Safety First: Making the Most Dangerous Jobs in Construction Safer

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A good construction project manager will tell you that there is always room in the budget for job site safety. There is no job or task so vital that putting workers under unnecessary risk is warranted, and everyone deserves to go home at the end of the day injury-free.

That said, some occupations and trades in the construction industry will always carry inherent risks. Despite giant steps in safety measures and practices, construction work remains one of the most dangerous professions. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5,333 people died from work-related injuries in 2019, and 1,061 of those deaths occurred in the construction industry, the highest number of fatalities in the industry in over a decade. 

Owners, architects, and communities should be aware of the risks laborers take to complete a project. After all, safety first is a team effort. In this post, we explore some of the most dangerous jobs in construction and the safety protocols in place to protect workers. 


1. Roofing 

Fall protection was the most frequently cited violation by OSHA in FY 2020, and while roofing does not own the corner of the marker on fall protection, roofing work undoubtedly involves heights and fall risks. One study revealed that roofing was the third most dangerous job, behind only logging and aircraft pilots, with a fatal injury rate of 50 per 100,000 workers. 

Whether working on a residential project or hundreds of feet in the air on a commercial job, roofers are prone to slips, trips, and falls, with falls being the most commonly cited cause of death for roofers. Add in unpredictable factors such as severe weather, and the result is a recipe for unfortunate accidents and disasters. 

Justifiably, OSHA carries a strong focus on fall protection. Safety belts, harnesses, and lanyards remain the crucial fall protection systems for roofers, but other technologies to keep roofers safe continue to develop. Roofing contractors utilize drones more and more to perform routine work like inspections, removing the hazard of putting another worker in the air. The University of Michigan even developed an autonomous drone equipped with a nail gun capable of installing roof shingles. 

These advancements may not remove the hazards of roofing altogether; it is likely that nothing ever will. However, reducing any risk is welcomed by those in a trade that poses many threats to their safety and well-being. 


2. Demolition 

Considered the most unpredictable job in construction, demolition work presents itself as the second most dangerous task in the building industry. 

There are many unknowns related to a building’s structural integrity. When the assignment is to tear the building down, these structural unknowns and the existence of hazardous materials like asbestos and silica come into play. Heavy equipment like cranes and wrecking balls can give rise to additional demolition hazards, as falling objects may strike workers on the ground. 

OSHA’s “Preparatory operations” standard accounts for up to three-fourths of citations on a demolition site. OSHA requires an engineering survey to determine the condition of the framing, floors, and walls and the possibility of unplanned collapse of any portion of the structure and any adjacent structures. 

Fulfilling this requirement of proper planning and the correct personal protective equipment, necessary training, and compliance with OSHA standards are critical for controlling and eliminating hazards in demolition work. 


3. Heavy Equipment Operations

Most commercial construction sites have large machinery on site. Operating excavators, dump trucks, loaders, and other machines require focused skill bolstered by regular, specialized training. Anyone with a chance to jump in the seat of one of these pieces of equipment immediately understands just how large and powerful these machines are. 

Properly trained operators may be the first ingredient to avoid heavy equipment accidents, but the responsibility lies on the shoulders of everyone on a job site. All workers must be aware of their surroundings, and areas with heavy equipment operations should be well-planned and communicated with the entire team. Good communication, planning, and awareness will reduce the likelihood of a worker being struck, one of OSHA’s “fatal four” causes of fatalities. In addition, routine inspections and maintenance of equipment are critical safety measures.


4. Electrical and Power Tools

The construction industry has greatly benefited from the development of power tools over the last several decades: productivity and efficiency rise when the right tools are in workers’ hands. 

While the development of powers tools has also led to greater safety - for instance, better grounding devices and more battery-operated tools - the use of these tools are still a leading cause of accidents. 

Sometimes the most significant risks occur during jobs that have become second nature. Workers can overlook the necessary precautions for safe operation. For example, nail guns are responsible for an estimated 37,000 emergency room visits every year

Quality tools, regular inspections, proper training, and OSHA-approved PPE, along with many other safety protocols, reduce the risk of accidents and fatalities from power tools.  


While the impacts of injuries and deaths most directly affect us on a human level, companies must also deal with the cost impacts. One fatal accident costs a construction company an average of $991,027 in hospital bills. The best way to reduce workplace injury costs is to avoid them altogether. Every firm should have a safety program in place that genuinely practices safety first.

Danger doesn’t take a day off in construction. Hazards are always present, no matter the task, especially in these most dangerous jobs in construction. Workers, along with the entire construction team, must remain vigilant and committed to the safety and well-being of everyone. 

October 6th, 2021 |