The construction industry is not doing its best to protect employees from falls, as evidenced by the fact that it’s the number-one safety violation cited by OSHA. It’s also not doing its best to educate employees about risks on the job, which we’ll cover in the section on education and training. Sadly, the 58% of construction workers who said they think management values production over safety may be right. And that could be why 25% of workers haven’t reported a work-related injury at some point in their careers.
The scope of the problem is large. In 2019, more than 130,000 construction workers missed days of work because of injuries on the job. One-fifth of all work-related deaths are in the construction industry, even though construction workers make up only 6% of the U.S. labor force. An average of 16 U.S. construction workers die on the job every week.
Also consider that because of the nature of the construction industry, multiple employers can be liable for the same employee injury. Say that ABC Company had to unscrew a bolt to get the scaffolding up at a job. They didn’t tell anyone about it. The next day, an employee of Smith Plumbing Inc. goes up the scaffolding and gets hurt. The controlling employer (general contractor) should have been monitoring hazards and safety on the job. The employee could sue his own employer, the general contractor, and ABC Company.
On top of that, OSHA routinely fines multiple employers for the same violation at the same worksite. The Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine has allowed OSHA to extend liability to general contractors, host employers, staffing agencies, and anyone else who can be conceivably related to an employee accident or alleged safety hazard.
The Cost of On-the-Job Injuries
According to the National Institutes of Health, construction injuries cost the U.S. $11.5 billion per year, $4 billion of which is due to fatalities and $7 billion of which is due to nonfatal injuries, including time away from work. For employers, the costs of workplace injuries include being shut out of bidding on projects, employee sick leave, lost productivity, and OSHA fines.
As we discussed in the introduction, high injury rates lead to high MOD rates, which lead to high workers’ compensation premiums. It also means you can’t bid on jobs where the general contractor requires MOD rates that reflect a good safety record. It’s possible to bid on some of those jobs if you write a letter explaining the changes you’ve put in place to address safety. You can also get an automatic reduction of your MOD rate if your workers unionize. Of course it’s best just to keep your accident rate low in the first place.
We cover the costs of sick time and lost productivity in more detail in the “Stressed-Out Employees” section. We talk about the cost of OSHA violations in the section on “Violations of Standards, Regulations, and Mandates.”
The Solution: 4 Steps to Minimize Workplace Injuries
It takes some rethinking of procedures to reduce workplace injuries, but it’s worth it. Preventing injuries and deaths keeps you from having to make expensive reparations down the road, and it is the organization’s moral obligation.
At a minimum, here’s what to do:
Provide the proper safety equipment, or require that your subs bring the proper equipment. All it takes is a bit of pre-planning for the job. Just like you would plan time, tools, labor, and materials, plan for the proper equipment that addresses the safety issues of that worksite ahead of time. Avoid the scenario where workers go to the jobsite without the correct ladder. What are their options? They could go to the local hardware store and buy the right ladder (unplanned cost), rent an aerial lift (unplanned cost), or use the wrong ladder (unplanned risk).
Educate your employees.
Most construction worker injuries occur in the first year of employment. That points to the need for more comprehensive onboarding training, such as the 3 points of contact method for preventing falls.
Consider implementing these best practices:
Assign a safety monitor to every job.
Large general contractors have a full-time person assigned to monitor the ever-changing hazards and conditions on jobsites. They take safety very seriously, and their rates of employee injury and death reflect that. If you can’t afford a full-time person, would it be possible to shift duties around and assign a different foreperson or supervisor to patrol your jobsites on a consistent basis (e.g., Jack on Mondays, Bob on Tuesdays)? Or perhaps you could assign someone who is working on a jobsite to stop work and do a safety check to monitor conditions every two hours. Of course, all safety officers have to be trained properly and meet OSHA’s definition of competent person. Just because Jack is an electrician doesn’t make him knowledgeable about all hazards at all jobsites.
Build the cost into your budget and bids.
The reason large general contractors can afford a full-time safety monitor is because they pass along the cost to customers.
KPA Helps Keep Your Workforce Safe
Keeping workers safe is crucial for any company, but the stakes are particularly high in construction, given that the industry is responsible for one in five job-related deaths. That’s where KPA can help. KPA’s got the training, tools, and talent to protect both your employees and your bottom line. Let us show you how >>