Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the United States Department of Labor through the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It creates and implements standards for worksite health and safety to protect workers from serious injury or death. It also offers information, education, and support to workers and employers alike. OSHA covers the construction industry.
It is the legal responsibility of construction companies to provide and maintain a safe worksite. Workers have the right to file a complaint with OSHA if they find that their employer is not following safety rules. If a worker gets seriously injured or killed in the workplace, the company can be sued.
Top Construction Hazards
Osha identifies the top four hazards in the construction industry that cause fatalities: falls, being struck by heavy objects, being caught between heavy objects, and electrocution. It provides guidelines for the prevention of these accidents.
Companies must require workers to wear personal equipment that arrests falls. Cover floor openings securely and label them clearly. Install perimeter protection or guardrails on depths or heights of at least six feet, scaffolds of at least 10 feet, and steel erections of at least 15 feet.
To prevent cave-ins, companies must protect excavations by shoring, sloping, or benching. Workers must be trained and reminded with clear signs not to go into unprotected excavations that are five feet or deeper and do not have protective systems.
Workers must be provided with high-visibility work clothes when working near equipment and vehicles. They must be trained and reminded by clear signs to avoid going near moving objects.
Workers must be trained to recognize and avoid electrical hazards. Before starting the workday, each worker must identify the location of electricals and keep a safe distance from these. Electrical tools must be double-insulated and grounded.
Respiratory, Eye, and Face Protection
In 2020, the third most frequently violated OSHA standard was respiratory protection. Eye and Face Protection ranked ninth in the top 10. During the pandemic, this includes wearing face masks and face shields as protection against Covid 19. It goes beyond that, though.
Workers installing the commonly used spray polyurethane foam insulation, and those who work in their vicinity, must use the proper protective gear that covers the entire face, including the eyes, nose, mouth, and all skin exposure. Those driving equipment within areas where foaming is being done must also have their equipment protected with shields for spray foam overspray prevention. Apart from installation, cutting into cured spray foam insulation or removing it is also just as hazardous.
This type of insulation contains chemicals that produce hazardous fumes while being applied. The possible effects are vomiting, occupational asthma, blurry vision with a halo effect, glaucopsia or having a blue haze in vision, convulsions, irritation of the upper respiratory system, chronic poisoning, and damage to the central nervous system.
Ordinary paint is also hazardous. Some contain benzene which causes leukemia when breathed in. Others have high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that can damage the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. Immediate reactions to prolonged unprotected exposure to paint fumes include dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, skin inflammation, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.
Asbestos is another hazardous material that has already been banned in construction. Buildings constructed before 1980 most likely contain this, though. Any renovation done on such buildings puts workers at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers and developing lung cancer or mesothelioma. Hence, once asbestos has been identified, only specially licensed professional abatement contractors are allowed to work on it.
Construction Companies Need to Attract Workers
There is an alarming shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry. According to the Commercial Construction Index (CCI) of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the third quarter of this year, 92 percent or almost all construction contractors find it difficult to find skilled labor. Among them, 55 percent find it highly difficult to find skilled workers. This is 10 percent higher compared to the second quarter of this year.
As a result, 42 percent of contractors had to say no to projects in the third quarter. This was an increase from 35 percent of refusals in the second quarter. Meanwhile, among those who have ongoing projects, 73 percent find it difficult to meet deadlines because of the lack of skilled labor. This is also higher than 56 percent of delays in the second quarter. A tenth of contractors is, therefore, anticipating a decrease in revenue.
For companies in the construction industry to weather this difficult period, it is crucial to regain the confidence of skilled workers to attract them. It is also just as important to retain their current thinned-out workforce. Construction companies cannot afford to face lawsuits related to worksite safety. They must show that they can protect their workers not just from Covid 19 but also from all other worksite hazards.