The fatal four: Risks threatening California construction workers

Construction workers in California can avoid a serious incident by understanding the most common causes of on-the-job accidents.

The sudden collapse of a temporary structure on a freeway project in California injured four workers in January of this year. According to ABC7News, the construction workers had been pouring concrete at the time of the incident. One worker was trapped under the debris, and the state occupational safety authority launched an investigation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, construction site accidents account for more work-related fatalities than any other sector. In 2010, such incidents comprised 17 percent of all on-the-job deaths in the country. Understanding the "fatal four" better equips workers to avoid an incident.

1. Falls

In 2013, 302 construction site workers were killed as the result of a fall, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. That accounts for 36.5 percent of all worker fatalities in the industry that year, more than any other incident.

To prevent a fall, OSHA advises that workers use personal fall arrest devices. Additionally, all floor openings should be clearly labeled and covered when possible.

2. Struck By Object

The second leading cause of construction fatalities is an incident in which a worker is struck by an object. OSHA reports that 10.1 percent of work-related deaths in 2013 stemmed from this type of accident. Workers are cautioned to wear brightly colored clothing to increase their visibility for equipment operators. Further, people should never stand between moving and fixed objects.

3. Electrocutions

Responsible for 71 deaths in 2013, electrocutions can be prevented with the proper measures. OSHA recommends that prior to starting any work, employers should locate and mark all utilities. Portable electric tools should be double insulated or grounded.

Construction workers should always be aware of the safe distance requirements when operating near power lines. OSHA standards mandate that if any equipment will come closer than 20 feet to a power line, the employer has to check with the utility operator to ensure that the power supply has been shut off.

4. Caught-in/Between

The last of the four major causes of construction accidents is a caught-in or between incident, responsible for 21 deaths in 2013. These situations occur largely during excavation work or when machinery traps a part of someone's body. According to OSHA, people who work on excavation projects are more than twice as likely to be killed than any other construction worker.

Preventing such accidents involves using protective systems while working in trenches that are 5 feet or deeper. There are several ways of protecting a trench, including shoring, benching, sloping and the use of trench shields.

Eliminating the problem

OSHA estimates that eliminating the "fatal four" hazards would save as many as 478 lives a year. Employers are required to provide a number of tools and protection for workers, including the following:

  • Fall arrest equipment when workers are operating 6 feet or higher off the ground
  • Adequate safety training for employees
  • Notice of all OSHA standards and regulations

Additionally, most large construction project owners are required to carry workers' compensation coverage. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, an employer must file a claim for a work-related injury within one day of learning about it.

Anyone with questions about this matter should consult with an attorney.

Keywords: construction, accident, workers' compensation, injury