Over the past two decades, injury rates across Canada have been on the decline—and everyone can agree that’s a good thing. A systematic approach to safety and a focus on enforcement have certainly been helping. But now is not the time to get complacent: More recent statistics have shown a disturbing increase in workplace injury claims.
The Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada statistics reflect 1,027 workplace fatalities in 2018, an increase of 76 over the previous year. Meanwhile, work-related injuries and diseases resulted in over 250,000 accepted claims.
Construction represents a large number of these claims. After all, building things is a big job—erecting buildings and bridges needs to be done properly, and there’s huge pressure to get projects done on time and on budget. Given the hands-on nature of a construction job, it’s important to work as cautiously as possible to avoid construction safety risks.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety lists hazards on construction sites ranging from stress to exposure to toxic substances. Here are the top construction safety risks for workers and what to do to protect your workplace from incidents.
More than 40,000 workers are hurt each year in Canada as a result of fall accidents. Ontario Health and Safety (OHS) attributes these incidents to many factors, such as slippery surfaces, working with broken or ill-working scaffolding or ladders, messy worksites, and a lack of adequate fall-protection equipment.
Of course, it would be impossible to get rid of construction safety risks like falls entirely. However, it is possible to mitigate many by establishing written procedures for potentially hazardous tasks and providing training in the proper use of protective equipment. A fall-prevention program within a company could outline guidelines for job site tidiness, lighting, and inspections, to provide a systematic approach to avoiding falls at work.
2. Job-related Illness and Disease
Construction workers come into contact with all manner of construction materials that could contain physical, chemical, or biological contaminants. In fact, occupational diseases have caused more deaths in the past ten years than traumatic occupational injuries among current or former workers, most from asbestos exposure. Since asbestos diseases develop slowly over time, at-risk workers are recommended to undergo regular medical exams to identify any ill-effects of working conditions as quickly as possible.
Other non-fatal hazards like noise-induced hearing loss are pervasive in the industry. Employers are obligated to take reasonable precautions to stave off injuries due to noise, including providing appropriate hearing protection equipment.
Regulatory bodies also consider biological agents in workplaces as occupational illnesses and require adequate toileting and soap and water at clean-up facilities on job sites. The onset of COVID-19 has meant increased hand-washing and sanitizing stations and workplace cleaning to keep workers safe on the job.
3. Struck by Moving Vehicles
Any vehicle or moving construction equipment can be a hazard to workers on a job site. According to WSIB’s 2016 Statistical Report By the Numbers, these incidents caused 13% of workplace fatalities in Ontario over the past ten years. Danger can come from being run over, crushed between two objects, or hit by material moved by construction equipment. Operators may not see pedestrians clearly because of obstructed views, a lack of lighting, or lack of reflective clothing worn by coworkers. Collisions can also occur when there is not enough signage to indicate to passersby that there’s moving equipment or when signalers or equipment operators haven’t been properly trained.
Reflective personal protective gear should be required for all people on a job site, and sites should be organized to reduce the reverse operation of vehicles and construction equipment. Equipment operators and signalers should be properly trained as required.
4. Heavy Equipment Operation
Heavy equipment can also pose hazards for those operating it. Even from within a vehicle, operators are at risk of being crushed between two objects, being struck by moving equipment, or being hit by unsecured loads. Precautions are also required to avoid electrical contacts.
Equipment should be properly maintained and should be used according to manufacturers’ recommendations to mitigate existing risks. Equipment manuals should always be available to users. Unobstructed pathways and clear views can also help operators stay safe while moving loads. Signalers are crucial to help avoid collisions—they should be competent, well-trained, and undistracted.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can result from many common movements like bending and straightening, gripping, twisting, or reaching. When workers do these things in everyday life, they’re not harmful, but conditions in a workplace can cause problems over time. Workers repeating exertions forcefully or for a prolonged period of time or having awkward or unmoving work positions can all lead to various disorders. MSDs can include many strain injuries that affect tendons, muscles, nerves and joints.
Preventing MSDs takes a concerted effort, starting with a culture of health and safety that begins with management. As part of a company-wide safety program, steps should be taken to identify risks of MSDs and reduce workers’ exposure to them. Worker training on body mechanics and proper lifting can help avoid problems in the future. Employers can make sure proper housekeeping and storage leave plenty of space to move while doing any job. Rotating workers through high-risk jobs could also reduce risk.
Getting Better All the Time
It’s never possible to completely remove construction safety risks from job sites, but it’s expected that workers and management do everything they can to ensure everyone returns home safe at the end of a shift. Through set systems enacted with consistency, construction safety risks can be mitigated further.