A couple months ago, two construction workers were seriously injured at a Texas Department of Transportation work site near Loop 410 and U.S. 90 on the west side of San Antonio, when a row of rebar support beams about 20 yards long they were in the process of tying together came crashing down on them, crushing them beneath the 1,000-pound weight. At the same time, two other workers suffered minor injuries from debris.
The accident happened on Feb. 2, at about 2:35 p.m., and since then, a number of officials in the state have been examining the problem of worker safety at Texas construction sites. Construction work is always difficult and carries a number of serious risks, but Texas seems to have a particular problem with construction hazards. In fact, for 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas led the nation in the category of fatal workplace accidents with 545, with many of them occurring in the construction sector.
With such a terrible record, it might be helpful to look at the most common causes of workplace accidents in the state of Texas. These are the five most common causes.
Falls From Height
Whether they fall from scaffolding or from the structures themselves, falls are the most common accidents at Texas construction sites and by far the most likely fatal. In 2015 alone, falls make up nearly 40 percent of construction worker deaths in Texas and across the U.S., according to the BLS.
Because so many construction sites tend to be multi-story buildings, and the taller the building, the greater the likelihood of a stumble from a high place, it becomes critical on the part of employers to provide all workers toiling more than six feet above the ground with the proper safety equipment and training. It has been shown that the right equipment prevents many falls and prevents many injuries to construction workers.
Slips or Trips and Falls
Slips, trips and falls are right behind falls from height, constituting more than 25 percent of all construction accident claims every year. They make up about 17 percent of disabling accidents at construction sites. There are all kinds of ways these types of accidents happen. Sometimes, workers trip over tools and materials that are left lying around, or workers sometimes see them and can’t avoid them.
Other times, oil or other liquids are spilled on the surfaces at the site for workers to slip on and, often, ice, snow and even rain can also cause someone to lose their footing, especially at construction worksites where workers have to brave the elements to do their job, whether it’s to put up a building or to build a road or a bridge. Most slips, trips and falls can be prevented by constant housekeeping at the site and by making sure workers are wearing the proper shoes with slip-resistant soles.
Hit By Vehicles and Equipment
As one can imagine when we look at many construction sites, being hit by vehicles is a major problem on construction sites in Texas and elsewhere. That’s because most construction sites make use of tractors, trailers, cranes and trucks. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the majority of fatalities reported in construction zones are due to workers being struck by another piece of construction vehicles or equipment. According to OSHA, even on a road construction site, a construction worker is just as likely to be struck by a piece of construction equipment in the work zone as by passing traffic.
Thankfully, there are many ways for workers to stay safe when working around vehicles and equipment. They can wear reflective vests and other protective clothing to increase their visibility to operators. Also, there should be clearly marked and signed lanes for traffic. Some workers should be designated to signal to equipment operators and vehicle drivers when workers are present, as well as to signal to workers when equipment and vehicles may be within striking distance.
Struck by Moving or Falling Materials
Building and other construction materials, such as rebar that is being tied together to reinforce and support a road or a bridge, are some of the main culprits when it comes to workplace accidents that cause injuries or fatalities. According to a BLS survey, building materials caused the most injuries in 2015, followed by metal, pipes, ducts and wood.
These numbers are reduced when workers at a construction site are provided with the proper personal protective equipment for their job, including hard hats, gloves, safety glasses and steel or composite-toed boots. All of these reduce the risk of being injured by materials being moved or those that fall.
Electrocution has been considered one of the “fatal four” accidents causing workplace deaths for many years, and that holds true at Texas construction sites, as well. In 2016, the BLS reported that more than 75 fatal accidents on construction sites in Texas were due to electrocution. The most common cause is contact with overhead electric wires, but contact with machinery that has not been properly locked down and tagged out, such as during repair or maintenance.
Electric-based accidents are easily preventable, by locking and tagging out machinery and properly powering it down as workers repair or maintain it. When working in any area where there are overhead or buried power lines, it is necessary to locate and identify the location of utilities before starting work, and to make sure OSHA regulations are followed, to prevent any possible contact with live power lines.