur for workers operating around electrical wiring.
- Caught-In/Between: Some workers can die from being compressed between objects or being crushed under a collapse.
Make sure all workers, including contractors and temporary workers, know how to prevent these life-threatening scenarios. We’re going to talk about some of the ways you can do that, through safe equipment operation and weather-related safety precautions. OSHA offers a safety guide and checklist that can also be helpful for safety training geared at preventing common hazards from causing injury or death.
Safe Equipment Operation
Heavy equipment is powerful enough to be extremely useful on the jobsite and extremely dangerous if mishandled. Machine accidents cause over a third of injuries at construction sites. Let’s discuss a few of the ways you can safely operate equipment and safely work around equipment being operated by other workers:
1. Inspect Equipment
When equipment breaks down, it can cause an accident. In addition to bringing work to a halt, equipment breakdowns can cause injury. That’s why it’s important to inspect all equipment regularly. Checking oil levels and inspecting areas like undercarriages, hydraulic hoses and more is crucial to preventing mishaps. If everything appears to be in good working order before you begin operating it, then you can rest easy knowing it is unlikely that you’ll experience a problem with the machine. If the inspection reveals an issue, then alert your fleet manager or whoever oversees maintenance to make sure equipment receives the proper care it needs to keep running at peak performance.
2. Mount and Dismount Carefully
As you’ll recall, falls are the number one cause of fatalities on a construction jobsite. More minor falls can also cause a lot of injuries. A common scenario that can cause a fall is carelessly mounting or dismounting from the cab of a machine. For instance, when getting down, you may be tempted just to jump off, but that’s not a safe practice. Instead, whether mounting or dismounting, use any handholds and steps on the machine, and make sure to follow the three-point rule. This means, when mounting, you should have both hands on the machine and one foot up on the steps before stepping up with your other foot. When dismounting, you should begin by taking one step off while keeping your other foot and both hands on the machine. Maintaining contact with the machine helps you steady yourself and ensure a safe mount or dismount.
3. Buckle Up
Seat belts are an extremely important safety mechanism, and they aren’t just for when you’re driving in your car. Heavy equipment operators should also buckle up every single time before they start up the machine. Failing to wear a seat belt in any earth-moving vehicle, such as a loader, scraper, tractor or dozer, is a citable offense, according to OSHA. Wearing a seat belt keeps you from bumping around in the cab when you’re going over rough terrain, and if a rollover occurs, it can make the difference in whether or not you survive. If you see fellow workers forgetting to buckle up, give them a friendly reminder. It’s in their best interest and yours to prioritize this important safety precaution.
4. Stay Alert
Distracted driving is dangerous in any type of vehicle. In a piece of heavy equipment with people working around you, it can easily become deadly. Staying alert means keeping your eyes and mind focused at all times while operating equipment or while working around equipment. Maintain a safe speed at all times that allows you to respond to unforeseen hazards. If you’re operating a machine where you have limited vision, have a spotter stand outside the machine and check to ensure there aren’t any people or objects in your blind spots. Make certain you understand the signals the spotter gives. If you are working on the ground while heavy equipment is being operated, make solid eye contact with the operator before coming close. Wearing high-visibility vests is a requirement for a reason — it makes it easier for everyone to spot you, including heavy equipment operators.
5. Communicate With Coworkers
Making eye contact is an important way of communicating with fellow workers, but it shouldn’t be the only way. Constant communication among workers is important for making sure everyone is coordinating with each other and no one is out of the loop. A popular way of communicating on a construction jobsite is through two-way radios. If you don’t have a two-way radio system, you can use predetermined hand signals to communicate. Whatever method your company opts for, just be sure to use it. Proper communication is important for everyone’s safety.
6. Load and Unload Carefully
Loading and unloading materials can be dangerous if not handled with extreme care. As is always the case while operating heavy equipment, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Always make sure workers maintain a proper distance from the loading/unloading area when moving loads. When loading, make sure you know the load limit for that particular piece of equipment in its current set-up and don’t exceed that limit. You should also make sure you’re on level ground when loading or unloading so you can avoid rollovers or sliding off low-bed ramps.
7. Use Telematics
If you’re a fleet manager, you may want to use telematics to help promote safety on the jobsite. If equipment operators are engaging in unsafe driving habits like not wearing their seatbelts, accelerating too rapidly or braking too hard, some telematics programs can detect it. Telematics allows equipment to send data to a computer program that helps with various aspects of fleet management. Safety is an especially important aspect of fleet management, and telematics can help you learn more about operating behaviors and whether workers may need refreshers on how to safely operate machinery. It can also allow you to reward safe operating habits.
