According to OSHA, more than 20% of all private-industry worker deaths occur in construction, making the construction industry one of the most dangerous professions.
In 2020, the pandemic ushered in a new host of health and safety issues and focused on workers’ health and safety. This emphasis will likely continue in 2021 — and even beyond.
Here’s a look at some of the trending construction safety topics for 2021, from safety culture to a job site safety checklist.
Emphasizing a health and safety culture
Covid-19 changed the way safety in the construction industry works. Companies have now taken more responsibility for workers’ health. Many require employees to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid sharing tools. Some even provide Covid-19 tracing and testing to promote workplace safety throughout the construction company.
Employers will focus on mental health as more employees experience anxiety and depression. Distracted employees are not fully functioning employees. Some companies may introduce meditation or stretching exercises to help workers deal with stress.
Look for a shift in many construction companies’ safety culture toward prevention-based programs that emphasize education, safety topic training, and identifying issues before they cause injury.
Enhanced and more frequent safety training can help workers’ safety during a construction project; it’s not just new employees who need to participate in training sessions. Refresher courses and toolbox talks need to be more frequent — at least quarterly — to keep all employees up to speed on current safety practices and workplace hazards.
Whenever new equipment is purchased, training is also recommended. Employees need to know the correct way to use it and the dangers associated with using it. This helps promote safe work practices.
Communication is key. Not just from the top down, but also among peers. Positive reinforcement is a critical component of a strong safety culture.
Informing workers about on-the-job injuries, especially if there is a trend in injuries of a particular type, can be helpful. Keeping workers informed promotes construction site safety.
According to health experts, washing hands frequently is an effective way to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the flu, and other diseases. That said, it has to be a thorough washing. Workers must use soap and running water (cold or warm) and lather up, rubbing their hands together for a minimum of 20 seconds.
This may be difficult to do in the field, so workers can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer—aim for 60% to 70% alcohol—as a good substitute.
Look for this practice to continue after Covid-19 is under control.
Regularly cleaning and disinfecting the work environment
The Covid-19 virus can live on hard surfaces such as stainless steel or plastic for several days, so exposed surfaces need routine disinfection. Additionally, don’t forget about technology — computers, tablets, landline phones, and remote controls. Cleaning and disinfection are not time-consuming or difficult to do and will protect workers.
Use an EPA-approved disinfectant that is proven to be effective against the Covid-19 virus. As an alternative, use a diluted bleach solution (5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of room temperature water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water). Be sure the bleach hasn’t expired and that it contains 5.25% to 8.25% sodium hypochlorite. A bleach solution is effective for up to 24 hours. Alcohol solutions (a minimum of 70% alcohol) also make effective disinfectants.
Before cleaning any hard surface, ensure the disinfectant cleaner won’t harm it, and have employees wear disposable gloves while cleaning those surfaces!
Personalizing personal protection equipment (PPE)
Construction workers have always been familiar with personal protection equipment, but in 2021, there will be even more emphasis on it. Masking up will likely still be mandatory, as social distancing can be difficult on the job site.
Often, safety equipment, such as helmets and gloves, are shared. Moving forward, each construction worker will likely have his or her protective gear.
One of the biggest trends in 2021 will be the demand for more personalized PPE. For example, workers with beards may find regular-sized respirators to be too restrictive for comfort. Looser-fitting respirators will still protect while accommodating facial hair. Women’s comfort and safety be taken into account. For example, vests and other garments are now being made specifically for the female body. Gloves, a mainstay in the personal protection equipment department, are now available in seamless styles made from fine-knit material. These gloves also increase comfort and make them easier to work in.
Identifying and reporting hazards on the job site
Companies are shifting from a top-down safety program to making safety a team effort. A work environment where all employees are actively engaged in safety practices is ideal. In 2021, expect employers to provide more frequent safety training, toolbox talks, and education. In turn, employees will be expected to identify and report on hazards on the job site actively.
In the spirit of accident prevention, workers need to inform supervisors and fellow workers about potential hazards such as a burned-out light, an unsteady walkway, or a ladder that needs repairing.
Reducing slips, trips, and falls
According to OSHA, falls are the most common accident on construction sites and the leading cause of death. Falling from a roof is the most common type of fatal fall. Lack of fall protection is the number one violation of OSHA standards, while lack of training requirements for fall protection was among the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations for 2019.
Fall protection such as guardrails, safety nets, warning signs, barricades, and covers can help reduce falls.
Cleaning up spills as soon as they occur or using warning signs around them can help reduce slips. Additionally, keeping the workspace clean and clear of clutter — such as scrap material and tools — can cut down on tripping incidents.
Wearing eye protection
Construction workers have one of the highest rates of eye injury than workers in other occupations. The construction workplace is filled with material hazards for the eyes. Airborne particles of dust, metal, wood, cement, stone, and drywall can damage unprotected eyes. Other harmful irritants to eyes include laser rays, radiant energy from welding, and chemical splashes.
Despite the dangers, lack of eye and face protection were among the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards violated in 2019.
Glasses with impact-resistant lenses and side shields, goggles, and full-face shields can protect workers’ eyes against injury. There is also evidence that protective glasses or face shields can protect against the Covid-19 virus.
Improving driving safety skills
Every year in the U.S., many vehicular accidents occur on construction sites or en route to a construction site. Perhaps a driver doesn’t look when backing up and hits a worker, or heavy equipment isn’t secured correctly and rolls off the truck, striking a worker. Maybe an employee-driven vehicle skids on a curve or hydroplanes in wet weather and ends up in an accident on the way to a job site. If safety programs include basic defensive driving skills and good practices, employees can be better prepared. Many accidents can be avoided.
Construction companies can improve working conditions and safety of all employees by emphasizing a safe culture, requiring handwashing and regular cleaning, personalizing protection equipment, identifying hazards, wearing eye protection, and improving driving safety skills.