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Construction Site Accidents and Worker Safety

By Thomas P. Giuffra

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 20% of worker fatalities are construction-related. While the construction industry serves as the backbone of the nation’s economy, construction workers face a variety of hazards daily. Some of these hazards can be avoided. Those hazards related to an employer’s failure to comply with OSHA guidelines and safety standards are a leading cause of construction accidents and injuries. Other hazards workers face concern defective equipment or equipment that doesn’t have the proper or required safeguards.

In this post, I will highlight just a few of the hazards that construction workers encounter and ways in which those hazards can be minimized.

Construction Site Falls

Falls at construction sites are arguably the most common construction site accidents and often lead to fatalities. However, there are safeguards recommended by OSHA that can help workers avoid such conditions. According to OSHA,

“A guardrail system can be used as a barrier installed to prevent workers from falling off a work surface edge to a lower level. Guardrail systems can be used on many work surfaces, including rooftops, platforms, mezzanines, balconies, scaffolds, incomplete decked floors, catwalks, observation platforms, mobile work surfaces and ladderway points of access. Figure 1 shows a temporary guardrail system for a walkway (see 29 CFR 1926.500; 29 CFR 1926.502(b)).

Guardrails can also be used to keep workers from falling into holes or openings in decking or floors (see 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(4)(i); 29 CFR 1926.502(b); Figure 2).

Guardrails are typically constructed using:

  • Upright supports attached to the working surface;
  • A horizontal top rail connected to the supports;
  • One or more midrails running parallel to the top rail; and
  • Toeboards when necessary to protect workers below from falling objects.

Effective guardrail systems will have at a minimum:

  • A surface that is smooth and free from burrs to prevent punctures and lacerations and to prevent snagging of clothing (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(6)).
  • Toprails and midrails that are at least 1/4 inch in diameter (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(9)).
  • Strength to withstand at least 200 pounds applied within 2 inches of the top edge in any outward or downward direction (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(3)).
  • A toprail between 39 and 45 inches from the working level, raised as necessary to account for workers using stilts or otherwise working in an elevated location above the work surface (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(1)).
  • Midrails (or equivalent structural members) that withstand at least 150 pounds of force in the downward or outward direction (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(5)).
  • A midrail, mesh, screen, or equivalent intermediate structural members installed between the guardrail system top edge and the walking/working surface when there is no wall or parapet wall at least 21 inches high (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(2)).
  • Intermediate members (such as balusters), when used between posts, that are not more than 19 inches apart (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(2)(iii)).
  • Flags made of high visibility material every 6 feet if wire rope is used for top rails (see 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(9)).

Guardrails are just one of the many fall prevention methods recommended by OSHA which has a section of its website dedicated to fall prevention on construction sites.

As New York gets back to work, the number of construction sites will undoubtedly increase as well. Workers who have been furloughed for the past several months as well as employers who are scrambling to make up for lost time and income may become complacent about their safety. Now is the time to re-familiarize yourself with safety precautions. The life you save may be your own.

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