Construction is among the most dangerous industries in the country. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for 2014 showed 885 fatal on-the-job injuries, more than in any other single industry sector and nearly one out of every five work-related deaths in the U.S. that year. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) calls the leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites its Focus Four: falls, electrocution, struck by and caught in or between. These four leading hazards are responsible for 71 percent of deaths and injuries in construction.
The numbers of deaths by electrocution clearly show that exposure to electricity is a major hazard to construction workers. Electrocution results when a person is exposed to a lethal amount of electrical energy.
Electrical hazards could expose workers to burns, electrocution, shock, arc flash/arc blast, fire and explosions.
An average of 124 construction workers are killed each year by contact with electricity (based on government data for 1998 through 2010). Electrical workers had the most electrocutions per year with the most serious concern being working “live” or near live wires. Proper protocol requires de-energizing wires and using lockout/ tagout procedures. Among nonelectricians, such as construction laborers, carpenters, supervisors of nonelectrical workers and roofers, the failure to avoid live overhead power lines and a lack of basic electrical safety knowledge are major concerns.
Major electrocution incidents come from:
- Contact with overhead power lines
- Contact with energized sources, such as live parts, damaged or bare wires and defective equipment or tools
- Improper use of extension and flexible cords
To better protect against electrocution hazards:
- Locate and identify utilities before starting work.
- Look for overhead power lines when operating any equipment.
- Maintain a safe distance away from power lines; learn the safe distance requirements.
- Do not operate portable electric tools unless they are grounded or double-insulated.
- Use ground-fault circuit interrupters for protection.
- Be alert to electrical hazards when working with ladders, scaffolds or other platforms.
Without losing sight of other workplace hazards, employers must pay attention to the Focus Four to further reduce the trend in workplace fatalities.
To mitigate these fatality statistics, OSHA and other professional safety and health organizations, both in the private and public sectors, are targeting these contributing factors. OSHA has developed training presentations, handouts and toolbox topics available on OSHA’s website. Other occupational safety and health resources available to you include your safety department, your industry association, accredited safety and industrial hygiene professionals or your local independent insurance agent.
The Cincinnati Insurance Companies
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Source of data for this article: OSHA and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.