The House Insurance Built
Risk Management for Builders & Contractors

Chapter 4: Risk Management for Contractors and Small Construction Businesses
Part 3: OSHA and You: Creating a Safer Work Environment

The Occupational Health & Safety Administration cites four fatal incidents as the leading causes of construction worker deaths. They include…

  • Falls (278 deaths in 2012).
  • Struck by Object (78 deaths in 2012).
  • Electrocutions (66 deaths in 2012).
  • Caught-in/between (13 deaths in 2012).

Accidents happen all the time, but with some planning and awareness, you can reduce your chances of facing these deadly situations. Here are some hazard prevention tips that can make a safer work environment for you and your future employees.

Fall Prevention

Falls can happen to even the most careful contractor. For example, say you are a roofing contractor, and while removing a roof opening cover, you fall 21 feet to the concrete floor below. Such a fall could fatally injure you. Ledges, roof edges, misused or improper scaffolding, and ladders could all be potential fall hazards.

To reduce the risk of a fall, use guardrails, safety nets, and personal fall arrest systems (full-body harness, connectors, and anchorage). Guardrails or personal fall arrest systems are required for scaffold work over 10 feet high. For more safety tips, read OSHA's training guide Construction Focus Four: Fall Hazards [PDF].

Struck-by-Object Protection

Struck-by hazards can include injuries due to falling tools or materials (such as bricks being hoisted to the top of the building in a bucket, which tilts and spills) or machinery (such as being hit by a truck while working on a highway).

To reduce your risk exposures, be aware of heavy machinery when it's operating and stay clear of its path. This includes noting the swing radius of cranes and being aware of uneven loads. If you are operating heavy machinery, be aware of personnel before using dumping or lifting devices.

When working on a construction zone, wear high-visibility reflective clothing, never cross the path of a reversing vehicle, and ensure the proper warning signage is in place. And of course, always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), especially helmets. For a complete guide to struck-by safety, consult OSHA's training guide Construction Focus Four: Struck-By Hazards [PDF].

Electrical Safety

To remember your most common electrical hazards, use the acronym B.E.S.A.F.E., which stands for:

  • Burns.
  • Electrocution.
  • Shock.
  • Arc flash / arc blast.
  • Fire.
  • Explosions.

You don't have to be an electrician to face these hazards, either. For instance, if you move an aluminum ladder that hits the power lines overhead, you could be electrocuted.

To limit exposures, don't work on new and existing energized electrical circuits until all power is shut off and grounds are attached. You should have an effective "Lockout / Tagout" system in place, which means all electrical devices are turned off, locked out, and tagged out before moving forward.

All extension cords and tools should have grounded prongs. Never use anything with frayed, damaged, or worn electrical cords or cables. And after you've identified power lines, ensure that ladders, scaffolds, equipment, and materials never come within 10 feet of them. For more safety tips, check out OSHA's Construction Focus Four: Electrocution Hazards [PDF].

Caught-In Protection

Caught-in risks include cave-ins (trenching), being pulled into machinery, and being crushed between rolling, sliding, or shifting objects. For example, say you are working in a nine-foot deep excavation installing water pipes. If the south side of the excavation caved in on you, you could die from suffocation.

Keep yourself safe by ensuring you never enter an unprotected trench. A protected trench will have sloping, benching, or shoring sides to offset the risk of cave-ins. To avoid getting caught in moving parts (such as belts), ensure the moving parts of equipment are guarded.

Also, never wear loose clothing or jewelry when working with this kind of equipment. Learn more about how to prevent cave-ins and other accidents by reading OSHA's Construction Focus Four: Caught-In or -Between Hazards [PDF].

Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of all the safety precautions you should take while on the worksite. To create a safety plan for your business, be sure to check out the OSHA Construction eTool.

Next: Part 4: Why Starting and Stopping Insurance Coverage Never Pays Off

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