Safety First, Last, and Always: Maintaining a Safe Construction Site

Published January 8, 2014 by Whirlwind Team

construction safety resized 600Construction made Forbes Top 5 Deadliest Jobs list again in 2013. The accident and fatality rate of construction workers is higher on average than in all other industries.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By following both common sense and OSHA rules and recommendations, you can minimize the hazards on your job sites while maintaining good cash flow and an efficient working environment.

OSHA’s Top 10 Citation Issues

The following is a list of the 10 most frequent problem areas included in OSHA’s annual citations:

  • Scaffolding
  • Fall Protection, written procedures
  • Excavation, general
  • Ladders
  • Head protection
  • Excavations, protective systems
  • Hazard communication
  • Fall protection, training requirements
  • Construction, general safety and health
  • Electrical, wiring/design/protection

All of these are easily addressed. With the proper enforcement your accident rate should begin to plummet.

Scaffolding – Accounts for 50 fatalities annually in the U.S.

Scaffolds must be rigid and able to sustain weights up to four times the maximum intended load bearing weight provided by the manufacturer. They should be on solid ground, not on unstable objects such as concrete blocks. They should only be built or moved by someone who is competent to do so and should be equipped with guard rails, mid-rails, and toe boards.

Have scaffolding inspected daily and after any incident. Care should be taken that no part of the scaffolding contacts electrical wires or rests against a heat source.

Any scaffolding that is damaged should be taken out of use.

Fall Protection – Accounts for most fatalities on job site

Most falls are caused by unstable work surfaces, failure to use personal protective equipment, and human error.

Enforcement of PPE usage goes a long way towards minimizing the risk of falls. In addition, proper guardrails, fall arrest systems, safety nets will prevent many other injuries due to falls.

Ladders and Stairways

Make sure everyone uses the right ladder for the job. Ladders should be inspected before use for damage, dirt, grease, or paint/stickers that could hide defects. When calculating loads on the ladder, be sure to include the user, materials, and tools in the weight.

Keep metal ladders and components away from electrical wires. Destroy damaged ladders immediately or conspicuously tag them for out of use.

Stairway treads should extend the entire top and landing. A handrail is required if there are 4 or more risers or if the stairway rises more than 30 inches. All treads and walkways should be free of objects and debris.


Enforce this rule: Never Enter an Unprotected Trench.

A protective trench system must be in place for all trenches of 20 feet or more in depth. Shallower trenches require shoring.

Protective systems include:

  • Sloping by cutting walls back at an angle away from the trench according to soil type.
  • Shoring supports.
  • Trench boxes.

All trenches must have adequate exits no more than 25 feet away from the work area and the trench should be inspected prior to entry and after any event that can increase the hazard such as rain or blasting work. Soils must be at least 2 feet from the edge of the top of the trench.


One of the most common accidents is a worker being struck by an overhead load or being caught in the swing radius of the crane arm. Another is accidental contact of the crane arm with overhead electrical wires.

Before use, all crane controls should be checked for proper operation. All wires, ropes, chains, and hooks should be inspected for damage. Raise a load slightly to check balance and braking systems. Fully extend all the outriggers and do not move loads over workers. Block off access to areas below the crane and within its swing radius.

Forklifts – cause of 100 fatalities annually, usually from turn over accidents

Nobody under the age of 18 should be operating a forklift. Enforce a slow speed limit (less than 5 miles per hour), especially when moving loads or in traffic.  Forklifts should not transport loads in the fully raised position. And forbid any racing or horse-play. Emphasize this is a work area, not a playground.

All forklifts should be inspected before use and no modifications made unless written approval from the manufacturer is received. The reverse alarm must be heard above all other noise. And, of course, the driver should always wear a seat belt.

Chemical Safety

Improper storage and use of chemicals can have horrific consequences as illustrated this year in West, Texas. Besides explosions and fires, chemicals can cause burns and respiratory problems.

All personnel should undergo training on the MSDS sheets that come with each chemical and the sheets should always be available to all who work in the area. Provide approved clean up kits and a spill control plan. Train everyone to clean up spills as they happen and enforce PPE use.

Hazard Communication

Your best defense against accidents is training and communication with all workers. Safety rules should always be enforced including the use of personal protective equipment such as hard hats, steel toed boots, and/or other requirement of the specific job and site.

The costs associated with unsafe working conditions will far, far outstrip the costs of providing personal protective equipment, training, and using all available safety mechanisms and practices. Do not cut corners in this area; life and limb are more important than concrete and steel.

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