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Construction sites are full of dangers—tall heights, sudden drops, distracting noises, heavy equipment and machinery. On a worksite, the safety of the workers is of utmost importance, and accidents can only be avoided if employers, general contractors, site owners and laborers remain vigilant to potential hazards, learn and follow protocols, conduct and reinforce training, and proactively maintain equipment.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, an employer has a duty of care to protect workers and provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that may lead to death or injury. To maintain a safe work environment, the employer may designate a site safety manager to implement and maintain safety standards on the job. 

Either the employer or site safety manager must take care to ensure that all employees are properly trained and the rules are consistently followed on their site. They must always proactively identify and mitigate risks to keep their workers safe. Managers must also be sure that their equipment is up to date and functioning properly, and they must provide the necessary fall protection, harnesses and other safety equipment to workers at the proper time, without exception.

To stay safe, workers should follow safety protocols, only operate machinery once the necessary safety measures are in place and make sure they are properly and fully trained to complete the task. Workers must monitor each other to ensure that all safety guidelines are being followed dutifully and should help monitor their fellow workers for risks of heat stroke, fatigue, intoxication and other barriers that might increase personal and communal risk on the site.

Preemptively Identifying Risks

The natural first step to mitigating risks is knowing how to identify them before they can cause potential injury. The three main types of risks are:

  1. internal risks—preventable, manageable if all parties remain aware and capable;
  2. strategy risks—voluntary decisions that may or may not pay off; and 
  3. external risks—which are often outside of personal control and be caused by economic detriment, environmental factors, etc. 

In fact, the Construction Industry Institute names 107 top risks in the construction injury, many of which extend beyond bodily risk to workers.

To identify risk, one must be able to look at the site objectively to assess where/when there might be a high probability of incidents by conducting an impact assessment. Some types of construction work naturally come with a higher likelihood of injury (for example, jobs at extreme heights or jobs that necessitate heavy machinery), and these should be treated with extra care and caution to prevent injury. 

These high-risk jobs should be labeled as such to ensure that all workers, supervisors and relevant parties understand the risks before undertaking the task and all parties are up to date on the proper protocol and training required. For lower-risk tasks, parties must still remain proactive but can be made aware of the lower comparative risk.

Mitigating Risks

While strategies that reduce the risk of bodily harm for the worker are ideal and clearly advisable, not all are possible or practical. This means that identifying and ranking risks is a necessary step to properly allocate resources, overseers, and other safety measures to stay within time and budget constraints.

Generally, there are four categories of risk mitigation strategies: avoidance, transference, limitation and acceptance:

  1. Avoidance. When feasible, it is best to complete projects and undergo tasks in ways that omit the likelihood of risk. When considering the scope of a project that can be completed more quickly or at a lower cost at the expense of a higher risk, this is not advisable, nor a smart financial or moral decision as the risk of injury and bodily harm (and successive personal injury suit) is much higher. Of course, if there is a way to complete a task without risking a worker’s safety, that is the best way to proceed—often, this might require creative solutions, effective resource allocation and teamwork.
  2. Transference. Transference is the process of moving or sharing risk with another party via outsourcing, insurance policies, partnerships or other methods. Transference is especially useful when the task has a high risk and low reward—accompanied by a high cost, a long-time estimate or extensive necessary training—and could be better served by transferring or splitting the risk.
  3. Limiting. When possible, limiting risk is the best strategy and, as common sense would dictate, the most commonly used on a construction site. If a risk is high, it’s best to find a way to minimize and limit the risk by implementing safety measures or requiring additional training to lessen the risk of injury. While many of these practices are required by law, it is the responsibility of the site manager to identify and limit additional risks as they arise by providing the proper safety measures and equipment.
  4. Acceptance. Unfortunately, some risks are unavoidable. Construction sites are full of multiple different projects that all come with a natural level of risk, as does any job that requires intensive manual labor and skill. When a risk is perceived to be unavoidable, it is important to pay extra attention to the task and monitor the situation to be sure all parties are properly trained, informed and aware of the risk beforehand.
Safety as the First Priority

The construction site has a level of assumed risk, but both workers and site managers have a responsibility to stay alert and follow protocol to mitigate risks whenever possible. Worker safety should always be the first priority on any build or construction job—all other factors must come as a second priority. Risk mitigation requires a combination of risk identification and risk-mitigating strategies to keep things running safely, as well as smoothly and effectively for all parties until the job completion.


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