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Construction Site Safety: Legal Insights for Architects and Designers

Construction Site Safety: Legal Insights for Architects and Designers

Construction site safety saves lives; nothing is more precious than a human life. The houses, buildings, roads, bridges, and dams we build are all done to house, move, and support humanity. Architects, designers, developers, and civic engineers develop spaces where people live and flourish. However, construction work is the second deadliest occupation in the U.S. Around 1,069 construction workers die on construction sites every year. In contrast, 2.4 out of every 100 workers are injured on-site annually. The overwhelming majority of those injuries and deaths are considered preventable by the National Safety Council. Every one of those worker’s deaths is a tragedy, especially the ones that could have been avoided by following safety regulations.

A worker’s fatality should not stain our buildings, projects, and lives. They should be a source of pride for the people using them, the workers who built them, and the architects, designers, and engineers who develop them.

Construction safety guidelines and regulations constitute the minimum requirements to keep you, your workers, your business, and the public safe. This article will discuss the most common construction safety hazards, safety measures, regulations, and liability.

What are the most common causes of accidents in construction sites?

The most common categories of accidents that cause construction workers’ fatalities are OSHA’s Fatal Four or Focus Four:

  1. Falls
  2. Struck-By
  3. Electrocutions
  4. Caught-In or Between

Over 60% of all construction work fatalities are attributed to the Fatal Four.

Falls

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), preventable deaths caused by falls from elevation are the leading cause of fatalities among construction workers. Accounting for 395 deaths in 2022. That is no surprise when we consider that 65% of inspections conducted by OSHA on construction sites had a “fall emphasis.” This means that the Agency had recommendations to improve procedures to prevent falls or reduce injuries when falls occur. The most common citation for violating OSHA construction site safety regulations in 2022 was the failure of “Duty to have fall protection,” and the next was the violation of “ladders” regulations. These failures to abide by OSHA’s construction site safety regulations endanger workers’ lives and cost construction businesses thousands of dollars in citations and sometimes millions in lawsuits. From “duty to have fall protection” citations, construction businesses paid penalties of $45,835,216 in 2022. The average settlement for fall injury claims at construction sites is $324,000. However, settlements for scaffold fall injuries on construction sites have reached more than $15,000,000, and settlements for workers who fell off a ladder on construction sites have reached $11,000,000.

Struck-By

The second most common cause of fatalities in construction sites is “Struck-By” accidents, according to The Center for Construction Research and Training, accounting for 15% of construction deaths from 2018 to 2019. 52.9% of struck-by deaths were due to objects, equipment, or materials falling over or hitting construction workers. Settlements for accidents involving construction workers struck by falling objects have surpassed $9,300,000.

Electrocutions

Fatalities due to contact with electricity, including direct contact (touching live wires) and indirect contact (touching materials in contact with power lines), constitute 7.2% of all construction work deaths. Construction work has the highest percentage of electrical fatalities among all occupations. However, 70% of the workers who died were in non-electrical occupations. This means that the overwhelming majority of workers who died due to electric shock were not working directly with electricity. Those accidents usually involve non-identified electrical hazards. When an employer fails to warn workers about power lines or has poorly maintained the electrical systems or wiring at the construction site, the odds of having an accident on site increase. This leads to accidents, injuries, deaths, and lawsuits.

Caught-In or Between

The last type of injury of OSHA’s Fatal Four is caught-in or between. When a worker’s body is caught in, compressed, entangled, stuck, or crushed by material, equipment, wires, objects, structures, cave-ins, or landslides, they suffer injuries that might lead to death. This type of accident is highly hazardous when doing demolition work and trenches.

Following OSHA’s construction site safety protocols and recommendations saves workers’ lives and businesses money.

Construction Site Safety: Legal Insights for Architects and Designers

What are OSHA’s standards for safety measures for construction sites?

OSHA is part of the Department of Labor. Its standards for construction are located in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations and apply to construction sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all Federal government territories.

These standards place the responsibility of construction sites and workers’ safety on the employer. The employer must follow OSHA’s regulations to ensure safe working conditions. Failure to do so can lead to fines, accidents, injuries, fatalities, damage claims, and lawsuits. OHSA’s standards cover specific workplace activities such as using power tools, machinery, and welding, as well as the physical layout of the construction site, including walking and working surfaces, fall protection, and emergency planning.

The following are the most commonly violated OSHA standards in construction sites. If appropriately followed, they could save lives and millions of dollars.

Fall protection

Safety and Health Regulations for Construction Standard 1926.501 requires employers to provide fall protection systems for construction workers. The employer must determine whether the surfaces workers will walk or work on are strong enough and have the structural integrity to support the workers, materials, and work and provide safe working conditions.

Employers must provide safety nets, guardrail systems, barricades, or personal fall arrest equipment and training to employees working 6 feet or more above a lower level. They must also protect their workers from objects falling through holes and provide each employee with hard hats.

OHSA offers safety resources to prevent fall injuries, and employers and construction workers are encouraged to attend workshops on OSHA’s safety measures for construction sites.

Ladders

As presented in Standard Number 1926.1053 of Title 29, ladder safety standards and regulations apply to all ladders in a construction site. These standards specify the minimum weight that ladders are expected to support, the design, materials, minimum width, and separation for rungs, cleats, and steps. Standards stipulate when ladders have cages, wells, ladder safety devices, and designs, among many other regulations.

Osha offers materials and resources to facilitate understanding its standards and the decision-making process when employers and workers have to buy or decide which ladder to use for each occasion. Using an incorrect ladder at a construction site can lead to accidents and injury claims that can settle for millions of dollars.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding accidents are injury-intensive and can lead to death and millions in damage claims. Therefore, the Safety and Health Regulations for Construction Standard Number 1926.451 lays out clear regulations for scaffolding. Including the minimum amount of weight it should be able to support, the qualifications the scaffold designer should have, the types and characteristics of the planks on each level, the maximum distance the scaffold can have from the face of the work, etc.

According to OSHA, all 2020 fatal falls from scaffolding could have been prevented by complying with its standards. Workers and employees need to stay current on standards and are encouraged to take workshops to improve scaffolding safety.

Fall Protection Training

Employees are required by standard number 1926.503 to provide fall protection training to all workers who might be exposed to fall hazards. The standard explains the qualifications requirements for instructors, the types of training, and when retraining is needed.

Training violation citations amounted to more than $7,000,000 in 2023. Many injuries and fatalities could have been prevented if construction workers and employees had undergone proper training.

Eye and Face Protection

Ensuring safety on construction sites includes simple and easy-to-follow eye and face protection standards. Standard Number 1926.102 of Title 29 states that employers are responsible for providing and ensuring that all employees use appropriate eye and face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards. The standard stipulates situations in which different protective devices and designs need to be used—for example, the shade numbers of filter lenses that eye protection for welders should have.

However, violations of eye and face protection standards were the fifth most frequently cited violations by OSHA in 2023. These common standard violations have blinded thousands of people each year. These easily preventable permanent injuries led to millions of dollars in personal injury claims and lawsuits and amounted to $7,441,745 in citation penalties to businesses.

Summary

Construction work is the second deadliest occupation in the U.S. 60% of these deaths are due to the Fatal Four: Falls, Struck-By, Electrocutions, and Caught-In or Between. The most efficient and proven construction site safety tips are OSHA’s standards and recommendations. Especially the standards dealing with fall protection, ladders, scaffolding, and fall protection training. Following these construction site safety standards can save hundreds of workers’ lives each year and millions of dollars in settlements and violation citations for businesses.

Construction site safety training and workshops for employers and construction workers can save your workers’ lives and your business money.

Image courtesy of Kamiphotos