Construction sites can be dangerous places if proper safety precautions are not taken. Workers risk injury from various hazards, such as falling objects, machinery, and electrical hazards. In addition, visitors to construction sites may also be at risk if they are unaware of the potential dangers. With the start of the new year, reviewing and updating construction site safety practices is essential to ensure everyone on site is safe.
This article will provide the top 10 essential construction site safety tips for 2023. These tips will help to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, making construction sites safer for workers, visitors, and the public. Whether you’re a construction site manager, supervisor, worker, or visitor, these tips will provide valuable information to help you stay safe on site.
10 Construction Site Safety Tips You Need To Know
For these safety tips, we focused on OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards in Construction. For each standard cited, we briefly explain the standard or hazard, along with some general tips for workers to keep in mind and some of the requirements for employers to follow to provide a safe work environment.
1. Fall Protection
The duty to have fall protection is the most cited standard in the construction industry and is one of the leading causes of worker deaths. Employers need to better assess job sites and implement fall protection systems to protect workers.
Workers: Workers should familiarize themselves with all potential fall hazards on a job site. Never work in an area where fall protection systems have yet to be installed. Workers using personal fall arrest systems should inspect them before each use to ensure they are working properly and are damage-free. The lanyard or lifeline should be short enough to prevent the worker from making contact at a lower level in the event of a fall. This means considering the length of the lanyard, dynamic elongation due to elastic stretch, and the worker’s height.
Employers: Employers must provide fall protection systems to protect their workers from walking or working surfaces with unprotected edges or sides six feet above a lower level. Fall protection can include guardrails, net safety systems, and personal fall arrest systems. Guardrails are the only method approved that actually prevents falls from occurring. Safety nets and personal fall arrest systems prevent workers from falling a great distance.
Fall protection includes protecting workers from falling into holes such as elevator shafts, skylights, and excavations. Employers must also protect workers from falling objects by wearing hard hats and installing toeboards, screens, or guardrails, erecting canopies or barricading the area to keep workers out.
2. Scaffolds – General Requirements
Approximately 65% of all construction workers perform work on scaffolds. Employees working on and around scaffolding are exposed to falls, electrocutions, and falling object hazards.
Workers: Hard hats should be worn when working on, under, or on a scaffold. Workers should also wear sturdy, non-skid work boots and use tool lanyards when working on scaffolds to prevent slips and falls and to protect workers below. Workers should never work on scaffolding covered in ice, water, or mud. Workers are prohibited from using boxes, ladders, or other objects to increase their working height when on a scaffold.
Workers should never exceed the maximum load when working on scaffolds. Never leave tools, equipment, or materials on the scaffold at the end of a shift. Workers should not climb scaffolding anywhere except for the access points to reach the working platform. Tools and materials should be hoisted to the working platform once the worker has climbed the scaffold.
If personal fall arrest systems are required for the scaffold, you will work on, and thoroughly inspect the equipment for damage and wear. Workers should anchor the system to a safe point that won’t allow them to free-fall more than six feet before stopping.
Employers: All scaffolding should be designed, erected, and disassembled by a competent person. A competent person should also inspect scaffolding before the start of work each day to ensure that it is safe for use.
Scaffolding should be erected on solid footing, fully planked, and at least 10 feet from power lines. Scaffolding should be erected with guardrails, mid-rails, and toeboards to protect employees working on, under, and around scaffolding.
3. Stairways and Ladders
Improper ladder use is one of the leading causes of falls for construction workers resulting in injury or death. Reasons for ladder falls include incorrect ladder choice, failure to properly secure the ladder, and attempting to carry tools and materials by hand while climbing.
Workers: Always maintain three points of contact while ascending and descending a ladder, both feet and at least one hand. Portable ladders should be long enough to be placed at a stable angle and extended three feet above the work surface. Workers should tie ladders to a secure point at the top and bottom to avoid sliding or falling. Tools and materials should be carried up using a tool belt or a rope to pull things up once you’ve stopped climbing. Never load ladders beyond their rated capacity, including the worker’s weight, materials, and tools.
