Let’s just get this up front: Construction work can be dangerous and un-healthy. In 2019, the U.S. construction industry reported more than 200,100 cases of injuries and illnesses – 79,700 of which resulted in missed work days. (1) At some estimates, this costs the industry around $11 billion a year. (2)
Work-related injuries and illnesses hurt not just people but team morale, productivity and bottom lines. Unsafe working conditions increase downtime and make jobsites unappealing to young workers, which doesn’t help alleviate the industry’s high turnover rate (20%) and worker shortfall (430,000 in 2021). (3)
But let’s emphasize the “can be” part of our opening sentence, because construction doesn’t have to be dangerous or unhealthy. There are effective strategies for preventing injuries and illnesses while reducing costs (from workers’ comp premiums and the like), increasing productivity and keeping workers happier, more engaged and better employed.
Examples include adopting techno-logical innovations in tools and processes, changing working methods and implementing effective management strategies, such as the Construction Industry Institute’s (CII) Zero Injury principle. Based on the idea that all injuries are preventable, the Zero Injury principle doesn’t set safety goals but instead demands a “demonstrated management commitment” to changing safety culture. (4)
In other words, it starts at the top, with leaders, managers and especially CEOs demonstrating, not just expressing, their commitment to achieving zero injuries. Actions, not words.
Pain Points That Literally Hurt
Because of the dynamic nature of construction work, contractors face challenges in reducing or even identifying jobsite safety issues and work-related health problems.
Most injuries stem from risky working conditions and can be categorized by a root cause (see table, right).
In addition to jobsite risks, contractors face compliance challenges. Regulatory bodies constantly update safety standards to meet the demands of bigger, more complicated projects; new working methods; new technologies and materials; fewer skilled workers; and ever-shrinking deadlines that demand higher productivity and faster results.
And as infrastructure spending increases in the U.S., businesses can expect a flurry of new regulations: OSHA plans to double the number of inspectors, reflecting former construction work-er and current labor secretary Marty Walsh’s declared commitment to work-er safety. (9)
But compliance doesn’t always mean safety. Regulations are often written to satisfy the baseline. A genuine commitment to health and safety demands exceeding the minimum criteria.
Includes human error and risky or reckless behavior; misuse of tools or PPE; lack of knowledge or experience; inattention; working under the influence; and misjudgment of risk
Lifting heavy loads is one of the most common causes of musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains and strains and joint, bone and nerve injuries. (5)
Includes missing or improper PPE; inadequate training or certification; inattention to hazards and ergo-nomic risks such as discomfort and fatigue; and inadequate planning leading to rushing
Overexposing employees to vibrating tools that drill, chisel, break or grind can lead to operator discomfort and fatigue. (6)
includes damaged or poorly maintained equipment leading to defects; missing or improper use of PPE; missing safety accessories; and using improper, worn or damaged inserts
A damaged or overused grinder disc can break unexpectedly, sending pieces flying. This is even more dangerous if the guard is missing.
Includes poor lighting; excessive noise; distractions; poor weather conditions or extreme temperatures; hazardous substances such as dust or chemicals; and working at heights or overhead
Drilling concrete can create dust particles that can damage the respiratory system. (7) Risk increases when working on ladders: Falls are the leading cause of death on jobsites. (8)
How Can Technology Help?
Applications such as drilling and an-choring in concrete can be substituted with innovative fastening systems. And if hammer drilling is unavoidable, an OSHA-compliant integrated extraction system on an SDS rotary hammer can help remove almost all the dust directly from the bit.
Some high-end hammer drills and combihammers feature technology to reduce vibration and torque-control systems to help prevent unexpected over-rotation if the bit gets stuck. This technology also extends to other tools. For example, Hilti has developed a more advanced form of torque-control technology, called 3D ATC, that uses multiple gyroscopic sensors to detect when an angle grinder suddenly leaves a work area, triggering a disc brake.
Contractors can reduce the risk of fatigue and musculoskeletal injuries by integrating wellness programs, such as team stretching, into the workday. Of course, the jobsite’s traditionally macho “brute-force” approach to work can make buy-in difficult. “It used to be that a sign of a good day at work was a sore back,” Joe Garza, the regional safety manager for California-based DPR Construction, told the Engineering News-Record. “We’d rather it be our workers’ ability to do other things without pain when they get home.” (10)
One solution is using cordless tools with higher performance-to-weight ratios, meaning they’re lighter and more comfortable to use, especially when working overhead. However, comfort shouldn’t come at the expense of power – the effort required to use them should remain manageable.
Ineffective organizational processes, such as insufficient training or poor PPE management, can be tightened up with proactive, cloud-based construction management apps. Some software can manage safety and training certifications and provide alerts that help enable compliance. Others track PPE stock, helping supervisors keep dust masks, gloves and glasses onsite at all times.
