One in five worker deaths in 2015 were in the construction industry, with 4,379 construction worker fatalities that year. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified the “Fatal Four,” the top four leading causes of private sector worker deaths in construction: falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. Eliminating the “Fatal Four” would save 602 American workers’ lives every year.

“We still have a lot of work to do to ensure workers entering the construction workforce are protected,” says Chris Trahan Cain, executive director of the Center for Construction Research and Training, which is committed to reducing occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the construction industry. Under OSHA, employers are responsible for complying with occupational safety and health standards and identifying hazards on site.

Preventing falls

Falling is a major danger for workers.

“Almost all sites have unprotected sides and edges, wall openings or floor holes at some point during construction,” says Davis Layne, senior adviser to OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs Participants Association (VPPPA), a safety and health management system that prevents workplace accidents and fatalities, noting injuries from falling from a ladder can range from sprains to death. He urges workers to only use ladders that comply with federal or state requirements.

“Even relatively low falls are impactful and do lead to injuries,” says Cain, explaining falls can result in ankle, leg and head injuries, as well as internal injuries, and even death. “It’s about planning, surviving and training.” Cain adds that employers need to protect workers, especially those working at heights, with fall control such as guardrails, rigid nuts over skylights and coverings for floor and wall openings.

In addition to falls, other common workplace hazards include spills on floors or tripping dangers; unguarded machinery, and electrical hazards like frayed cord and improper wiring.

Biological hazards can include bacteria and viruses, as well as blood and other bodily fluids. Physical hazards, such as radiation, noise and vibration, can potentially harm a worker’s body without necessarily touching it. Chemical hazards in the workplace may cause exposure to chemicals resulting in illness, skin irritation or breathing problems

“A lot about construction is teamwork with the employees and employer trying to get the work done as safely and efficiently as they can."

Reporting Hazards

If workers see a hazard, such as unsafe conditions that could cause injury, illness or death, they should report it.

“Worksites in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) must operate a reliable system that enables employees to notify appropriate management personnel in writing — without fear of reprisal — about conditions that appear hazardous, and to receive timely and appropriate responses,” says Layne.

While the system can be anonymous, it must include timely responses to employees as well as tracking to show the progress by which the hazard has been eliminated or controlled to completion.

Cain says bosses and workers need to work together to identify and eliminate workplace hazards.

“A lot about construction is teamwork with the employees and employer trying to get the work done as safely and efficiently as they can,” she says.