When rehabbing properties, the construction phase is exciting and also one of the riskiest times of your project. Minimizing the risk of a severe injury during this phase is key to retaining your profit and protecting your business. Whether you are a do-it-yourself-er or hire out the rehab process to an experienced general contractor, you should do a cursory walk around the premises and be able to tell if you have a safe operation. To do that, you will need some basic knowledge about what injuries are common in construction and the markers of a safe job site.
Common Types of Construction Injuries
It may not surprise you that the U.S. Board of Labor Statistics reported construction as the #2 industry for fatal work injuries in their most recent report (2017). That year there were 971 fatalities. Hundreds of thousands of non-fatal injuries also occur in the construction industry each year. So, what are the most common types of injuries?
OSHA’s “Fatal Four”
Many of you may be familiar with or have at least heard of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Congress established the organization in 1970 to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” Their so-named “Fatal Four” are the most common types of fatal construction injuries:
- Falls – about one-third of construction fatalities
- Struck by Object or Vehicle – one-quarter of struck-by-vehicle fatalities involve construction workers
- Electrocutions – about 250 electrical-related fatalities occur each year
- Trenching and Excavation – the fatality rate for excavation is 112% higher than for general construction
Common Non-fatal Injuries on the Jobsite
Because construction is such physical work and involves many types of tools and equipment, the potential for non-fatal injuries is high. There seem to be an infinite number of ways one could be bruised, pinched, cut, and more. To name just a few, non-fatal injuries on the job site are often caused by:
- Hand & Power Tools (Hammers, screwdrivers, nail guns, saws, sanders, blow torches, utility knives)
- Heavy Equipment (Dozers, forklifts, boom lifts)
- Pollution (Asbestos, lead, drywall dust, sawdust, fumes, latex paint)
- Noise (Loud saws, sanders, drills, and other power tools)
- Flammable Liquids/Materials (Stain, paint, paint thinner)
- Slips/Trips/Falls (Slick or uneven surfaces, stairs, ladders, cluttered job sites)
- Lifting heavy objects (Boxes of tile, bathtubs, cabinetry)
- Repetitive motion injuries (Being on your knees while installing flooring, sanding, loading, and unloading materials)
- Cuts and puncture wounds from materials laying around the job site (Sheet metal, nails)
- Concussions from falling objects
Job Site Safety Basics
Keeping a busy job site tidy while rehabbing properties can be a challenge. Tight deadlines can also tempt workers to forego safety measures to stay on schedule. Getting too comfortable with heights or power tools can have severe, sometimes fatal, consequences. On the flip side, a clean, safe job site can increase efficiency, maximizing your potential profit.
Personal Protective Equipment
Dressing appropriately for the type of work you’ll be doing is important for any type of job. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is an integral part of any rehabber’s uniform for keeping themselves safe. PPE includes:
- Eye & Face Protection – safety glasses, face shields, etc
- Foot Protection – work shoes or boots with slip-resistant and puncture-resistant soles, safety toes made from a composite material (metal toes can still be crushed and shear off toes)
- Hand Protection – gloves with the correct fit and right for the job type (paint/stain, chemicals, rough surfaces, handling boards with nails)
- Head Protection – hard hats if in danger of falling objects from above; hard hats should have no dents, cracks, or deterioration and should be replaced after a heavy blow or electrical shock
- Hearing Protection – earplugs or earmuffs in high-noise applications
- Joint Support – knee pads, back or knee braces, and tool belts with suspenders to take the weight off the back and hips
- Headlamp – adequate lighting for your workspace and to help avoid slips and falls
Housekeeping on the Jobsite
Probably the simplest and most crucial task to injury prevention on the job site is keeping the worksite clean and free of hazards. Not keeping a clean job site can lead to:
- Damage to tools and equipment, materials, and the structure of the house
- Loss of production – cleanliness and organization help efficiency
- Fire hazards
- Physical injuries such as cuts, bruises, sprains, breaks, eye injuries, and more
You will need a plan for
- How trash and construction debris is removed
- How materials will be stored
- How tools will be organized and stored when not in use
Job Site Cleanliness Tips
- Store all tools and materials not in use in their proper place
- Clean up messes in a timely fashion – clean as you go
- Keep walkways and driveways clear
- Be aware of common trip hazards: electrical cords, air hoses from compressors, unfinished transitions between floor surfaces, uninstalled materials, tools that are in use, and the like.
