Originally published on June 8, 2016. Last updated on April 29, 2022.
Let ConstructConnect provide you with a few construction site safety tips for workers and employers.
For these safety tips, we focused on OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards in Construction. For each standard cited we have a brief explanation of the standard or hazard along with some general tips for workers to keep in mind along with some of the requirements for employers to follow in order to provide a safe work environment for their employees.
1. Subpart M – Fall Protection – 1926.501 Duty to Have Fall Protection.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 5,463
Duty to have fall protection is the most cited standard in the construction industry and is one of the leading causes of worker deaths in construction. Employers need to do a better job of assessing job sites and implementing fall protection systems to protect workers.
Workers: Workers should familiarize themselves with all potential fall hazards on a job site. Never work in an area where fall protection systems have yet to be installed. Workers using personal fall arrest systems should inspect them before each use to ensure they are working properly and are free of damage. The lanyard or lifeline should be short enough to prevent the worker from making contact with a lower level in the event of a fall. This means taking into account the length of the lanyard, length of dynamic elongation due to elastic stretch, and the height of the worker.
Employers: Employers are required to provide fall protection systems to protect their workers on walking or working surfaces with unprotected edges or sides that are six feet above a lower level. Fall protection can include guardrails, safety net systems, and personal fall arrest systems. Guardrails are the only method approved that actually prevents falls from occurring. Safety nets and personal fall arrest systems prevent workers from falling a great distance.
Fall protection includes protecting workers from falling into holes such as elevator shafts and skylights as well as excavations. Employers are also required to protect workers from falling objects by requiring hard hats be worn by workers and by installing toeboards, screens or guardrails, erecting canopies, or barricading the area to keep workers out.
3. Subpart X – Stairways and Ladders – 1926.1053 Ladders.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 2,094
Improper ladder use is one of the leading causes of falls for construction workers resulting in injury or death. Reasons for ladder falls include incorrect ladder choice, failure to properly secure the ladder, and attempting to carry tools and materials by hand while climbing.
Workers: Always maintain three points of contact while ascending and descending a ladder, that’s both feet and at least one hand. Portable ladders should be long enough to be placed at a stable angle extended three feet above the work surface. Workers should tie ladders to a secure point at the top and bottom to avoid sliding or falling. Tools and materials should be carried up using a tool belt or a rope to pull things up once you’ve stopped climbing. Never load ladders beyond their rated capacity, including the weight of the worker, materials, and tools.
Employers: A competent person should inspect all ladders before use each day. Defective ladders should be marked or tagged out and taken out of service until they can be properly repaired. Workers should be trained on ladder safety and know how to select the proper ladder for the job. All ladders on the construction site should conform to OSHA standards. This includes job-made ladders, fixed ladders, and portable ladders, both self-supporting and those that aren’t. If workers are using energized electrical equipment, ladders should have nonconductive side railings.
Construction Safety Training
4. Subpart M – Fall Protection – 1926.503 Training Requirements.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 1,686
It’s not a surprise that the top four most frequently cited OSHA standards in construction have to do with protecting workers from falls. Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in construction, accounting for nearly 40% of all worker deaths. Providing proper and ongoing training to workers can go a long way in reducing the number of falls suffered at the construction site.
Workers: Workers should be able to recognize the safety hazards of falling and know the procedures to follow to minimize hazards and prevent falls.
Employers: A competent person is required to provide training to all employees that might be exposed to fall hazards. Again, this should cover all employees because at some point nearly everyone on the construction site is exposed to a fall hazard of some type. Topics of the training program should include the nature of fall hazards present on the construction site, proper erection, inspection and maintenance of fall protection systems, use of fall protection systems and personal fall arrest systems, and the role of the employee in safety monitoring and the fall protection plan.
Employers are also required to maintain certification records of fall protection planning for all employees. Retraining is required for changes that render prior training obsolete and instances where it is apparent that a worker has not retained enough knowledge from the training program to ensure their safety.
Eye and Face Protection
5. Subpart E – Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment – 1926.102 Eye and Face Protection.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 1,494
OSHA requires that workers be provided with and wear face and eye protection when there are eye or face hazards present from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gasses or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation. These safety hazards are present when doing a variety of tasks on the jobsite such as welding, chipping, grinding, masonry work, sanding, woodworking, and drilling. When flying object hazards are present, eye protection must be equipped with side protection or be fitted with detachable side protectors.
Workers: When wearing eye and face protection, workers should make sure that they don’t interfere with their movements and fit snugly on their faces. Eye and face protection should be kept clean and in good repair. Workers should inspect face and eye protection before use to ensure it is free of cracks, chips, and other damage. Eye and face protection that becomes damaged should be replaced immediately.
Employers: Employers are required to provide eye and face protection to workers free of charge. Eye and face protection must meet one of the following consensus standards: ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R01998), ANSI Z87.1-2003, or ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010 requirements. Employers should issue eye and face protection to workers based on an assessment of anticipated safety hazards. If workers have prescription lenses, employers are required to make sure that they have eye protection that incorporates the prescription or that can be worn over the corrective lenses without disturbing them.
6. Subpart C – General Safety and Health Provisions – 1926.020 General Safety and Health Provisions.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 861
The purpose of this standard is to protect construction workers from being required to “work in surroundings or under working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to their health or safety” by contractors and subcontractors.
Workers: The key takeaway from this standard for workers is that they should know that there are protections in place for their safety while working on the construction site. This includes receiving proper training for specific job duties and being provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers should never operate any machinery or equipment if they have not been properly and adequately trained on its safe operation.