Employers: A competent person should inspect all ladders before use each day. Defective ladders should be marked or tagged out and taken out of service until properly repaired. Workers should be trained on ladder safety and know how to select the proper ladder for the job. All ladders on the construction site should conform to OSHA standards. This includes job-made ladders, fixed ladders, and portable ladders, both self-supporting and those that aren’t. If workers use energized electrical equipment, ladders should have nonconductive side railings.
4. Fall Protection – Training Requirements
It’s not a surprise that the top four most frequently cited OSHA standards in construction have to do with protecting workers from falls. Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in construction, accounting for nearly 40% of all worker deaths. Providing proper and ongoing training to workers can go a long way in reducing the number of falls suffered at the construction site.
Workers: Workers should be able to recognize the hazards of falling and know the procedures to follow to minimize risks and prevent falls.
Employers: A competent person is required to train all employees who might be exposed to fall hazards. Again, this should cover all employees because, at some point, nearly everyone on the construction site is exposed to a fall hazard. Topics of the training program should include the nature of fall hazards present on the construction site, proper erection, inspection and maintenance of fall protection systems, use of fall protection systems and personal fall arrest systems, and the employee’s role in safety monitoring and the fall protection plan.
Employers must also maintain certification records of fall protection planning for all employees. Retraining is required for changes that render prior training obsolete and in instances where it is apparent that a worker has not retained enough knowledge from the training program to ensure their safety.
5. Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment
OSHA recently updated their standard covering eye and face protection in construction, with the new rule going into effect in April 2016.
OSHA requires that workers be provided with and wear face and eye protection when there is eye or face hazards present from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gasses or vapours, or potentially injurious light radiation. These hazards are present when doing various tasks on the job site, such as welding, chipping, grinding, masonry work, sanding, woodworking, and drilling. When flying object hazards are present, eye protection must be equipped with side protection or detachable side protectors.
Workers: When wearing eye and face protection, workers should ensure they don’t interfere with their movements and fit snugly on their faces. Eye and face protection should be kept clean and in good repair. Workers should inspect face and eye protection before use to ensure it is free of cracks, chips, and other damage. Eye and face protection that becomes damaged should be replaced immediately.
Employers: Employers are required to provide eye and face protection to workers free of charge. Eye and face protection must meet the following consensus standards: ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R01998), ANSI Z87.1-2003, or ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010 requirements. Employers should issue eye and face protection to workers based on an assessment of anticipated hazards. If workers have prescription lenses, employers must ensure that they have eye protection that incorporates the prescription or that can be worn over the corrective lenses without disturbing them.
6. Head Protection.
Hard hats are commonplace at the construction site. They protect workers from hazards such as falling and flying objects, electrical shock and other impacts.
Workers: Workers are required to wear head protection wherever there is the potential for being struck in the head, basically the entire time you are on the construction site. Possible scenarios include falling tools or debris, accidental nail gun discharge, contact with electrical hazards, or swinging construction equipment. Workers should inspect their hard hats for any cracks, dents, or signs of deterioration. Hard hats should fit snugly on your head and not come loose during normal movements or work activities.
Employers: Employers are responsible for providing all employees with head protection that meets consensus standards outlined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or is constructed by one of those consensus standards. Employers are not allowed to charge employees for the cost of head protection or require them to provide their own hard hats unless they do so voluntarily. Hard hats should be kept in good condition and be replaced immediately if they suffer a heavy blow or electric shock.
7. Toxic and Hazardous Substances
This general industry standard focuses on requirements for employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplace. Some examples of hazardous materials commonly found at construction sites include lead, silica, asbestos, and treated wood or wood that will be cut and generate dust. Certain building materials also contain hazardous chemicals such as zinc, cadmium, beryllium, and mercury.
Workers: Workers should be able to read and use Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for any hazardous chemicals used at the construction site. Employees should wear proper PPE when handling hazardous chemicals and should clean up any spills when they occur.
