How to prioritize health and safety for construction workers

Discover the different hazards and regulations related to construction. Find ways to keep your construction workforce safe with resources from Business Deals.

As a construction business owner or safety manager, one of your key responsibilities is ensuring the safety of your crew on the job site. It’s an important job in an often dangerous line of work, but the right guidelines and gear can go a long way in keeping everyone safe. It’s also up to you to ensure adherence to certain safety standards and to have the right insurance to keep everyone covered.

Every project is different, but this “safety playbook” will help you understand the most common construction hazards and the guidelines, training, and regulations to know so your job sites and workers are as safe as possible.

OSHA regulations: what you need to know to keep your workers safe

OSHA's role in enforcing safety regulations in construction

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a government agency designed to create and enforce safety regulations in the workplace and, in particular, the construction industry. Its mission is to deliver standards for safe working environments that organizations must comply with, also providing education and training opportunities. At the end of the day, it’s more than a poster on your wall—it’s a standard for how your business should operate and a gold standard for keeping workers out of harm’s way.

What are common construction hazards?

Construction sites are particularly hazardous environments for a few reasons. Knowing where danger lies is step one in gauging the high-risk zones of your job site and mapping out a plan to keep things safe.

Why are construction sites dangerous? First and foremost, as long as work is getting done, the site is always changing. Materials are coming and going, equipment is moving, structures are getting taller, and workspaces are shifting every day. In other words, workers should avoid the "line of fire" that changes frequently.

Second, the equipment used is often large, very heavy, and loud. Excavators and cranes can be incredibly powerful and dangerous machinery—but, even regular use of hand tools with heavy vibrations can lead to injury.

Most construction sites will contain these hazards:

  • Holes, leading edges, heights, or openings that can lead to the number one construction site accident: falls. Uneven or slippery terrain can also lead to trips and falls.
  • Sharp edges and rough surfaces
  • Heights
  • Heavy equipment and machinery
  • Heavy objects that may be hoisted overhead and fall, or become unstable and roll, swing, or lead to common “struck by” accidents
  • Sparks, flames, or high temperatures
  • Electrocution, whether from improper use of extension cords, contact with overhead lines, or contact with underground services
  • Exposure to chemicals, visible or invisible—like gasses, vapors, and mists
  • Structural collapse from excavation, leading to “caught in or between” hazards
  • Environmental dangers, such as cars driving adjacent to a roadside job site

Prevention strategies and safety tips for construction hazards

There are two major considerations for construction hazards: keeping sites safe with proper controls, and keeping workers safe with proper gear. Let’s start with the site.

If you don’t have a dedicated safety manager, there are platforms like HazComReady that can help you manage compliance on your own. With that in hand, you can use the following strategies and tips to keep your job site safe from start to finish.

  • Kick off every project with a safety briefing. This ensures everyone understands the risks at hand and is compliant with the right training and gear. You may even have these meetings daily, weekly, or as a project hits a new phase.
  • Ensure workers are qualified for the tasks at hand. This includes the right and wrong way to lift and handle heavy materials, if applicable. You’ll also want to verify they’ve been trained and/or licensed to use the machinery and equipment, work with electrical wiring, driving certain vehicles, and more.
  • Conduct safety training. It may be necessary to train members of your team on specific aspects of a project, for compliance. This can include working at heights, scaffolding safety, best practices for working around electricity, hygiene when working with chemicals in confined spaces, and more.
  • Develop machinery guarding programs. Everyone on the site should be trained to understand how equipment moves in order to avoid getting injured by equipment when it’s on and in use.
  • Conduct daily site assessments. Look for obvious fall risks, hazards, electrical services, or code violations. Create a checklist you can run through each day. And, don’t forget the crew: Are they wearing the right gear for the job?

Speaking of gear, another key to avoiding the hazards mentioned above is the right physical protection, such as PPE, which we’ll cover below. PPE should be worn at all times, starting when a worker sets foot on the job site—no exceptions.

