Just recently, a worker at the Salt Lake City International Airport redevelopment project fell to his death down a 40 feet elevator shaft. This construction death has caused OSHA to open a new investigation into the safety precautions being taken at large construction projects like this. Their preliminary investigation shows that elevator-related deaths at construction sites have doubled between the years 2003 and 2016. Though the number is low as compared with the overall fatalities reported at construction projects, the fact that it’s continually rising has many experts wondering about the reasons of these increasing construction deaths.
Construction Work is Dangerous
Construction work has always been fraught with injuries and fatalities due to its inherent nature. You have a large site with hundreds of workers and dozens of pieces of heavy equipment. Everyone is busy trying to get their work done. It’s easy to get distracted and not notice a chunk of concrete lying in your path. Of course, there are many other factors that make construction work more dangerous than other jobs. It’s no wonder construction deaths are higher than other professions.
Not Enough Skilled Workers Causes Construction Deaths
For one, there’s a huge lack of skilled tradesmen to do the work. This leaves many companies hiring young, inexperienced people to do jobs they really aren’t qualified for. Construction is one of those industries that seems to draw unskilled laborers who are just looking for a paycheck. Maybe they have no training at all, but they tell the foremen they have years of experience hanging sheetrock. Now multiply that by dozens and you have someone in each phase of the project who really doesn’t know what they’re doing, resulting in construction deaths.
They’re a danger to others because they haven’t been properly trained. They don’t know how to check and make sure that wiring is safe to touch. They don’t know how to use heavy equipment. They aren’t familiar with the daily processes that go on. Just about all construction workers will tell you that they’ve worked with “green” guys who were a danger to themselves and others. But with a multi-million dollar project to complete by a certain date, construction foremen are sometimes forced to hire them.
Of course, OSHA does its best to ensure the safety of every site, but they can’t constantly and closely monitor each and every project. They must trust company owners to follow best practices.
With this investigation into the high number of elevator-related deaths, it was found that the majority occur to men under the age of 35. Young workers with less than three months experience account for one-third of the deaths. This points to the fact that older, more experienced workers will avoid dangerous situations.
Falls from high places account for the majority of deaths and injuries in the construction industry. This has been true for many years. There was once a time when roofers did not have to wear special vests that tether them securely to the roof. Even if they fall, this safety equipment is designed to “catch” them. Another area of concern has always been faulty scaffolding. Scaffolds get a great deal of use. They wear out quickly, and yet some construction foremen continue to use unsafe scaffolding.
Just a few years ago, a 27-year-old worker in California was killed while working at a construction site for a new Kroger grocery store. A faulty scaffold was blamed for the accident. Though OSHA did assess massive fines to the construction company, it can’t give those workers back to their families. In New York, a highly publicized accident occurred when a window cleaning scaffold came loose from its tethering. For many long moments, the scaffold was swinging wildly, crashing into the building, breaking out windows in the skyscraper.
What Can You Do?
Unfortunately, stories like this pepper the news each year and remind everyone working in the construction industry that safety must be the primary goal each day. Anytime workers are busy at work in areas that are more than 20 feet off the ground, that danger of falling exists. OSHA suggests the following precautions be observed on all construction sites:
- Make sure workers are fully trained before allowing them onto a site.
- Make sure safety equipment is in good working order and workers know how to use it.
- Conduct regular Job Safety Assessments.
- Hold regular employee briefings where workers are reminded about what safety equipment they should be using and how to use it.