Between 2011 and 2015, 800 construction workers around the United States died from some form of struck-by accident. More than half of those deaths (52 percent) were caused by equipment or machinery on the job site. Construction safety has always been a primary concern for organizations such as OSHA, but the rise in struck-by accidents has put a more intense spotlight on these types of construction accidents.
One of the more concerning aspects of the average struck-by accident is that it can result in pedestrian accidents as well. In February 2016, a pedestrian walking to their job in New York City was struck and killed by a crane that was blown over by a gust of wind. A closer look at these types of construction accidents shows that they can be prevented with the right kind of construction safety policies. It is a battle OSHA has been fighting for years, and now construction companies themselves are joining in as well.
What Are Struck-By Accidents?
Struck-by accidents come in four different types. They are:
- Flying object
- Falling objects
- Swinging objects
- Rolling objects
A flying object is anything that becomes a dangerous projectile due to improper handling. For example, a circular saw that gets away from the user can fly off its work surface and strike an unsuspecting worker or pedestrian. A hammer that slips out of its user’s wet hands while it is being used could fly horizontally and strike anyone in its path.
Falling objects cause a large number of struck-by accidents, and they usually involve objects falling from a higher floor to a lower floor on a job site. For example, a worker who is carelessly transporting a wheel barrow full of bricks on the third floor could tip their load and drop it on an unsuspecting worker on the second floor.
Swinging objects are usually created by crane loads that are either not secured properly, or get away from the crane operator. For example, a crane operator may want to swing a load of beams from one side of the work area to the other but, in the process, the load strikes a worker who is not expecting it.
A rolling object includes large piping that can become dislodged and roll away and any kind of mobile vehicle. In this case, mobile vehicles would be construction vehicles, passenger vehicles, and anything that rolls along the road.
Rolling Objects Affecting Road Workers
It is reported that 57 percent of the workers struck by rolling objects are road workers hit by passenger or construction vehicles. A closer look at the data shows that the other major forms of struck-by accidents are:
- Crane collapses
- Contact with overhead power lines
- Cranes dropping loads or striking workers with swinging loads
- Crane parts falling and striking workers
Of those types of struck-by accidents, crane collapses, like the one that killed the New York City pedestrian in February 2016, are the most common by far. While many of the struck-by accidents in New York City involve crane collapses, it is important to note that crane collapses are a nationwide problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
What Is Reportedly Causing These Accidents?
In 2013, it was reported that one out of every 10 construction deaths in the United States was the result of a struck-by accident. OSHA believes that every construction accident is preventable, but struck-by accidents definitely fall into the category of problems that can be eliminated with the right focus.
Many struck-by accidents occur during equipment maintenance, and they can be prevented by the proper use of safety equipment and procedures. For example, a worker removing a frozen bolt from a machine could be struck in the head by that bolt and seriously injured if they are not wearing their safety equipment. Maintenance workers who put themselves in positions to be struck by parts or equipment (for example, taking up a bad position under a vehicle to remove a part under pressure) could be saved if they followed the proper safety procedures.
Improperly secured loads cause many struck-by accidents, especially in the swinging and falling object categories. When workers improperly move materials without using all of the designated safety precautions, that can lead to struck-by accidents that can be fatal.
However, the most prevalent cause of struck-by accidents is workers and non-workers not paying attention while they are driving. The reason road workers are involved in more struck-by accidents than others is because of non-worker drivers who do not pay attention at construction sites. Construction workers who are not careful when driving around unmarked construction sites also account for a large number of the struck-by accidents from rolling objects.
OSHA’s Strategy To Prevent Accidents
OSHA used to put out regular newsletters that were designed to highlight struck-by accident issues, but President Trump’s administration put a stop to that. That leaves OSHA with only one option to prevent struck-by accidents, and that is to increase fines. But the reality is that preventing these accidents begins and ends with the workers and supervisors on job sites.
When cranes are parked, they should be blocked in place so they cannot move. Every construction site should have a speed limit that cannot be exceeded without serious penalties. Every load of materials that are moved should be secured properly by someone trained in how to make the load safe. When moving materials by wheel barrow or other hand methods, workers should be trained to never overload their wheel barrow.
Most construction companies already have adequate safety measures in place to prevent struck-by accidents. For example, most companies have procedures written out for safely moving materials by crane, but those rules go unheeded. In many construction companies, it is against policy to move materials by hand too close to the edge of a floor or bridge. It is up to construction companies to enforce their rules and make sure their work sites are safe.
Safety Is Not Just For Construction Workers On Site
Citizens who drive by construction sites also have a responsibility when it comes to preventing struck-by accidents as cars end up striking workers on the job. Too many flag workers and other road workers are injured and killed each year because drivers simply ignore the warning signs as they approach a work area. The fines for speeding through a work site are, in most states, double what the normal speeding fines are. If you are caught speeding through a construction zone, you could face serious financial implications, and you could lose your license.
People need to slow down when they approach a construction zone, and irresponsible drivers who try to push others to speed through construction zones should be reported to the police. In many cases, construction workers doing road work cannot see vehicles coming as they are concentrating on their jobs. The idea that construction workers will simply move out of the way when a vehicle comes through is one of the most dangerous ideas a driver can have.
Citizens must be aware that they too need to be responsible drivers and abide by all of the warning signs they see. It might take a little longer to get where you are going, but at least you know that you will reach your destination and have kept construction workers safe as well.