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Q&A: How Can Construction Safety Professionals Help Prevent Struck-by Incidents?

Jul 25, 2023

Construction worker man wearing a hard hat and holding a clipboard on a job siteThis interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Struck-by incidents are the second leading cause of fatalities among U.S. construction workers and one of OSHA’s “Focus Four Hazards.” Struck-by hazards come in different forms, and keeping workers safe on the job requires collaboration and planning.

Carl Heinlein, CSP, ARM, FAIHA, FASSP, senior safety consultant at American Contractors Insurance Group, Inc., recently joined “The Case for Safety Podcast” and spoke with host Scott Fowler to share steps you can take to identify and address struck-by hazards on your work sites.

Fowler: What are some common causes of struck-by incidents?

Heinlein: I’ll start with a little statistical background. Approximately 75% of the struck-by fatalities in construction involve heavy equipment such as trucks or cranes. People are also struck by mobile equipment and flying and falling objects. This is a very high focus area for contractors across the country.

Fowler: How can safety professionals help prevent struck-by incidents?

Heinlein:  A key to preventing struck-by incidents is planning and getting the right people involved as you develop your programs and procedures throughout the project. This includes job hazard analysis and effective communication with all involved in order to have a coordinated effort and a good flow of people, materials and equipment on the work site.

One step for preventing vehicle struck-by incidents is developing an internal traffic control plan. These plans can be used for highway work zones, as well as by industrial contractors and general building contracts. This helps everyone understand where things such as vehicles and materials should go, which cuts down on confusion. Anytime there’s confusion, that creates an opportunity for an incident. 

You also want to make sure you're following the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to make sure the public is not entering work zones. Drivers may be distracted, fatigued and driving at high speed, and the MUTCD is there to protect workers from the public.

With preventing struck-by incidents involving flying and falling objects, it’s not just to protect your workforce, but to protect the public. There are tools and techniques such as protective barriers, screens, catch basins and lanyards, as well as establishing exclusion zones, that can help prevent these types of incidents.

Fowler: What are some of the roles and responsibilities on construction sites and how can they help prevent struck-by incidents?

Heinlein: Everyone has an important role in construction. To get to the end of the project, there has to be a lot of coordination. Three specific roles on a construction site are a signal person, a rigger and a crane operator, and they cannot work collectively unless they are all on the same page.

The rigger has to make sure that they are rigging everything together properly. The signal person has to make sure that they are signaling to the crane operator. In many cases, the crane operator may not see where the lift is coming from. The operators captain the ship, but they cannot do it without the signal person and the rigger.

Workers in each of these roles need to have an understanding of the project, their responsibilities and the right tools before they go out on the job site.

Fowler: How important are training and education in preventing struck-by incidents?

Heinlein: I’m a big believer that training should be ongoing. A trained workforce will go a long way. You have to put people in the right position to succeed. You need to evaluate our workforce to see that they’re understanding what they’ve learned. You have to make sure people are qualified and educated on the equipment that they’re using.

Labor unions put workers through apprentice programs, there are opportunities for workers to gain experience and education through the National Center for Construction Education and Research, and we should highlight those types of things for our workers.

We’re seeing a big push for the use of visuals and graphics in training and education to make it easier for workers to understand. We have a diverse workforce, and we have to embrace that.

Fowler: Why is effective communication so important on construction sites?

Heinlein: Communication and planning go hand-in-hand because construction sites are dynamic and change every day. In many cases, they change every minute. You could have weather conditions, supplier shortages, trucks that didn’t arrive or a workforce that got called to another job site.

Those little things may not seem very big, but we see them as precursors to struck-by incidents. We have to have one-on-one communication to make sure everyone is up to date on what’s going on day to day on the job site. Make sure you're communicating with the right people and make sure they understand.

Fowler: How should materials be handled and stored so that workers and the public are not struck by these objects?

If you’re doing material handling, you have to make sure that the people involved know what the hazards are. Flying and falling objects can occur in different ways. You could have material fall off a truck as it’s being unloaded. When workers are pushing or prying things, those are opportunities for flying and falling objects as well.

To prevent workers or the public from being struck by objects, we have to look at the risks that they pose and how we can use the hierarchy of controls or prevention through design concepts to help reduce the exposure.

You don't always have a lot of space to store things, so you have to figure out the sequence and cadence of how you’re going to bring materials and equipment into the work site, and that is a coordinated effort that takes place months or even years before the project begins.

Fowler: Anything else you’d like to add?

Heinlein: I encourage people to look at construction safety resources from ASSP, OSHA, NIOSH, CPWR and eLCOSH. The ANSI/ASSP A10 construction and demolition standards are wonderful resources that address struck-by hazards. These standards have been put together by industry experts, are user-friendly and updated on a regular basis.

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