Employers: Employers are required to implement a written hazard communication program that includes an inventory of all hazardous chemicals used at the site. All containers of hazardous substances must have a hazard warning and be labelled. Employers should have an MSDS available for each hazardous substance. Employees should be trained regarding the risk of all hazardous chemicals and proper handling instructions.
8. General Safety and Health Provisions
The purpose of this standard is to protect construction workers from being required to “work in surroundings or under working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to his health or safety” by contractors and subcontractors.
Workers: The key takeaway from this standard is that workers should know that there are protections in place for their safety while working on the construction site. This includes receiving proper training for specific job duties and being provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers should never operate machinery or equipment if they have not been properly and adequately trained on its safe operation.
Employers: Employers must implement safety programs to protect workers and prevent accidents. A competent person(s) is required to provide inspections of job sites, equipment, and materials and including ensuring that non-compliant tools and machinery are taken out of use by locking or tagging, or removing them from the job site Construction standards take precedence over any similar or applicable general industry standard.
In addition to providing necessary PPE to employees at no cost, employers must train all employees on hazards and all related matters for construction standards applicable to a worker’s job duties.
9. Scaffolds – Aerial Lifts.
Aerial lifts fall under scaffolding and are vehicle-mounted devices that elevate workers, such as articulating and extendable boom platforms, vertical towers, and aerial ladders. Hazards associated with aerial lifts include falls and ejections from the lift platform, tip-overs and structural failures, electric shock, contact with overhead objects or ceiling, and being struck by objects falling from lifts.
Workers: Workers must be trained and authorized to operate an aerial lift. Inspect all vehicle and lift components based on the manufacturer’s recommendations before operating an aerial lift to ensure it is in safe working condition. Never use a lift if any component is missing, damaged, or appears defective.
Always stand on the lift platform or bucket floor when working, and never use a ladder or other device to increase your working height. Ensure that your harness or restraining belt and lanyard are securely attached to the boom or bucket and in good working condition.
Never exceed the load capacity or the lift’s vertical and horizontal reach limits. Lower the lift platform when driving the lift and stay at least 10 feet away from overhead lines.
Employers: Employers should ensure that all workers operating aerial lifts receive proper training before being authorized to use them and provide retraining in the event a worker has an accident while operating a lift, hazards are discovered, a different type of lift is being used, or if the workers are observed improperly operating a lift.
In addition to ensuring that all aerial lifts are in good operating condition, employers are responsible for inspecting work zones for hazards, including holes or unstable surfaces, overhead obstructions, inadequate ceiling heights, and slopes or ditches. Employers should also have power lines de-energized when possible when workers are nearby.
10. Fall Protection – Criteria and Practices.
This standard covers all the requirements and provisions for the different types of fall protection required by OSHA. It covers items like guardrail height requirements and minimum tensile strength for components of personal fall arrest systems. This standard also covers requirements for covers over holes and openings and provisions for establishing controlled access zones.
Workers: Workers should be aware of potential fall hazards and what fall protection systems have been implemented to protect them. If workers use personal fall arrest systems, they should inspect them for wear and ensure that all components are in good working order and that the harness properly fits.
Employers: Employers are required to install all required fall protection systems before any employees begin work. Employers should remember that they are also responsible for protecting workers from falling objects with toeboards, canopies, or guardrails. If using a safety monitoring system, the safety monitor should be a competent person who remains on the same walking or working surface and in visual sight and hearing distance from the worker they are monitoring. They should be able to identify fall hazards and warn workers when they are working unsafely or may be unaware of a fall hazard.
Suppose conventional fall protection methods laid out by OSHA are infeasible or create a more significant hazard, and a worker is performing leading-edge work, precast concrete erection, or residential construction work. In that case, the employer must have a fall protection plan. The plan must be site-specific and developed by a qualified person. Areas where conventional methods cannot be used, must be classified as controlled access zones, and only workers designated to perform work there are allowed to enter.