Civil Construction: Safety
Construction is a relatively hazardous undertaking. As illustrates, there are significantly more injuries and lost workdays due to injuries or illnesses in construction than in virtually any other industry. These work related injuries and illnesses are exceedingly costly. The Construction Industry Cost Effectiveness Project estimated that accidents cost $8.9 billion or nearly seven percent of the $137 billion (in 1979 dollars) spent annually for industrial, utility and commercial construction in the United States. Included in this total are direct costs (medical costs, premiums for workers' compensation benefits, liability and property losses) as well as indirect costs (reduced worker productivity, delays in projects, administrative time, and damage to equipment and the facility). In contrast to most industrial accidents, innocent bystanders may also be injuried by construction accidents. Several crane collapses from high rise buildings under construction have resulted in fatalities to passerbys. Prudent project managers and owners would like to reduce accidents, injuries and illnesses as much as possible.
As with all the other costs of construction, it is a mistake for owners to ignore a significant category of costs such as injury and illnesses. While contractors may pay insurance premiums directly, these costs are reflected in bid prices or contract amounts. Delays caused by injuries and illnesses can present significant opportunity costs to owners. In the long run, the owners of constructed facilities must pay all the costs of construction. For the case of injuries and illnesses, this general principle might be slightly qualified since significant costs are borne by workers themselves or society at large. However, court judgements and insurance payments compensate for individual losses and are ultimately borne by the owners.
The causes of injuries in construction are numerous. Table 13-2 lists the reported causes of accidents in the US construction industry in 1997 and 2004. A similar catalogue of causes would exist for other countries. The largest single category for both injuries and fatalities are individual falls. Handling goods and transportation are also a significant cause of injuries. From a management perspective, however, these reported causes do not really provide a useful prescription for safety policies. An individual fall may be caused by a series of coincidences: a railing might not be secure, a worker might be inattentive, the footing may be slippery, etc. Removing any one of these compound causes might serve to prevent any particular accident. However, it is clear that conditions such as unsecured railings will normally increase the risk of accidents. Table 13-3 provides a more detailed list of causes of fatalities for construction sites alone, but again each fatality may have multiple causes.