Preventing Construction Injuries Through Personal Protective Equipment

We live in a culture awash in acronyms. From LOL to ASAP, the waves of shorthand keep cresting.

In the construction industry, however, there is one acronym that everyone should know: PPE. Personal protection equipment can take many forms. But it plays a key role in safeguarding construction workers from on-the-job injuries.

This article will discuss employers' responsibility to provide proper personal protection equipment to prevent injuries on construction sites. Without such protection, too many construction injuries occur that could have been fairly easily prevented.

Construction Employer Responsibility

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires an employer to "furnish to each of his employees equipment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." This requirement is not merely a request; it's the law.

In practice, on a construction site, it's hard to make the workplace free of all hazards. Inherently, by the very nature of the work, construction jobs are noisy and frenetic places that typically involve scaffolding, heavy machinery, various moving vehicles and many other potential dangers.

That's where personal protective equipment comes in. PPE has been called the last line of defense against injury. When hazards remain even after the jobsite is engineered to avoid obvious dangers, PPE can keep unsafe conditions from turning into accidents that cause injuries.

This is why the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not only require employers to provide PPE when exposing employees to hazardous conditions. Under OSHA's PPE requirements, employers must also require employees to use the protective equipment and train them in how to do so.

Types of PPE

In general, then, it's the employers' responsibility to identify the need for PPE and mandate its use by employees. Employers also usually must pay for the equipment, though there are certain exceptions to this for items that an employee could also wear off of the job site. Examples of such exceptions are steel-toed boots or prescription safety eyewear.

Eye protection is, in fact, one of the most common forms of PPE. It's also one of the most economical forms of protection. It doesn't cost all that much to issue safety goggles to workers. But the benefit can be immense if they keep a worker's eyes from being struck by a falling object or some other air-borne hazard.

High-visibility clothing is another common type of PPE that is both effective and inexpensive. On a construction site, in particular, wearing bright orange or lime-green vests and helmets can play a very important role in preventing injuries.

Fall Protection

Proper protection against falls and cave-ins on job sites is also very important. After all, no matter how well protected a workers eyes are, or how visible his or her clothing, lack of effective protection against falls from scaffolding or the collapse of temporary work structures causes many deaths and serious injuries every year.

Indeed, falls are the leading cause of death on construction jobs. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been stepping up its on-site inspection of job sites. OSHA is also offering additional training sessions and presentation on fall protection measures.

Role of Contractors

Another key issue concerning construction accidents is the role of contractors. On a job site, a given construction worker may be employed by one of many different entities at work on a particular project. If the worker is injured due to the negligence of a party other than his or her employer, such as a subcontractor, that party may be liable for damages.

This is called "third party liability" and it is often a factor in construction accidents. This type of liability can even extend to general contractors who are in overall control of the work.

In sum, generally employers have a responsibility to their employees to ensure PPE is provided to workers and used appropriately on job sites. Employers and contractors should also make sure that proper protections against falls are in place. By taking these relatively simple steps, many serious and even fatal accidents can be prevented.