Health and safety training for construction workers

The benefits of proper training and education in construction

Prevention is critical in making construction sites safer and helping workers be more vigilant and aware. But there are other benefits to consider when implementing safety training and education in your business:

  • Improved efficiency and productivity—which can lead to cost savings and better profitability for your company.
  • Compliance with regulations and standards. There are plenty of ethical and legal considerations in becoming compliant with regulations, including the health and safety of your workers and avoidance of costly fees and fines.
  • Quality control and customer satisfaction. Better safety standards can project professionalism, care, and quality, ultimately leading to a better reputation and more referrals.
  • Career advancement opportunities. Workers who are well-trained and adept in their fields can expand their skill sets and capabilities—and so can your company. Prioritizing training for certain expertise and equipment will open your organization up to say yes to more opportunities.
  • Adaptability to technological advancements
  • Environmental responsibility. Keeping sites clean and compliant, especially when handling hazardous materials or operating around public spaces, can reduce the amount of environmental impact from runoff, waste, chemicals, and more.

Recommended construction training programs and resources

OSHA is a great place to start for general construction training, advanced supervisor training, and more. Their 10- and 30-hour online courses cover topics ranging from fall protection and electrical safety. More specialized safety training can be obtained from a number of providers online or at area schools, educational centers, and government agencies.

Aside from basic required workplace safety training, the type and frequency of training is largely up to you, and it will depend on the specific tasks and hazards at each site. For example, you might seek out more tailored training in areas such as excavation and trenching safety, crane operation, welding, rigging, and more.

Also, remember training is rarely one and done. When necessary, ongoing and refresher training not only keeps topics fresh, it can bring workers up to speed on new regulations and changes. Regulatory agencies could conduct inspections at any time, and a lack of accurate records or necessary training could lead to fines.

Construction safety equipment and gear

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be required for every worker, the moment they set foot on a job site.

Overview of essential safety equipment and gear for construction workers

When even the right pair of glasses can be the difference between a close call and a life-changing injury, it pays to be prepared. And, according to OSHA, it’s your responsibility to provide it. 

PPE will carry different ratings to indicate it’s better suited for one task or another, so get familiar with this list then make sure you’ve got what you need for your project, in particular.

PPE includes but is not limited to:

  • Proper footwear to protect feet and ankle from accident and injury. Not all boots are created equal. Both the soles and the uppers should be sturdy enough to protect against punctures from stepping on sharp objects, and crush injuries, which are very common on construction sites. Look for ANSI-741 ratings here.
  • Hard hats, in case of falling objects. Hard hats come with different ratings, so be sure it has the appropriate shell thickness, suspension design, and bill for the project. In general, the ANSI-Z89.1 rating will indicate a hat meets the right standard.
  • Earplugs with adequate noise reduction rating (NRR). Things get noisy on job sites, so approved hearing protection can limit exposure to high decibels that cause hearing loss over time.
  • Protective eyewear, to protect eyes from chemicals, sparks, or debris from cutting, sanding, splintering wood, and dust. This can range from full-face shields to sturdy plastic lenses. For eyewear, look for a ANSI Z87.1 rating.
  • Gloves, to protect against heat, electrical shock, chemicals, rough surfaces, and sharp edges. Gloves and sleeves may be as simple as knit gloves with rubber coating, or more heavy-duty, with insulation against electric shock or chemical-resistant.
  • Masks and respirators, to minimize inhalation of pollutants, chemicals, and dust from the air. Note that some states also require respirators to meet certain guidelines for fit.
  • High-visibility workwear, such as vests.

Aside from PPE, there are other equipment that can safeguard against other hazards such as heights. These hazards can include:

  • Scaffolding with adequate railings, to prevent falls from heights
  • Safety nets
  • Harnesses
  • Surface treatment, such as gravel, grit, or stone, to avoid slips and falls

Insurance and liability coverage for construction companies

Despite every precaution and training, accidents will happen.

Importance of insurance and liability coverage for construction companies

It’s critical to have insurance and general liability coverage in the event that your workmanship leads to property damage or bodily harm. Without it, the costs could be devastating to your business.

Recommended insurance options and deals for construction businesses

Not sure where to start in finding the right insurance for your business? The Hartford is a small business insurance provider, widely recognized and offering bundled insurance, including workers’ comp.

Protect construction workers and save on health & safety resources for your construction company with Capital One Business Deals

The subject of workplace safety in construction sites can be complex, especially as work gets more nuanced and specialized. This guide should arm you with the basics to begin outfitting your crew and company with the right safety gear, routines, and insurance coverage.

Sign up for Capital One Business deals and get access to deals on insurance and other equipment and tools mentioned above. We’re here to help you get affordable access to the resources your construction company needs to stay safe, scale, and succeed.

Related articles you might like:
View All Resources