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Common Workplace Hazards: Types & Examples

Instructor: Christopher Cowan

Christopher has taught Environmental Science and has trained employees about environmental compliance and worker safety. He has a Master's degree in Environmental Science.

In this lesson, you'll learn about some common workplace hazards that are frequently encountered on a construction site. You will also learn about OSHA's Focus Four construction hazards.

Workplace Hazards

There are plenty of hazards when you'e working on a construction site. Construction work often involves excavation, there are power tools in use, and weather conditions may be very hot or very cold. Every job site is different. However, there are some hazards that are commonly encountered on construction projects.

Common Workplace Hazards

Some commonly encountered workplace hazards on construction sites include:

  • Working around water
  • Welding
  • Hot work
  • Cold and heat stress
  • Lasers
  • Noise
  • Trenching and shoring
  • Electrical (electrocution)
  • Caught-in/between
  • Struck-by
  • Falls

Working Around Water

Some projects, such as bridge work or dam repair, involve work around water. Workers may be working over water or adjacent to water. A worker may fall into the water and possibly drown.

Welding and Other Hot Work

Welding produces metal fume. A worker that inhales these fumes may have flu-like symptoms from exposure. This is also known as 'fume fever'. Welding can also cause eye damage from flying metal debris or UV light exposure. Welding produces hot materials, including molten metal, which can cause burns. If an electric arc welder is improperly grounded, it may cause electrocution.

Man Welding
Man Welding

Hot work includes any work activity that produces heat, sparks or fire. Examples of hot work include welding, cutting, grinding, and soldering. The presence of nearby flammable or combustible material may result in a fire, and an explosion could occur if there are flammable gases or vapors present. Other potential hazards include working in confined spaces or around electrical or other hazardous energy sources.

Cold and Heat Stress

Construction work occurs throughout the year, and workers are exposed to extremes of heat and cold. High air temperatures and humidity, strenuous physical activity, and even the amount of clothing a worker is wearing all contribute to heat stress. There are several different heat related health effects, which include heat fatigue, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most serious health effect from heat stress. The body can no longer regulate temperature; this is a medical issue that must be addressed immediately.

Cold stress can also impact workers. Hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot are three cold stress related conditions. Hypothermia can occur in both below and above freezing temperatures and involves a drop in the body's core temperature. It can be life threatening. Frostbite can occur when a person's skin is exposed to very cold temperatures. The skin and underlying tissue may freeze. Trench foot occurs when a person's feet are exposed to cold and wet conditions for extended periods of time.

Lasers

Lasers are often used on construction sites when performing site grading or general surveying on a work site. A laser concentrates light, and the laser can cause eye damage if viewed directly. If work is being performed at a site where flammable gases or vapors are present, there is also the risk of fire or explosion.

Laser level on tripod
Laser level

Noise

Construction often involves using heavy equipment and power tools. Exposure to excessive noise can result in hearing loss. OSHA's permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise is 90 A-weighted decibels (dBA) over an eight-hour work day. If construction workers are exposed to noise levels higher than 90 dBA, they must be covered under a hearing conservation program.

Trenching and Shoring

Construction projects often involve either replacing utility lines or working around existing utilities. Hazards involved in trenching include cave-ins, striking overhead or underground utility lines, equipment and other objects or workers falling into the trench, or encountering flammable, explosive or oxygen depleted atmospheres. Groundwater or rainwater in the trench can also present a hazard.

There are four main types of protective systems used in trenches and other excavations: benching, sloping, shoring, and shielding. In construction sites that are tight for space, shoring and shielding are utilized. A trench box is a commonly used shielding device.

Trench box
Trench box

Shoring is most commonly used to support a trench or excavation and prevent cave-ins. There are multiple types of shoring systems. At a site with a high-water table, a sheet piling system may be installed around the outside of an excavation where a sewage main tie-in project is being performed.

Trench shoring
Trench shoring

OSHA's Construction Focus Four Hazards

There are four common hazards that cause the majority of construction workplace fatalities. These are considered to be Focus Four hazards. The hazards are:

  • Electrical (electrocution)
  • Caught-in/between
  • Struck-by
  • Falls

Electrical Hazards

Common electrical hazards include exposed wires, improperly grounded or defective equipment, and overhead and underground power lines. Electrocution can result in severe injury, burns or death.

Caught-in or Between Hazards

Due to the use of heavy equipment and machinery, as well as power tools, there are possibilities of a worker being caught-in or between a piece of equipment or machinery or in an excavation or trench. Severe injury or worse can result. Some examples of caught-in or between hazards include:

  • A worker is pinned in between a track loader and a jersey wall
  • A worker's long sleeve shirt gets caught in the gears of a machine he is working with
  • Working in an unprotected trench

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