Safety in the Construction Industry Is Still Evolving

By Ryan Schlehuber 

Visit any construction site and you can envision any of the dangerous that could potentially happen. Last year, one in every five construction workers were killed, a rate of 20 percent in all private industry fatalities. It's no wonder OSHA is stringent on regulations and has continued to tweak new and old regulations each year. OSHA's influence has had effect on building blueprints, management of staff and even proper clothing measures for construction workers.

The Fatal Four

Almost 60 percent of construction fatalities can be attributed to what is known as the "Fatal Four," a term for the top four events that caused a death on a construction site, which are — in order of most fatalities — falls, struck by object, electrocutions and caught-in or between objects. Since OSHA was established in the 1970s, safety regulations in the construction industry have multiplied exponentially, mostly due to the Fatal Four factor. As many as 468 lives of American construction workers could be saved if OSHA could find a way to eliminate the Fatal Four entirely. As high as a number as that is, things are improved dramatically since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970. Fatalities have dropped dramatically, from 14,000 in 1970 to 3,929 in 2013. It is now common practice for construction teams to include discussion of the Fatal Four factors at daily safety meetings and job site inspections, especially considering that 85 percent of all citations and 90 percent of all fines from 2002 to 2012 related to the Fatal Four, costing construction businesses not only lives but revenue, as well, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Regulations from Head to Toe

Supervision of safety practices within a job site has been around since the 1800s, when, in 1833, the first inspectors were appointed to hold up safety regulations within factories. In 1956, an act was passed to create better health protection and safeguards within the agricultural industry while three years later a similar act was passed to inspect and regulate nuclear installations. After OSHA was created in 1971, major safety regulation began sprouting up every couple to few years, including the creation of the Health and Safety Commission in 1974. What started out as general regulations have evolved into detailed and descriptive measurements of safety, right down to the toes of workers. Regulations of work wear are covered from head to toe. From hard helmets to footwear, a construction worker has a more strict dress code. Footwear, for example, has to comply with the American National Standard's Institute's standard, with steel-toed or safety toe boots being the norm. Nowadays, however, construction workers have a choice of all kinds of work boots that meet standards, and boots today are lighter, made with composite or aluminum toe-ends yet are as durable as the old-fashioned steel-toe boots are.

What Still Needs to be Done

Many experts and examiners in the construction field will argue that compliance to today's safety regulations are still spotty, citing training and monitoring workers as two examples of needed improvement, reports the Wall Street Journal. There are also complaints of certain regulations slowing daily work — such as harnessing, which can be time-consuming and expensive to provide—and becoming quite cumbersome to workers to remember all of them. Worker breaks are being debated in some areas of the U.S. In Dallas, on the city council level, a debate has been brewing over whether construction workers should be legally entitled to breaks from work or whether the issue will lead to over-regulation, which is something many in the construction business are concerned about.

Ryan Schlehuber, a features editor for a daily newspaper, strives to avoid being one thing in his life: one-dimensional. Never one to settle, "Scoop," as he's known to his friends and followers, always looks to learn or try something new or hone a new skill and always looks forward to meeting new people. He has more than 13 years of writing experience, having started his journalistic career in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and now enjoys working and living in the West Michigan area. Follow him at The Daily News (Greenville, Mich.).

Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact [email protected] or [email protected].  

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