Safety in the Elements
Construction workers know that sometimes the weather can make their job much tougher. Every season brings its own set of challenges. Working outside in the elements also adds a whole other layer to staying safe on the jobsite. The Center for Construction Research and Training reported that 15.7 percent of construction fatalities in 2010 were due to exposure. Let’s look at some of the common weather scenarios that can present a safety hazard and talk about the best ways to respond.
1. Hot Temperatures
It only takes temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit combined with a moderate workload to create a potential heat hazard, according to OSHA. At times, temperatures and workloads may become far more extreme. Especially during the summer, temperatures close to or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit can create serious health risks for outdoor workers. Exposure to heat can result in the following medical issues:
- Heat Syncope: If you’re not well acclimated to working in hot conditions or if you become dehydrated, then you may experience heat syncope. Heat syncope is a fainting spell or dizziness that occurs when your blood vessels dilate so much, in an effort to cool your body, that it cuts off sufficient blood supply to your brain. It can happen when you’ve been on your feet for a long time in the heat or after getting up suddenly when you’ve been sitting.
- Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion can occur when your internal body temperature reaches just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and can cause you to feel nauseated, dizzy, thirsty, weak and irritable. It can also make you develop a headache and to sweat heavily. Heat exhaustion can often lead to a heat stroke if you don’t take it as a sign that you need a respite from the heat.
- Heat Stroke: You want to avoid heat stroke at all costs. If a worker suffers from heat stroke, their internal body temperature can spike to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within a very short time frame. They may become confused, clumsy and lightheaded and may begin to slur their speech or even experience seizures. It’s imperative to treat heat stroke as the medical emergency it is and to get any worker who appears to have suffered a heat stroke to a hospital right away.
- Rhabdomyolysis: Rhabdomyolysis is another serious medical condition that can occur from heat exposure and physical exhaustion. If you experience cramps and pain in your muscles, stiffness or pain in your joints and weakness overall, you may be experiencing rhabdomyolysis. Another sign is that your urine is too dark. With rhabdomyolysis, muscle fibers deteriorate rapidly, which releases electrolytes and proteins into the bloodstream. If not treated right away, this can cause seizures, kidney damage and irregular heart rhythms. It can even turn fatal.
In addition to constituting a health hazard in themselves, these physical responses to heat can also cause a person’s judgment and reaction time to be impaired, putting them at risk of hurting themselves or others. Another issue with heat is that it can make it tempting to remove things like hard hats and safety glasses. After all, no one wants their head or face to feel even hotter because of these accessories. However, it’s extremely important that workers resist this temptation. Always leave necessary safety accessories on, even when it’s hot.
Providing shade when possible along with encouraging breaks and plenty of water consumption are all key to keeping workers safe in the heat. Workers shouldn’t wait until they feel thirsty to drink water. Instead, encourage all workers to drink about a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes when activity and heat levels are moderate. Ideally, the water supply should be kept between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit to help cool workers down.
Make sure workers watch for signs of heat-related illnesses in their coworkers and in themselves and that they know not to push themselves too far. You’re better off taking a break and starting fresh than pushing your body to the limit when it could mean a trip to the hospital.
2. Cold Temperatures
Just like heat, cold temperatures can present safety and health risks, as well. When it comes to cold, the outside temperature alone isn’t enough to know how cold it will feel. Windchill is also an important factor. For instance, if it’s zero degrees Fahrenheit outside and there are 10 mph winds, then it will feel like negative 16 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s take a look at what you need to watch out for when working in the cold:
- Cold Exhaustion: Just as your body has to work harder to cool you off in the heat, it has to work harder to keep you warm in the cold. Because your body is doing this extra work, you may not have the energy to do as much work as you normally could in mild temperatures. When you become fatigued, you may be tempted to cut corners or not remain as vigilant as you need to be to keep yourself and fellow workers safe. Sometimes, a short break and a hot drink can go a long way to help you recharge.
- Frostbite: Frostbite is the most common type of injury caused by severe cold, according to the National Safety Council. Just protecting your skin from exposure isn’t enough to prevent frostbite if it’s cold enough outside. Frostbite usually affects extremities like fingers, toes, ears, nose, cheeks and chin. It causes your skin to become cold and numb and appear waxy. Superficial frostbite only affects the surface of your skin, but if it’s not addressed right away, then it can permeate all the layers of your skin, killing the tissue. In these cases, amputation may become necessary.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia is another serious health hazard in the cold. It occurs when your internal body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the first signs of hypothermia is uncontrollable shivering. Your body does this to try to warm itself up. If hypothermia progresses, then you can become drowsy, exhausted, confused and uncoordinated and your breathing can become shallow, your heartbeat irregular and your speech slurred. If hypothermia isn’t treated right away, a person can lose consciousness and die.
