Add Impact to Your Program

Use OSHA's new strategic plan, agency tools, partnership and alliance programs, and vital safety equipment to reduce incidents while raising profits.

THE hard hat has become the symbol of the construction industry. With this widely supported "branding" of construction as a safety-conscious industry came substantive reductions in injuries and illnesses--a 47 percent reduction, from 15.3 per hundred full-time construction workers in 1976 to 7.9 in 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, the construction industry remains one of the most dangerous. Construction fatalities actually increased from 963 in 1992, the earliest year for which construction fatality statistics are readily available, to 1,121 in 2002. Although the total number of 2002 construction fatalities declined 9 percent from those reported by the BLS for 2001, they remained higher in 2002 than in any other major industry, accounting for 20 percent of the 5,524 fatalities for all occupations. Fatalities in specialty trades accounted for 12 percent of the total, while heavy construction represented 4 percent and general building construction, 3 percent.

Virtually every statistic shows that the construction industry has a lot of room for improvement before it lives up to its hard-hat safety reputation. The BLS "Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries" (which does not include work-related fatal illnesses because of the latency period and difficulty of linking illnesses to work exposures) revealed the rate of fatalities was 12.2 per 100,000 workers employed in construction during 2002. However, the rate for construction laborers was 27.7 per 100,000 workers. For carpenters, it was 6.9. This compares with a rate of 4.0 for all categories for that year, or 4.2 for all private industry.

For nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses, the rate of 7.9 per hundred equivalent full-time construction workers reported for 2001 (at this writing, 2002 statistics were due out in December 2003) compares with a rate of 5.7 cases in all private industry workplaces. The rate was 6.9 for general building contractors, 7.8 for heavy construction (except building), and 8.2 for special trade contractors.

OSHA Targets Construction
This preponderance of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses among construction industry employees mandated that OSHA target construction as one of the industries to which it will devote special attention during the next five years. John L. Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, announced OSHA's strategic plan for 2003 to 2008 at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo last May.

As part of OSHA's five-year goals to reduce workplace fatalities by at least 15 percent and workplace injuries and illnesses by at least 20 percent, Henshaw announced 2003-2004 targets of a 3 percent drop in construction fatalities and a 4 percent drop in construction injuries and illnesses. The 4 percent goal also applies to general industry and several other industries with high hazard rates, including concrete and concrete products, as well as ship and boat building and repair. Among other objectives, he announced goals of reducing amputations in both construction and manufacturing by 3 percent, ergonomics-related injuries by 4 percent, blood lead levels by 5 percent, and silica-related disease significantly.

Leading Hazards
As for work-related fatal events, OSHA will focus on the most frequent. Highway incidents, homicides, and falls top the chart for 1992-2002. Although all categories showed decreases in 2002 from previous levels, they remain significant factors in causes of workplace fatalities.

Of particular interest to contractors, falls caused 714 deaths, or 13 percent of the 5,524 fatalities in 2002. Falls to a lower level (from ladder, roof, scaffold, etc.) represented most of them: 634, or 11 percent of the total. Fatalities resulting from a worker being struck by an object represented 506, or 9 percent, of the work-related deaths in 2002.

Deaths resulting from workers being caught in or compressed by equipment or objects numbered 231, or 4 percent of the 2002 fatalities; another 116 caught in or crushed in collapsing materials represented an additional 2 percent. Contact with electrical current caused 289 deaths, or 5 percent of the total.

Three Intervention Strategies
In part because 73 percent of OSHA's overall 2002 citations were "serious, willful, or repeat," an enhanced enforcement program will focus on this class of violators. To help fulfill the objective of finding "ways to stop the cycle of incorporating into the 'cost of doing business' citations and penalties," the enforcement program includes follow-up inspections, programmed inspections, public awareness, settlements, and federal court enforcement.

OSHA is balancing its enforcement initiative with two other intervention strategies. They are 1) outreach, education, and compliance assistance and 2) partnership and cooperative programs.

OSHA also has streamlined its regulatory agenda to focus more narrowly and effectively on active projects that will help meet specific goals, rather than maintain a long wish list. OSHA's regulatory agenda as well as current standards for construction can be found at

Focus Your Efforts
Qualifying for OSHA's focused inspection is a good way to concentrate on the leading causes of construction fatalities (falls, struck by, caught in, and electrical). In addition to focusing on the four causes of the overwhelming majority of construction fatalities, the focused inspection program, begun in 1994, also makes the most efficient use of both the inspectors' and the contractors' time.

The focused inspections apply only to safety, not health, inspections. Construction health inspections still will be conducted in a comprehensive manner. If the project safety and health program meets the requirements of 29 CFR 1926 Subpart C, General Safety and Health Provisions, and if there is a designated competent person responsible for and capable of implementing the program, the project can qualify.

If the site is qualified, the OSHA compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) does not need to inspect the entire site. An abbreviated walk-around inspection focuses on verification of the safety and health program's effectiveness through interviews and observation, the four leading hazards, and other serious hazards the CSHO might observe. If the CSHO determines the project's safety and health program is not effective, a full inspection occurs.

A construction-focused inspection guideline can be found at

Use Partnership and Alliance Resources
Most recently, OSHA has increased its emphasis on partnerships and alliances with industry associations that also help contractors develop and implement safety programs that comply with standards. More than a few hundred partner and alliance organizations--such as the National Safety Council,; the Associated General Contractors,; and the International Safety Equipment Association, safety information, model plans, and OSHA-related safety programs.

