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Building Safely: Construction Safety Trends

By February 27, 2024No Comments

Construction has always been a dangerous industry, but better technology and safer practices can make a difference. The latest construction site safety trends provide actionable insights to reduce risk and limit liability.

The Critical Role of Construction Industry Safety 

The National Safety Council says construction is the most dangerous industry, based on the number of workplace deaths. In 2022, there were 1,069 deaths, which amounted to a death rate of 10 per 100,000 workers. There were also 71,700 nonfatal injuries, amounting to a nonfatal injury rate of 100 per 10,000 workers.

Although construction injuries are common, they are not inevitable. According to OSHA, nearly all worksite fatalities, injuries, and illnesses are preventable. This is why OSHA uses the term “incident” instead of “accident.”

In 2022, Fall Protection was the most frequently-cited OSHA standard in construction. Other frequently-cited standards were also related to construction, including ladders, scaffolding, fall protection training, and eye and face protection. By prioritizing safety, construction leaders can avoid expensive OSHA fines while protecting workers.

Regulatory Changes Impacting Safety Compliance

State and federal regulations continue evolving to keep workers safe. Some recent developments that impact construction health and safety include the following:

  • Regulators are cracking down on heat safety. Safety+Health says OSHA reopened a comment period on a possible heat standard over the summer. Meanwhile, some states have been taking heat safety into their own hands. For example, Washington state’s new heat exposure rule went into effect in 2023.
  • New reporting requirements went into effect on January 1, 2024. OSHA says the new rule requires employers in certain high-hazard industries to submit injury and illness information electronically.
  • OSHA penalties have increased. The maximum penalty for serious and other-than-serious violations is increasing to $16,131 per violation in 2024. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations is increasing to $161,323 per violation.
  • State and local laws are also changing. According to Construction Dive, the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act rolls back local worker protections with the aim of minimizing differences in business regulations across the state. In the construction sector, the law will block local rules governing paid sick leave, water breaks, and county-specific minimum wage requirements.

Advancements in Safety Technology in Construction

Recent technological developments support better occupational health in construction. Promising technologies include:

  • Drones are being used to conduct aerial inspections and provide images of places that are dangerous or hard to reach. For example, drones can check high-rise buildings for damage, eliminating the need to send workers up. However, Safety+Health warns that drones may also increase the risk of falls by distracting workers. It’s important to minimize risks through training, drone design, and worksite preparation.
  • On-the-body sensors can be used in a variety of ways to keep employees safe. For example, hard hats can include carbon monoxide monitors, wrist bands can detect dangerous body temperatures and smart clothing can detect key vital signs such as a worker’s heart rate.
  • Powered and unpowered exoskeletons. Exoskeletons can limit strain and reduce the risk of workplace injury by helping workers lift and redistribute loads.
  • Lone worker monitoring. When employees work alone in remote locations or in private homes of customers, a lone worker safety app can help keep them safer with cloud-based monitoring, movement detection, GPS tracking and panic button functionality.
  • VR simulators. Just as pilots use simulators to learn how to fly aircraft, virtual reality can be used in construction to help workers safely and efficiently build proficiency in tasks such as forklift and crane operation.
  • Worksite monitors. Site sensors can be used to detect excessive noise, dust particulates and the presence of harmful substances such as asbestos.
  • AI-powered assessments. According to Construction Today, AI can analyze data to identify potential safety issues from past projects, whereas AI-powered sensors can detect hazards in current projects. Construction safety managers can use this data to implement changes before incidents occur, which enables them to change from a reactive to a proactive stance.
  • AI video analytics. Similarly, video cameras can be used to scan construction sites and send real-time alerts to supervisors notifying them if workers are engaging in risky behaviors, have an elevated fall risk or if they are failing to wear required PPE.
  • For companies with fleets of vehicles and heavy equipment, and workers who drive on the job, a telematics program can provide vital oversight – identifying dangerous driving behaviors, providing incident video retrieval and tracking the location and status of all vehicles.

Some construction workers are already experiencing these technologies at work. According to KXAN, a construction company in Texas has started using a program in which workers wear smartwatches or sensors that monitor body signs to prevent heat-related injuries. A safety manager for the company says the program has already paid for itself by catching unsafe body temperatures. Despite some initial concerns over monitoring, most workers have voluntarily adopted the sensors.

The Role of Training in Construction Risk Management

Safety policies are only effective when workers follow them on a daily basis. According to Occupational Health & Safety, workers often ignore safety measures over time due to many factors, including employee burnout, time constraints, overconfidence, and miscommunication. A lack of regular training is another issue: workers need regular training sessions and refreshers on safety.

Furthermore, some training sessions may be more effective than others and retention may vary depending on how the companies deliver material. Construction Business Owner points out that workers often receive training in a trailer conference room, where there are frequent interruptions, and often in large groups on cold mornings – hardly an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning. Construction leaders can improve learning retention by paying attention to details such as the setting.

The Impact of Sustainability on Construction Safety Trends

The construction industry is taking steps toward greater sustainability. According to For Construction Pros, having robust ESG strategies can help contractors meet current and future regulatory requirements. Additionally, since investors are increasingly interested in sustainability, embracing ESG may help contractors stay competitive.

OSHA says “employers are only truly sustainable when they ensure the safety, health, and welfare of their workers” and that integrating safety and health into sustainability can provide an opportunity to protect workers better while achieving a sustainable organization. Steps that could advance workers safety and health include making the business case for sustainability, building data systems, and promoting stakeholder engagement.

The Case for Construction Safety Management

According to OSHA, effective safety and health programs can reduce injuries and illnesses. This reduces associated costs, such as workers’ compensation claims, medical expenses, and lost productivity. Employers with a good safety record are also more attractive to insurers, meaning they can secure lower workers’ compensation rates. However, complacency may mean safety deteriorates. By adopting new technologies, providing effective training, and staying aware of new regulations, employers can take a proactive stance on safety. 

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