Photo Points to Jobsite Safety Issues

Originally published by: Builder OnlineAugust 7, 2012

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During the last few months, Builder engaged photographers in different locations across the country to document the building resurgence that’s going on in many areas. We contacted builders we knew were doing well, learned what sites were going gangbusters, determined which of them would be the best to show a broad range of activity, and arranged dates for the shoots with the companies.

As the images came in from the photographers, we were thrilled with what we saw. The sites were hives of activity, buzzing with framers, drywallers, roofers, and landscapers. The shots, taken at various times of day, portrayed some of the vast array of tasks that occur on a jobsite, from the crack of dawn on, and sometimes going on into the night, as if there weren’t enough hours in the day. 

There was one problem with the photos, though. They were full of safety violations. There were workers without hardhats or eye protection. Workers were not using fall protection. Workers labored in unshored trenches that stretched above their heads.

We printed the photos as is. Journalistic standards maintain that photography telling a story should be unvarnished, and unretouched.

But it’s clear that something has changed over the past few years on the jobsite. The last time we did a feature on jobsite safety, in July 2005, we sent photographers, unannounced, to various sites to grab shots surreptitiously, because we knew that when photographers arrived on site, the usual reaction of workers was to run to grab their hardhats and generally make sure they were doing the right thing as they went about their jobs.

Not anymore. To me, that can only mean one of two things: that workers are not being properly trained in jobsite safety or that they are not taking that training seriously. Whichever it is, the result remains the responsibility of the employer.

And that responsibility is huge. The numbers of injuries are staggering. In 2010, there were 75,000 construction-related injuries that resulted in time away from work. The median number of days lost because of these injuries was 12.

Agriculture, mining, and transportation post higher numbers of deaths per 100,000 workers than the construction industry, but construction continues to stand at the top of the chart in terms of actual numbers of fatal occupational injuries, even in 2010, when there were far fewer construction workers than usual. Of the 4,206 worker fatalities in 2010, 774, or nearly 19 percent, were from the construction industry.

How do these deaths occur? Falls are far and away the leading cause of death on construction sites. Electrocution, being struck by an object, or being caught in or between something make up the remaining three of what are called the “Fatal Four.” Together, these causes were responsible for the deaths of nearly three out of five construction workers who were killed on the job in 2010.

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