For example, the AGC partnership with OSHA resulted in the Construction Health and Safety Excellence (CHASE) program. Managed by local AGC chapters across the nation, CHASE promotes safer work sites through voluntary acceptance of a higher standard of care, rather than through avoidance of fines. Goals of the program include an annual 3 percent reduction in the number of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities affecting the participant employers, as reported in national BLS statistics. The emphasis is on reducing injuries and fatalities from the four leading causes of death on construction sites (falls, struck by, caught in/between, and electrocutions). Other objectives are an increase in the number of contractors with effective safety and health programs and recognition for contractors pursuing safety excellence.

As an incentive to meet the required safety standards, AGC members and associate members who qualify for one of three levels of eligibility will not receive citations for other-than-serious violations, provided the hazards at the time of inspection are abated within a prescribed period of time. Depending on the CHASE qualification level, other incentives, such as good-faith penalty reductions, also are available. To qualify for the CHASE program, contractors annually must submit an application and documented evidence of compliance with the requirements for each level.

Emphasize Use of Critical Safety Equipment
ISEA recently formed an alliance with OSHA to promote safety and health in heavy construction workplaces. The organization provides best practices materials and guidance in the selection and use of personal protective equipment, as well as materials on rudimentary hazard analysis of common tasks. The results of 2001 and 2002 ISEA surveys of PPE use in road construction are instructive.

The surveys revealed that use of the 10 types of PPE covered in the study grew 2.3 percent. According to a news release posted at the ISEA Web site, "Hardhats, high-visibility apparel (safety vests), and safety shoes or boots continue to be the most regularly used PPE, with about three-quarters of workers wearing them when needed . . . . Face shields, air-purifying or air-supplied respirators, and protective coveralls are regularly worn by the smallest numbers of workers--about four in 10--when needed."

"... face shields--the least regularly worn PPE of those investigated--showed a significant increase in use, moving from 34 percent in the 2001 survey to 39 percent in the follow-up. Safety shoes/boots and safety glasses/goggles also showed substantial increases in regular use--up seven and 13 percent, respectively. Unfortunately, the survey indicated that fall protection use declined by five percent."

Respondents indicated in both years the main reason why construction workers do not use PPE more regularly is that "employers do not require or enforce their use." Additional factors included "lack of style/comfort" and "hampers job performance."

Attain the Greatest Impact
As with all safety programs, it is important to engineer away as many of the hazards as possible. Among other precautions, this includes provisions for making sure appropriate barriers are in place, traffic is properly diverted, scaffolding is erected correctly, and materials apt to cause trips, falls, or other hazards are appropriately handled and/or stored.

However, as indicated in the ISEA surveys, ensuring all workers on construction job sites have PPE available and use it properly also will go a long way toward reducing fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. Construction PPE standards to review include those listed at under "construction: personal protective equipment." In addition, the OSHA Construction Industry Safety and Health Outreach Program (May 1996) contains a training guide for PPE use in the construction industry. It is particularly important to focus on equipment that will help reduce the four leading hazards that cause construction employee deaths and injuries.

Fall protection is critical because falls are a major cause of construction industry accidents. Anchorage and fall arrest systems that are easy to install and use are available. They include lightweight stanchions that can be installed or removed with no special tools. Some have built-in shock absorbers that simplify horizontal lifeline systems for structural steel. Combination fall protection equipment, such as traffic vests with built-in harnesses and harnesses with permanently attached lanyards, reduces total weight, making it more comfortable and convenient for construction workers to wear all the required PPE.

Much remains to be done in the area of head protection. If hard hats, the very symbol of construction industry safety, are worn in only 75 percent of the situations where they are required, emphasis must be increased on making head protection available to all construction workers and enforcing its use. This could go a long way toward reducing fatalities and injuries caused when workers are struck by an object. A high proportion of such injuries is due to the lateral impact of flying objects--not just the vertical impact of falling material. It is important to assess whether workers require ANSI Type I vertical-impact protection or Type II head protection against lateral and vertical impact, electrical shock, heat, and sparks. Frequently, Type II protection is needed.

Such simple steps as ensuring that appropriate signage or lockout/tagout equipment is in place where needed can help reduce accidents caused by workers being caught in or crushed by equipment. Much of the protection against "caught in" or "crushed by" accidents, however, must be safety-engineered at the job site.

Electrical safety at construction sites also can be addressed by appropriate signage and lockout/tagout equipment, as well as by use of ANSI Type II hard hats, rubber insulating gloves, and other PPE required for construction workers using electrical tools or working on job-site electrical systems.

Contractors who concentrate on correct selection and use of these categories of PPE, which address protection against the four leading construction hazards, will focus their efforts on the maximum safety return for their investment. However, you can't ignore other PPE, such as high-visibility clothing for road construction, protective eyewear, and hand protection that is appropriate to the specific construction task. Other musts are hearing protection and appropriate respiratory protection against dust, lead, silica, or specific welding and/or other construction or demolition-generated fumes, gases, or vapors.

Improve Profits
Ensuring safety can have a positive effect on a contractor's bottom line. Contractors without good safety records often are excluded from the best contracts. When there is an accident, there are direct medical costs usually covered by worker's compensation insurance and disability benefits. In addition, there are indirect costs that safety specialists estimate to be two to four or more times the direct costs of an accident.

Worker's compensation premiums will increase. OSHA fines may be incurred. Other costs are more difficult to measure. Examples include the cost of lost time of the injured employee and lost time and productivity by others helping or otherwise distracted at the time of the accident. Supervisory time to investigate the accident and find and train the injured worker's replacement are among additional indirect costs. ISEA offers a worksheet to help employers calculate the true cost of workplace injuries and the added revenue the company must generate to recover the profit lost when such an injury occurs.

These costs do not even take into account the personal costs for the injured worker and his or her family, nor do they add the greater productivity usually experienced at job sites where employees feel safe.

Only by substantially increasing construction safety and health can contractors improve their chances of avoiding costly accidents, providing a more productive work environment, and improving their profits.

This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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