How to Avoid Jobsite Accidents on Steel Erection Projects

Published January 18, 2016 by Whirlwind Team

steel erection jobsite accidents

In 2014, 4,251 workers were killed on the job. About 20% of those (874) were in construction. OSHA has a so-called “Fatal Four” that account for a majority of those fatalities:

  • Falls (39.9%)
  • Electrocutions (8.5%)
  • Struck by Object (8.4%)
  • Caught-in/between (1.2%)

Those are fatalities.The number of injuries is many times higher and is likely under-reported. What does this translate into for you?

  • Higher medical costs
  • Higher insurance premiums
  • Lost work days
  • Possible fines from OSHA (Note: These are expensive)

Safety on the jobsite should be the number one concern of any construction business because unsafe work conditions reduce morale and make it difficult to hire quality talent.

Falls

William Trehame, Director of Engineering and Administration for Midwest Steel, agrees that fall protection is the greatest challenge in steel erection projects. OSHA records show nearly 40% of construction fatalities occur due to falls; falls from equipment platforms, from roofs, from steel members, and more. These could be cut in half with the proper safety procedures, education, and personal protective equipment.

OSHA Regulation 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart M Standard 1926.501 Duty to Have Fall Protection

OSHA Regulation 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart R Standard 1926.760 Fall Protection (Steel Erection)

Fall protection

Summary of general fall protection requirements from OSHA - please refer to the complete standard on the OSHA website:

  • Each employee working at heights must be protected from fall hazards by guardrails, safety netting, fall arrest or restraint systems, and positioning devices.
  • Perimeter safety cables must be installed in multi-story structures after decking is installed.
  • One of the above safety systems must be used at levels of 15 feet up to 30 feet.
  • On controlled decking zones (CDZ) employees working at the leading edge must be protected from fall hazards of more than two stories or 30 feet, whichever is less.

Other fall protection advice from OSHA includes:

  • Guarding every floor hole a worker can accidentally walk into
  • Provide guardrails and toe boards around all elevated, open-sided platforms, floors, and runways
  • Guard against falls from any height into machinery or equipment using toe boards and guard rails
  • Provide other fall protection as needed such as safety harnesses and lines, safety nets, stair railings, and hand rails
  • Clearly marking controlled decking zones

Electrocution

Electrocution is defined as death caused by electric shock, or electric current passing through the body. Other injuries caused by electrical current are burns and non-lethal shock.

Steel is an electrical conductor, which is great for the power company but very bad for steel workers. Any time a steel building is under construction there is the potential for electrocution due to part of the frame contacting an electrical wire or for metal equipment to fall against or contact electrical wires.

OSHA Regulation 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart E Standard 1926.97 Electrical Protective Equipment

Electrical safety

Summary of electrical protective equipment requirements from OSHA - please refer to the complete standard on the OSHA website:

  • Rubber insulating blankets
  • Rubber insulating matting
  • Rubber insulating covers
  • Rubber insulating line hose
  • Rubber insulating gloves
  • Rubber insulating sleeves

All products must be seamless and clearly marked by equipment class or type. Each must be able to withstand AC proof-test voltage as specified in OSHA regulations. There can be no holes or tears.

OSHA recommends the following:

  • Assume all overhead wires and energized at lethal voltages.
  • Never touch a fallen overhead power line.
  • If working at heights or handling long objects (ladders or other equipment), survey the area for overhead power lines before starting work.

Construction equipment drivers must also take care not to touch any part of the steel-bodied equipment to a power line. While rubber wheels can ground and insulate, they are no protection for the driver of an open vehicle.

Object Strikes

Construction sites can be filled with flying and falling objects, including dropped steel members, construction equipment parts, tools, and the occasional human body (from the falls mentioned earlier). Injuries and death from head trauma, broken bones, and severe cuts and lacerations are all potential problems resulting from an object strike.

OSHA Regulation 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart R Standard Number 1926-759 Falling Object Protection

The standard itself is pretty short and simply states:

  • All items which are not in use while aloft shall be secured against accidental displacement.
  • Other construction processes below steel erection shall be barred unless overhead protection for employees below is provided.

Safety from object strikes

However, there are a number of ways OSHA suggests your workers can avoid injury from falling or flying objects:

  • Wear a hard hat (provided by employer)
  • Use toe boards and debris nets
  • Stack materials carefully to avoiding collapse or falling
  • Avoid working underneath loads being moved by crane
  • Barricade hazard areas and post warnings
  • Inspect cranes and hoists for loose components
  • Secure tools and materials
  • Use catch platforms, debris nets, or canopies to catch falling objects

Caught-In-Between (Crushing and Entrapment)

Entrapment and crush injuries can occur when the human body comes between two hard objects, such as heavy machinery and steel.

Aerial work platforms are one source of crush injuries; a worker can be crushed in boom lift during reversals, slewing, or elevation of the platform accidentally into an obstruction. Typically, the operator becomes wedged between the obstruction and the control panel, which, in turn, can cause further unintentional movement of the lift.

There are no specific OSHA standards regarding caught-in-between injuries and fatalities since the information is generally dealt with in standards on personal protective equipment and jobsite safety.

OSHA does list causes of caught-in-between:

  • Trench or excavation collapse
  • Rotating equipment
  • Unguarded parts
  • Equipment roll-overs
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Rigging accidents

Caught-in-between accidents can also occur when equipment operators are not fully trained and when equipment malfunctions or is improperly repaired.

Jobsite safety from caught-in-between

When working around cranes and other heavy equipment:

  • Workers must always be aware of their surroundings
  • Workers should never place themselves between a piece of heavy equipment and an immovable object
  • Workers should never approach equipment unless they know the operator sees them and they continue eye contact with the operator.
  • Workers should never be within the swing radius of rotating equipment
  • The swing radius should be blocked from worker access
  • Equipment should be turned off before workers approach

Workers are also susceptible when guards on tools or equipment have been removed or disabled, or when loose clothing becomes caught in machinery.

Minimize Jobsite Accidents

Construction is one of the most hazardous occupations and jobsites have a large share of on-the-job injuries and fatalities. The four most fatal types of accidents according to OSHA are falls, electrocution, being struck by an object, or becoming caught-in-between.

Distribution and enforcement of protective gear; appropriate training and equipment operation; and awareness of surroundings can all reduce these types of accidents. If you gain a reputation for jobsite safety you can turn it to a recruitment and retention advantage over your competitors. A safe jobsite is also a cost-effective site.

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