Risk & Safety

10 Safety Hazards in Construction

Sam Bowman
10 Safety Hazards in Construction
Reading time 8 Mins
Published on Aug 18

Construction sites can be one of the most dangerous places to earn a living. According to National Safety Council data, nearly 1 in 5 worksite-related fatalities in 2020 occurred in the construction industry. Many of the hazards that cause serious injury and death can be avoided by having the proper safety training and protocols in place. This can be done by outsourcing those services to a company like Sheakley. In this article, we’ll cover 10 of the most common safety hazards found on construction sites and how you can implement a plan to help avoid them.


Scaffold-related accidents result in roughly 60 deaths and 4,500 injuries every year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Falls from scaffolds account for roughly 25% of fatal falls from all working surfaces. Here are some of the common scaffold safety hazards:

  • Improper safety measures when raising and dismantling scaffolding
  • Lack of guardrails
  • Overhead electrical wires and risk of electrocution
  • Planks slipping or breaking
  • Rolling scaffolds
  • Overloading platforms
  • Climbing on scaffolding

Fall Protection

Falls are among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. Employers must set up the workplace to prevent employees falling from overhead platforms, elevated workstations, or into holes in the floor and walls. In 2020, there were 351 fatal falls to a lower level out of 1,008 construction fatalities (BLS data). The likelihood of these accidents can be decreased by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor, or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings, and handrails.

Ladder Safety

Last year, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recorded 150 ladder-related fatalities and 20,000 ladder-related nonfatal workplace injuries. The dangers associated with this common workplace tool—prevalent on construction sites, warehouse floors, and even in offices—has safety experts demanding new ways to safeguard workers. 4 of the most common causes of ladder injuries are:

  • Selecting the Wrong Type of Ladder
  • Using Worn or Damaged Ladders
  • Incorrect Use of Ladders
  • Incorrect Placement of Ladders

Personal Protection Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required based on the type of safety hazards present on your jobsite. There are nearly 2 million disabling work related injuries expected to happen this year alone and more than 25% of those will involve injuries to the head, eyes, hands, and feet. Here are some 2021 PPE stats from the BLS:

  • Hard hats were worn by only 16% of those workers who sustained head injuries
  • Only 1% of approx. 770 workers suffering face injuries were wearing face protection
  • Only 23% of the workers with foot injuries wore safety shoes or boots
  • About 40% of the workers with eye injuries wore eye protection

Improper Training 

While many workplace accidents are the result of an unsafe work environment and the failure of employers to provide adequate safety equipment or warnings, the correlation between employee training and the risk of accidents is often overlooked.

If an employee brings unintended harm to one of his or her coworkers, it’s easy to label that worker as negligent, reckless, or irresponsible. It is also possible that the employee never received safety training or lacks the credentials needed to perform their job function in a safe manner.

If education can reduce the number of work-related injuries that occur, employers need to ensure that they provide ongoing training on the safety hazards specific to their jobsite. Here are some overlooked risks that can be tied to accidents:

  • Employees are unqualified for the position
  • Employees are not provided adequate safety procedures to follow
  • New employees are not properly supervised
  • Employees are not provided detailed information concerning the risks that are specific to their occupation
  • Employers do not keep accurate records of the training and qualifications their employees have received

Drug & Alcohol Abuse

Substance abuse is a real issue. According to the Surgeon General, “In 2015, 66.7 million people in the United States reported binge drinking in the past month and 27.1 million people were current users of illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs.” Alcohol and other drugs affect impulse control, motor function, reflexes, judgment, and decision making.

Impaired-driving is one of the most-dangerous impacts of alcohol and drug abuse. Even if intoxicated individuals never get on the road, drug and alcohol abuse is still extremely dangerous and workplace accidents are often related to substance use. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence shares that alcohol has the following effects on workplace safety:

  • Workers with alcohol problems were 2.7 times more likely than workers without drinking problems to have injury-related absences
  • A hospital emergency department study showed that 35% of patients with an occupational injury were at-risk drinkers
  • Breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16% of emergency room patients injured at work
  • Analyses of workplace fatalities showed that at least 11% of the victims had been drinking

Trenching & Excavating

Trenching and excavation work exposes workers to particularly dangerous safety hazards. According to the BLS data, there were 373 trenching fatalities between 2003 and 2017, with more than 80% of them in the construction industry. Injuries and deaths associated with trenches continue to happen. Engineering controls, protective equipment, and safe work practices can reduce hazards to workers and prevent trench cave-ins.

Struck By

“Struck by objects” is another leading cause of construction-related deaths. Approximately 75% of struck-by fatalities involve heavy equipment such as trucks or cranes. Injuries from flying objects can include being struck by accidental nail gun discharges, thrown tools or debris, or the tip flying off a saw blade.

Power tools should be inspected to ensure protective guards are in place and in proper working condition. Workers should always wear safety glasses, goggles or a face shield when using power tools. Hard hats should always be worn by all employees on the jobsite. Safety and health programs must consider the many ways struck-by accidents can occur. The following related hazards cause the most struck-by injuries:

  • Vehicles
  • Falling/flying objects
  • Constructing masonry walls

Electrical Safety

Occupations that routinely involve electrical work are the most obvious populations at risk for electrical injury, but virtually any environment that utilizes electrical equipment or is conducted near electrical installations may involve exposure to hazardous energy. Here are some BLS stats from 2020:

  • 126 workers died from exposure to electricity in 2020
  • By occupation, workers in construction and extraction occupations (44% of total) accounted for the largest number of deaths, followed by those in installation, maintenance, and repair occupations (20%) and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations (13%)
  • Slightly more than three in five (645) fatal injuries from direct exposure to electricity occurred while workers were engaged in constructing, repairing, or cleaning activities
  • One-third (33%) of the fatal injuries occurred at a private resident while another 31 percent took place at an industrial site
  • Almost three in five injuries (56%) were caused by direct exposure to electricity, defined as injuries caused by direct contact with the power source, such as direct contact with a live electrical wire or when the victim is struck by an electrical arc


Effective communication can be one of the best tools on the jobsite for combating safety hazards but can also be one of the major pitfalls. Having improper or poor communication can lead to many major and minor safety issues. Many of these issues can be avoided by having a Job Safety Analysis. The objective of the Job Safety Analysis (JSA) is to prevent accidents by improving employee skills and awareness through an organized process. That process involves breaking down a particular job into a series of simple steps. Here are some of the benefits of a JSA:

  • Ensuring consistent and safe work methods.
  • Reducing injuries by helping employees know how to best perform a task without the likelihood of injury.
  • Provides a form of training documentation regarding the employee’s knowledge of the job safety requirements.
  • Complies with many OSHA requirements.

Your Partner in Safety

Many of the safety hazards associated with the construction industry can be avoided by having the proper safety infrastructure in place. Workplace safety should be a top priority for every company.

Sheakley has a wide range of consulting, compliance, and training solutions that are built to fit the specific requirements of clients. Whether on-site, online or over the phone, Sheakley’s safety experts are here to help you every step of the way.

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