What are the Fatal Four of Construction Accidents?
September 3, 2020
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified four causes of construction accidents that, taken together, account for nearly 60 percent of all construction industry fatalities each year. Collectively known as the Fatal Four, these accidents include the following:
- Struck-by accidents
- Caught in/between accidents
Each year, up to 600 workers suffer fatal injuries as a result of Fatal Four accidents. Workers can avoid injuries by learning the facts about construction’s fatal four, identifying construction site hazards, and following safety protocols. Employers can also provide safety training and take other measures to mitigate job site hazards that lead to Fatal Four accidents.
Facts About Common Fall Hazards
More than one-third of all construction industry fatalities are caused by falls primarily because of the amount of work performed at elevated heights on a job site. The most common hazards that lead to falls include the following:
- Lack of perimeter protection at exposed edges, including stair openings, roofs, and skylights
- Debris or slippery surfaces on roofs
- Ladders that are too short or too narrow for the job
- Misuse of ladders
- Improper scaffold construction and use
- Failure to use personal fall arrest systems (PFAS)
It is a known fact that installing perimeter protection and signage near exposed edges and elevator shafts can reduce the risk of fall accidents. The main types of barriers include the following:
- Guardrails. These are vertical barriers consisting of top rails, mid-rails, and posts.
- Toe boards. These keep workers from slipping over an edge and help prevent tools from falling down below; they should be at least 3.5 inches high and capable of withstanding a force of 50 pounds.
- Handrails. Mounted directly on a wall or partition, handrails make it safer for workers to traverse stairways or ramps.
Ladders should be carefully placed, and workers should refrain from leaning while on the ladder, working from the top rung, or carrying heavy objects while climbing. In general, additional fall protection is not required when working from a portable ladder. Above 10 feet, however, workers should be on scaffolds, not ladders.
It is also a proven fact that scaffolds are dangerous when overloaded or loaded improperly. Workers on scaffolds can mitigate the danger of falling by using a personal fall arrest system (PFAS), which can evenly distribute the force of a fall should a mishap occur. The central component is a body harness, which has a connecting device that is securely attached to an anchorage point. Workers must secure themselves to the anchorage point before using the PFAS.
How Can I Avoid Struck-By Accidents?
Each year, nearly 10 percent of all construction accident fatalities occur when workers are struck by objects or pieces of equipment. Struck-by accidents can result in serious head, neck, and limb injuries. Oftentimes, victims of struck-by accidents are not participating in the work that caused the object to be in motion. This can make it difficult for workers to avoid struck-by accidents caused by others. However, knowing how these accidents occur and making sure all workers on the site follow safety measures can help everyone avoid these accidents. Struck by hazards include the following:
- Falling objects
- Flying objects
- Rolling objects
- Swinging objects
When performing tasks at elevated locations, workers can protect their colleagues below by installing toe boards on scaffolding edges, and by using lanyards to secure tools. Barricading work zones where flying debris may be present is another way to reduce the risks of struck-by accidents.
Cranes present additional struck-by hazards when they are used to lift and swing heavy loads. The crane itself may strike workers, or the loads can come loose. In April 2019, a construction worker in Manhattan was killed by a falling crane counterweight. Employers can protect workers from these hazards by implementing the following:
- Providing high-visibility clothing for workers so they can be easily seen by machinery operators
- Conducting safety training and meetings
- Ensuring crane operators are qualified
Following all relevant OSHA standards can help prevent struck-by accidents caused by cranes and other machinery.
How Can I Identity Electrocution Hazards?
Electrocutions kill nearly 100 construction workers each year. Workers who survive electrocution often suffer burns, shock, limb amputations, and disfigurement. While electricians suffer the most electrocutions per year, non-electrical workers also risk electrocution from downed wires. Workers can identify electrocution hazards by continually looking for the presence of power sources as they traverse the job site and inspect the condition of tools, equipment, and wires that consume or conduct electricity. Common electrocution hazards include the following:
- Exposed or bare wires
- Inadequate wiring
- Overloaded circuits
- Frayed extension cords
- Damaged power tools and electrical equipment
- Exposed electrical parts
- Overhead power lines
- Improper grounding
- Damaged insulation
Because water conducts electricity, workers should exercise extra caution when working in wet conditions. To protect against electrocution hazards, OSHA recommends the following:
- Maintain a safe distance from overhead power lines
- Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI)
- Make sure portable electric tools are grounded or double insulated
- Follow lockout/tagout procedures to control electrical energy sources
- Never leave equipment panels open, exposing energized conductors or circuit parts
Workers should always identify all locations of overhead and underground power sources before starting work. Anyone who uses either portable or plug-connected electrical equipment should be trained on how to inspect the equipment before use.
Caught In/Between Hazards
More than 50 construction workers die annually as a result of becoming compressed between equipment, between equipment and a wall, or getting crushed in collapsing trenches or structures. Trenches present one of the greatest caught in/between hazards. Trench cave-ins are more likely to cause worker fatalities than any other type of excavation-related accident. Unfortunately, trenching and excavation incidents are on the rise, according to OSHA.
A trench deeper than five feet should have protective systems in place to help prevent cave-ins. OSHA lists the following types of protective systems that may be used in combination:
- This involves cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation.
- Installing supports to prevent soil movement.
- Using trench boxes or other supports to protect workers inside the trench.
Professional engineers who understand soil classifications should design protective systems for trenches deeper than 20 feet. Trenches should be inspected at the start of each shift and after heavy rainstorms. At all times, heavy equipment should be kept away from trench edges. To avoid other types of caught in/between accidents, workers should never position themselves between moving and fixed objects, such as between a forklift and a wall, even if the forklift is moving slowly. Caught in/between accidents happen quickly without warning.
What Other Guidelines Should I Follow to Stay Safe at Work?
Construction workers can follow these guidelines to prevent accidents and stay safe in the workplace:
- Always wear a hard hat
- Attend all safety trainings and meetings
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) as instructed
- Inspect equipment at the beginning and end of each shift
- Wear high-visibility clothing and make sure you are visible to machine operators
- Remain aware of your surroundings while staying focused on the task at hand
Employers should make sure workers are equipped with adequate safety gear, including fall protection systems. Guardrails and toe boards should be installed around every elevated open edge. Make it a priority to educate workers about job hazards; it is important to provide safety training and signage in a language that all workers can understand.
New Jersey Construction Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Advocate for Injured Construction Workers
Construction workers must confront safety hazards every time they enter a job site. Being aware of job site hazards can help workers avoid injury, however, accidents still happen. If you were injured on a construction site, the New Jersey construction accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP can help. Call us at 800-222-8792 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. With offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.