- Work as a team to keep the job site clean and safe
As the weather begins to warm up, heat-related illness can sneak up on workers if they are not mindful of the weather conditions they will be working in throughout the day. Heat exhaustion is not usually life-threatening, but it can lead to dizziness, headaches, and fatigue which may make a worker more susceptible to other injuries. Heat stroke can make you lose consciousness, and puts strain on your heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart failure or stroke. To help construction workers beat the heat while rehabbing properties, here are some tips:
- Dress for success with the 3 L’s: wear Lightweight, Light-colored, Loose clothing (still being mindful of anything that could get caught in machinery)
- Use sunscreen
- Drink fluids continuously throughout the day – water is the best and other drinks that support electrolyte balance are good as well
- If possible, build up to longer periods of sun exposure gradually. Try to stay in the shade from 10 am-3 pm when the heat is the most intense and choose a place in the shade for any outdoor workstations
- Be in the know – water, concrete, and sand reflect the sun and can increase its intensity
- Eat a well-balanced diet with fresh fruits and veggies and avoid hot, heavy, or greasy foods
8 Basic Jobsite Safety Tips to Share with Your Crew
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Keep a clean workspace
- Be intentional about taking breaks to prevent fatigue and quit when you’re tired
- Ask for help when carrying heavy objects or use tools to help, like a dolly
- Properly dispose of hazardous materials (i.e. rags with paint thinner)
- Ventilate areas properly when working with flammable materials
- Don’t remove safety features on power tools (i.e. trigger guards on nail guns and blade guards on saws)
- Dress properly for safety i.e. nothing that will get caught in equipment such as jewelry
The mission of OSHA is pretty simple. Under the OSH Act, “employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace.” It can be a little confusing as to who needs to comply with OSHA regulations, so if you are unsure about your status under the OSH Act, it is best to consult an attorney. Regardless of whether or not you are required to report any injuries that occur at your rehab, their advice is wise to follow, and their resources are helpful. What follows is a sampling of OSHA tools and resources that can help you achieve a safe job site.
OSHA Tools & Resources
- Prevention Videos (v-Tools)
- These videos cover topics like falls, sprains and strains, carbon monoxide, electrocutions, and more and how to prevent them. They are 2-4 minutes long and include sample incidents based on true stories that resulted in worker injuries.
- Recommended Practices for Safety & Health Programs in Construction
- This booklet helps employers, workers, and worker representatives (unions, etc.), with a proactive framework for addressing safety and health issues on job sites. It includes a place to do a general self-evaluation and track progress in implementing the safety practices.
- On-site Consultation Program for Small Business Employers
- This a free and confidential service and helps employers assess whether there are hazards at their worksites. Consultants provide advice on how to comply with OSHA standards and help establish injury and illness prevention programs. These are separate from enforcement activities and don’t result in penalties or citations.
- OSHA’s Construction Regulations and Standards
Licensing & Insurance
Many investors worry that hiring someone who is licensed and insured will drive up their costs when rehabbing their properties and make it impossible for them to turn a profit on a project. While larger construction companies may cost more because they have more overhead, hiring someone who is inexperienced or isn’t adequately insured could end up hurting your livelihood far worse than if you had simply allowed more room in the budget for construction costs. Simply put, if you can’t afford to do a project safely, it is probably not the right deal.
Whether you’re the one swinging the hammer or the one calling up your GC for progress reports on your rehab, educating yourself about the entire construction process can help you reduce unnecessary and costly injuries. This knowledge may impact the type of deals you buy too; carefully consider how much work will need to be done and if you can afford to do it safely. Rushing the rehab process at the cost of safety or selecting a contractor without the proper experience and insurance protection can rack up a list of liabilities you don’t want to pay for. We hope these tips will help you rehab safely!
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