Building a Safer Tomorrow: Addressing Hazards in Modern Construction

Building a Safer Tomorrow: Addressing Hazards in Modern Construction

From Egyptian times to now, there have always been many potential hazards facing construction workers. Let’s explore some common risks, including power supply, equipment maneuverability and dust protection.

The National Safety Council estimated that 70 million U.S. construction worker days were lost in 2021 because of workplace injuries. According to the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, it took less time to build the Great Pyramid of Giza. Clearly, reducing accidents would benefit not only workers but the productivity of the industry.

From Egyptian times to now, there have always been many potential hazards facing construction workers. Let’s explore some common risks, including power supply, equipment maneuverability and dust protection.

Before work starts, a contractor has a lot to prepare, from personnel coordination to which machinery is appropriate and whether necessary materials are on site. Catering to various power requirements might be low on the list, but getting it wrong can cause delays and present a risk by tempting contractors to carry out their own electrical work.

Pigtail Power

Machinery varies in the type of power it requires, be it single-phase or three-phase, 120 volt, 240 volt or 400 volt. To ensure the power is ready to go and appropriate for when the contractor arrives, a professional electrician can install electrical “pigtails” in advance. A pigtail is a cable that is wired to the appropriate power supply, allowing for machinery to be directly plugged in.

Installing this equipment in advance means that as soon as the contractor arrives at the job, the power supply can accommodate the machine, avoiding the need for last-minute adjustments by the contractor. They can simply plug the equipment into the pigtail and begin work.

Machine Maneuverability

Many construction workers spend their days hauling around huge, heavy machines weighing up to 500 pounds, sometimes more. Avoiding injury in this physically challenging industry requires skill and strength, but there are ways to make it easier for equipment operators. 

Enter high-maneuverability equipment. Essentially, maneuverability refers to how easy it is for the contractor to operate, transport, and load or unload a machine. It can not only improve operator safety and well-being but also machine performance, acting as a significant driver of long-term productivity.

A difficult-to-transport machine can cause serious safety concerns. For example, contractors might attempt to use elevators despite their machinery exceeding the maximum weight limit, which risks causing the mechanisms of the lift to fail. Alternatively, attempting to manually lift the machine up and down stairs may lead to musculoskeletal injuries. In our experience, machines with removable weights are a good solution to this issue.

Some manufacturers have specifically designed equipment to offer operators more maneuverability than before, by considering customer feedback during the development stages. 

Dust in Time

About 7,300 U.S. construction workers per year get silicosis, a respiratory condition caused by the inhalation of silica dust. Silicon dioxide or silica is a chemical compound found in materials used regularly in the construction industry, including sandstone, granite, brick and concrete. In the workplace, these materials create dust when they are cut, sanded and carved.

“Asbestosis and silicosis are incurable and may be progressive even after dust exposure has ceased,” wrote Dr. Gregory Wagner at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Although current disease is a result of past exposures, effective control of current workplace exposures is the only way to prevent continued occurrence of these potentially debilitating diseases.” 

In the United States, OSHA limits construction workers' exposure to silica. Over an eight-hour shift, workers cannot be exposed to more than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. When there is a risk of silica dust inhalation, look for a dust collector with an individually tested High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter and a high minimum efficiency.

Asbestos Assurance

Silica dust is not the only danger. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos exists in 20 percent of public and commercial buildings in the U.S. So all contractors must understand the risks associated with asbestos and the best practices for minimizing them.

For example, manufacturers used asbestos in flooring materials such as vinyl composition tile (VCT) until the late 1980s. These floor coverings were popular in large commercial buildings such as supermarkets because they were long-lasting and easy to maintain. 

Asbestos has not yet been fully banned in the USA. OSHA defines asbestos-containing materials as any material containing more than 1 percent asbestos. This means any material can be labeled asbestos-free if asbestos accounts for less than 1 percent of the product. While a range of building materials manufactured before the ‘80s could potentially contain high percentages of asbestos, it is not always obvious from an initial assessment. 

So, when planning work in older buildings, facilities managers or health and safety professionals should liaise with the contractor to establish whether an asbestos management survey from an expert is necessary.

If asbestos removal is required, this must be performed by an asbestos mitigation company that specializes in containment or removal and not the contractors themselves. A specialist team will employ protective measures such as securing the room to seal the space, using specialized equipment to remove the asbestos, and using high-powered vacuums and abatement equipment to remove related debris. 

While the specifics of health and safety practices have evolved significantly over thousands of years, it’s just as important to look after those working in construction. And, while one might not see any new pyramids popping up any time soon, working together to cut workplace injuries can save the time it takes to build one.

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