Employers: Employers are required to implement safety programs in order to protect workers and prevent accidents. A competent person(s) is required to provide inspections of jobsites, equipment, and materials and includes ensuring that noncompliant tools and machinery are taken out of use by locking or tagging, or removing them from the job site Construction standards take precedence over any similar or applicable general industry standard.
In addition to providing necessary PPE to employees at no cost, employers are also required to provide training to all employees on hazards and all related matters for construction standards applicable to a worker’s job duties.
7. Subpart E – Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment – 1926.100 Head Protection.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 840
Hard hats are commonplace at the construction site. They protect workers from a number of safety hazards such as falling and flying objects, electrical shock, and other impacts.
Workers: Workers are required to wear head protection wherever there is the potential for being struck in the head, which is basically the entire time you are on the construction site. Possible scenarios include falling tools or debris, accidental nail gun discharge, contact with electrical hazards, or swinging construction equipment. Workers should inspect their hard hats for any cracks, dents, or any signs of deterioration. Hard hats should fit snugly on your head and not come loose during normal movements or work activities.
Employers: Employers are responsible for providing all employees with head protection that meets consensus standards outlined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or is constructed in accordance with one of those consensus standards. Employers are not allowed to charge employees for the cost of head protection or require them to provide their own hard hats unless they do so voluntarily. Hard hats should be kept in good condition and be replaced immediately if they suffer a heavy blow or electric shock.
8. Subpart P – Excavations – 1926.651 Specific Excavation Requirements. Number of Citation Issued in FY2021: 549
Excavation and trenching work are some of the more dangerous tasks on the jobsite due to the number of construction site safety hazards that may be present. These hazards include cave-ins, hazardous atmospheres and electrocutions from hitting utility lines, falls and falling loads, and heavy equipment accidents.
Workers: Workers should always wear hard hats when performing excavation work to protect them from falling materials or being struck by equipment. Never enter an excavation or trench unless it has been inspected by a competent person and appropriate protective systems are in place for excavations over five feet deep as well as access in and out of an excavation four feet or deeper by a ramp, ladder, or stairway.
Never stand under any loads being handled by heavy equipment and keep all workers, loads, and equipment at least two feet away from the edge of all excavations to prevent falls and cave-ins. Never work in an excavation or trench with standing water or if water is accumulating. Make sure all utility lines and pipes have been clearly marked before beginning any excavation or trenching activity to avoid hitting them.
Employers: Employers are required to have all utility lines identified and marked before allowing excavation and trenching work to begin. For excavations over five feet, a registered professional engineer is required to design a protective system by sloping, shielding, or supporting the excavation unless it’s in solid rock.
Employers should have the excavation inspected by a competent person before each shift to assess the area for potential cave-ins, possible failure of protective systems, and atmospheric hazards. They should also ensure that appropriate access in and out of the excavation is in place. Excavations should also be inspected after any rainfall on the jobsite.
9. Subpart L – Scaffolds – 1926.453 Aerial Lifts.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 533
Aerial lifts fall under scaffolding and are vehicle-mounted devices used to elevate workers such as articulating and extendable boom platforms, vertical towers, and aerial ladders. Hazards associated with the use of aerial lifts include falls and ejections from the lift platform, tip-overs and structural failures of the lift, electric shock, contact with overhead objects or ceiling, and being struck by objects falling from lifts.
Workers: Workers must be trained and authorized in order to operate an aerial lift. Inspect all vehicle and lift components based on the manufacturer’s recommendations before operating an aerial lift to ensure it is in safe working condition. Never operate a lift if any component is missing, damaged, or appears defective.
Always stand on the floor of the lift platform or bucket when working, never use a ladder or other device to increase your working height. Make sure that your harness or restraining belt and lanyard are securely attached to the boom or bucket and that they are in good working condition.
Never exceed the load capacity or the vertical and horizontal reach limits of the lift. Lower the lift platform when driving the lift and stay at least 10 feet away from overhead lines.
Employers: Employers should ensure that all workers operating aerial lifts receive proper training before being authorized to use them and provide retraining in the event a worker has an accident while operating a lift, hazards are discovered, a different type of lift is being used, or if the workers are observed improperly operating a lift.
In addition to ensuring that all aerial lifts are in good operating condition, employers are also responsible for having work zones inspected for safety hazards including holes or unstable surfaces, overhead obstructions, inadequate ceiling heights, and slopes or ditches. Employers should also have power lines de-energized when possible when workers are in the vicinity.
10. Subpart Z – Toxic and Hazardous Substances – 1910.1200 Hazard Communication.
Number of Citations Issued in FY2021: 531
This is a general industry standard that focuses on requirements for employers that have hazardous chemicals in their workplace. Some examples of hazardous materials commonly found at construction sites include lead, silica, asbestos, and treated wood or wood that will be cut and generate dust. Certain building materials also contain hazardous chemicals such as zinc, cadmium, beryllium, and mercury.
Workers: Workers should be able to read and use Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for any hazardous chemical being used at the construction site. Employees should wear proper PPE when handling hazardous chemicals and should clean up any spills when they occur.
Employers: Employers are required to implement a written hazard communication program that includes an inventory of all hazardous chemicals used at the site. All containers of hazardous substances must have a hazard warning and be labeled. Employers should have an MSDS available for each hazardous substance. Employees should be trained regarding the risk of all hazardous chemicals along with proper handling instructions.
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