Controlling exposures to worksite hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers on a construction site. Traditionally, the widely-accepted hierarchy of controls has been used as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective controls.
ANSI/AIHA Z10-2005 discusses the five control measures below:
The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following the hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems. The risk of illness or injury should be substantially reduced. Let’s take a closer look at each of the control measures.
The best control measure to control a hazard is to eliminate it. If you don’t have the hazard, you won’t get injured. While elimination is the most effective at reducing hazards, it also tend to be the most difficult to implement in an existing process.
If the construction project is still at the design or development stage, elimination and substitution of hazards may be inexpensive and simple to implement. For an existing process, major changes in equipment and procedures may be required to eliminate or substitute for a hazard.
The next best control measure is to substitute something else in its place that would be non-hazardous or less hazardous to workers. For example, a non-toxic (or less toxic) chemical could be substituted for a hazardous one.
Engineering controls are used to remove a hazard or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions to provide this high level of protection.
The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or personal protective equipment, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process. Engineering controls should be designed to make it difficult for employees to defeat the controls.
Engineering controls include methods such as using noise dampening technology to reduce noise levels; enclosing a chemical process in a Plexiglas "glove box"; using mechanical lifting devices; or using local exhaust ventilation that captures and carries away the contaminants before they can get in the breathing zone of workers.
If engineering controls cannot be implemented, or cannot be implemented right away, administrative controls should be considered. These methods for protecting workers have also proven to be less effective than other measures, requiring significant effort by the affected workers. Administrative controls work only so long as employee behavior conforms to standards.
Administrative controls involve changes in workplace policies and procedures. They can include such things as:
For example, workers could be rotated in and out of a hot area rather than having to spend eight hours per day in the heat. Back-up alarms on trucks that are backing up are an example of effective warning systems. However, warning signs used instead of correcting a hazard that can and should be corrected are not acceptable forms of hazard control.
PPE is the last resort and least effective means of controlling exposure to hazards because of the high potential for damage to render PPE ineffective. Again, the success of this control measure depends not only on the quality of the PPE, but also the quality of human behavior.
PPE should be used only while other more effective controls are being developed or installed, or if there are no other more effective ways to control the hazard.
This is because:
While there are some jobs, such as removing asbestos, where wearing adequate personal protective equipment is absolutely essential, there are many jobs where employers hand out personal protective equipment when in fact they should be using more effective hazard control methods.
Let’s take a look at some of the programs and processes that will help the company prevent and control typical hazards on a construction worksite.
Your company should conduct daily worksite inspections. Hazards should be documented, reviewed, and corrections should be made in a timely manner. More detailed, written inspections should be conducted by a designated person on a weekly or monthly basis.
Your company’s Safety Coordinator or other designated safety person should tour each job site and observe potential safety/health hazards, and develop a plan for safeguarding the workers, which may include the following:
A record of all safety inspections and correctional steps should be kept.
All accidents in your workplace resulting in injury or property damage should be investigated.
By using the information gained through analysis of accident investigations occurring on previous projects, a similar, or perhaps more disastrous, accident may be prevented.
The control of hazardous energy through lockout/tagout procedures assures that employees are protected from unintended machine motion or unintended release of energy which could cause injury. This includes electricity, water, steam, hydraulic, gravity, and many other sources of stored energy.
All sources of energy must be shut off, de-energized at the source, and locked-out prior to you or any other employee beginning work around or on the potential hazard.
Analyze the project for the potential for confined spaces. Workers should not enter confined spaces without proper training and management authorization.
A confined space is defined as the following4:
Confined spaces that may have a hazardous atmosphere require special precautions. Hazardous atmospheres are those that may expose employees to the risk of death, incapacitation, and impairment of ability to self-rescue caused by:
Each year, falls consistently account for the greatest number of fatalities in the construction industry5. A number of factors are often involved in falls, including:
Studies have shown that using guardrails, fall arrest systems, safety nets, covers and restraint systems can prevent many deaths and injuries from falls.
Analyze the project to determine if you will be using:
The primary hazard of trenching and excavation is employee injury from collapse. A competent person must inspect and analyze the excavation site on a daily basis and as frequently as necessary as work progresses to make sure that hazards are eliminated before workers are allowed to enter the trench. Soil analysis is important in order to determine appropriate sloping, benching, and shoring.
Additional hazards include:
For more information on excavation safety take OSHAcademy Course 802, Trench and Excavation Safety.
Analyze the project for the potential for hazardous chemicals requiring a Hazard Communications Program (HCP) to ensure all workers know about the chemicals that they work with and work around. The HCP involves the following elements.
Note: Your written Hazard Communication program should outline the specific details of the elements listed above.
Many construction workers are unaware of the potential electrical hazards present in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to the danger of electrocution.
Experts in electrical safety have traditionally looked toward the widely used National Electrical Code (NEC) for help in the practical safeguarding of persons from these hazards6.
Electrical safety in construction involves two primary issues:
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