See “Innovations for a Safer Jobsite” on page 6 for a summary of effective technological solutions.
When CEOs Lead, Safety Follows
Unsafe jobsites are typically due to poor management. Conversely, some of the safest businesses in the U.S. are CII members whose leadership, most notably at the C level, have demonstrated a commitment to Zero Injury principles. In 2018, CII’s best-performing members logged a Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) of 0.24 per 2.6 billion hours worked. That’s one OSHA-report-ed incident every 909,000 hours, good for almost 13 times safer than national figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (4)
That “demonstration of commitment” starts with management convincing their employees that nothing is more important than health and safety. The philosophy should then trickle down to employees looking out for one another every day and taking co-ownership of jobsite safety. Dr. E. Scott Geller of Virginia Tech calls this an “actively caring for people (AC4P) safety culture.” (4)
Leaders can enable an AC4P safety culture by implementing regular injury-prevention activities such as near-miss analyses, safety inspections, worker-led committees and worker- established KPIs for measuring safety. This requires not a huge financial in-vestment but group alignment, process execution and personal accountability. For a manager, that’s all in a day’s work.
Managers can also lead by adopting a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) strategy that takes advantage of technological innovations. Investing in products and services that help reduce jobsite risk is a proactive approach that can also keep companies a few steps ahead of regulators.
Innovations for a Safer, Healthier Jobsite
Managers can demonstrate their commitment to safer job-sites by adopting technology that proactively reduces risk. Here are a few effective solutions.
Reduce worker strains and fatigue
- Lighter, more ergonomically friendly and comfortable tools
- More productive tools that reduce trigger time
- Power tools with vibration reduction technology
- Exoskeletons for assisting with lifting and overhead work
- Automated machines for dangerous or repetitive tasks
- Rig-mounted wet diamond drills with automatic feed
- Tool-connected mobile apps that provide trigger-time recommendations as well as dust and noise ratings
Address organizational deficiencies
- Tool-connected mobile apps that provide on-demand safety training modules
- Asset management software for tracking worker qualifications and certifications; providing tool maintenance alerts; enabling transparency into PPE stock availability; and activating smoother re-pair or replacement of dam-aged/dangerous tools
- Tool-integrated dust removal systems that extract virtually all dust from the source
- Hollow drill bits that integrate better with dust extraction systems
- Powerful cordless vacuum cleaners for more convenient extraction and cleanup
- BIM processes that identify ways to avoid drilling (e.g., by specifying cast-in anchors)
- Laser measuring tools to reduce ladder use
- Tool tethering to help pre-vent dropped tools
- State-of-health alerts for dangerous batteries
- Battery-powered cordless tools that don’t require combustible fuel
Address high-risk tasks and behavior
- Torque-control technology that helps prevent stuck tools from uncontrolled spinning
- Dead-man and touch-activated switches for stopping tools when the user lets go
Safer Jobsites, Better Business
Employees respond positively to genuine commitments to improving health and safety culture. Business leaders who take an active role in executing effective safety strategies, engage employees throughout the entire process and adopt effective safety innovations can measurably reduce injuries and downtime.
Running a safer and healthier jobsite is not only better for everyone onsite; it’s better for business. Construction companies continue to operate on razor-thin profit margins. Though increasing productivity might be the primary goal, avoiding hefty fines, reducing workers comp premiums and sufficiently staffing projects should also be a priority.
But more importantly, and in the words of Jeff Owens, the CEO for Illinois-based industrial maintenance service provider Advanced Technology Services:
“Without knowing that [we] care about their safety, employees would not feel valued. Without valued employees, customers would not be engaged. Without engaged customers, [we] would not get results.” (13)
- “Employer-Related Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, 2019.”
- “Costs of Occupational Injuries in Construction in the United States.”
- “The Construction Industry Needs to Hire an Additional 430,000 Workers in 2021.”
- “Demonstrated Management Commitment: Zero Injuries Happen When CEOs Lead.”
- “Prevention of Muscoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace.”
- “Recommended Practices for Health and Safety Programs: Hazard Identification and Assessment.”
- “Protecting Workers From Silica Hazards in the Workplace.”
- “OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign.”
- “OSHA’s 11: Enforcement Changes Coming to a Construction Jobsite Near You.”
- “How Companies Are Adapting to the Needs of an Aging Workplace.”
- “OSHA Commonly Used Statistics.”
- “Digital Strategy Playbook: Construction Safety & Inspection.”
- “2021 CEOs Who ‘Get It.’”
To learn about Hilti’s health and safety innovations, please visit: Hilti US | Hilti Canada US Customer Service 1-800-879-8000 CA Customer Service 1-800-363-4458