It’s important for project managers or overseers to pay attention to the temperature, including windchill, and to determine whether or for how long it’s safe for workers to be outside. The National Weather Service windchill chart can help you determine whether workers may be at risk of experiencing frostbite or hypothermia.
When they’re going to be exposed to cold temperatures, make sure workers wear at least three layers of clothing. Ideally, these layers shouldn’t fit too tightly and the inner layer should be made of wool, silk or a synthetic material that will keep your body dry when you sweat. Also have workers wear insulated boots or shoes and a hat or hood to insulate their head.
It’s also important that workers can recognize the signs of exhaustion, frostbite and hypothermia so they can prevent these complications from hurting coworkers or themselves.
3. Rain, Ice and Snow
Precipitation can cause a real issue for construction workers since it can make it more difficult to be fully aware of your surroundings and to avoid injuries. Let’s look at the ways rain, ice and snow can be hazardous and how to respond:
- Falling: Remember, falling is the number one cause of fatal accidents on construction sites, and slippery surfaces are notorious for causing falls. Whether wet or iced over, the ground, ladders and steps can all become more dangerous to traverse. You can help prevent falls in slippery conditions by wearing footwear that has good rubber treads and gloves that help your grip. You also want to slow down and take each step carefully, especially when you’re at a height where falling could cause serious injury.
- Reduced Visibility: When precipitation is coming down or fog is thick, it can make it harder to maintain adequate vision. This can especially be an issue if you’re operating a piece of heavy machinery. All workers should wear high-visibility, reflective clothing so they can be seen easily, even when it’s raining or snowing. Wearing eye protection that is treated with an anti-fog product may help you see better. A hat or hood may also help, but a hood can eliminate parts of your peripheral vision, so be sure to turn to look both ways to remain aware of your surroundings.
- Trench Foot: Wet conditions can also be problematic if workers aren’t wearing waterproof footwear. Also known as immersion foot syndrome, trench foot is tissue damage that occurs when feet have been cold and wet for too long. It causes pain, swelling and sensory disturbances in your feet and can cause more serious damage to nerves, blood vessels, muscle and skin if untreated. Avoid trench foot by wearing properly insulated footwear and by changing socks if they become wet.
Precipitation of some kind can occur in any season, so it’s important to know how to stay safe, even when conditions are less than ideal. Make sure workers know how they should dress and how they should modify their habits on the jobsite when rain, snow or ice is present.
Safety Benefits of Cat® Machines
Caterpillar® understands that construction work can be hazardous, so Cat® machines are designed with safety on the construction site in mind. Caterpillar builds in features that increase an operator’s visibility and help to prevent accidents. For example, Cat skid-steers are equipped with backup cameras and a larger field of vision in the front and sides.
You can also take advantage of safety technologies by Caterpillar that can be added to machines. One is a machine security system, where a machine will only start if the operator has the electronic key or passcode given to qualified operators.
Using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, Cat Detect for Personnel allows you to connect workers and equipment so that the antenna on a machine is able to tell when workers on the ground are in an unsafe area. For instance, if an equipment operator begins to back up and a worker is behind them, the machine will detect the worker’s presence and sound an alarm both inside the cab and outside of the machine to make the operator and the ground worker aware of the hazard.
One of the most advanced safety features Caterpillar currently offers is the Cat Driver Safety System (DSS). This video technology uses a camera in the cab of a machine that can recognize signs on the driver’s face that they may be distracted or fatigued. This technology is especially helpful in environments like mining where workers push themselves to work until they are too tired to continue.
Staying Safe with Alban CAT
Alban CAT is a construction equipment company serving the Washington Metro area and Mid-Atlantic region. Here at Alban CAT, we prioritize safety. We encourage our customers to consult Caterpillar’s safety resources, and we also offer safety training to our customers.
In addition to proper training, staying safe starts with reliable equipment. At Alban CAT, you can rent or purchase equipment and can choose from a wide selection of heavy machinery, parts, tools, attachments and more. Along with offering our impressive product line, our staff is committed to providing excellent customer service, expert knowledge and continuing support to customers.
Contact us online or call us today at 888.492.6337 to learn more about how Alban CAT can help your construction company get the job done well and keep your workers safe.