Construction safety is a big concern throughout the industry, and one of the reasons for the added concerns is the number of construction deaths due to burn injuries. In the United States, nearly nine percent of construction deaths are caused by electrocutions. The truly scary part is that electrocutions are only one way that workers can get burn injuries while on the job site. Another troubling trend is that many of those electrocution accidents do not occur to electrical workers.
Construction burn injuries can come from a variety of sources, and that is why getting burn injuries under control is such a difficult job. Construction site supervisors, workers, and managers need to become better at identifying the causes of construction burns if this source of construction deaths is to be eliminated.
Top Five Causes For Construction Burn Injuries
1. Chemical Burns
A construction job site is a place where a variety of materials are used to do very specific jobs. Many of these substances are caustic chemicals that can often burn skin on contact. While most states have laws requiring safety information for every chemical on a job site to be readily available to the workers, that does not mean that those safety guidelines are read or heeded.
Chemical burns can be fatal if a worker gets doused by a spilled barrel of chemicals, or if a worker falls into a source of caustic materials. Job site safety coordinators need to designate areas where chemicals can be stored, and every worker should be trained on the best ways to handle chemical emergencies on the job site.
2. Careless Work
In August 2015, three plumbers were working in a Bronx high school doing pipe replacement work when one of the workers decided to check for a gas leak with a match. The ensuing explosion injured the other two plumbers and caused burns to over 90 percent of the body of the plumber who lit the match. Any plumber should know the dangers of mixing a gas leak with a match, but careless work caused a major explosion with serious injuries.
Burns from careless work can occur during a welding job, an electrical job, or (as we just saw) from a plumbing job. The key to preventing these types of careless accidents is to train workers properly before they go out into the field, and make every worker vigilant in monitoring the activities of the people that are working on the job site.
3. Heated Tools
Welding and cutting tools utilize and create a great deal of heat, and they both work through the use of an open flame. In 1993, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 58 deaths in the United States construction industry from cutting and welding tools alone. For welding tools, there is also the threat of chemical burns coming from the various materials that are used. Arc welding presents an especially dangerous threat to an extremely dangerous process.
The construction industry will always need to use cutting and welding tools to get any job done. Injuries to the eyes are one of the most common types of injuries from welding and cutting, and the sad fact is that those injuries are all preventable. Anyone who does not need to be near a welding or cutting tool when it is being used should stay clear from that part of the job site. A worker who is working with a welding or cutting tool should wear the appropriate clothing to protect their exposed skin, and wear their safety head gear as well. Many workers neglect to wear safety equipment because of how hot a welding or cutting job can get, and that is when accidents usually happen.
4. Electrocutions And Burns
According to OSHA, the most common type of burn injury on a job site is a burn from electrocution. Electricity can cause burns in many different ways, including:
- Direct contact with the skin
- Exposed wires causing fires
- Electrical wires causing gases to explode
- A stray and live wire making contact with a metal object that a worker is holding
- A faulty power tool that electrocutes the worker holding it
In 2005, electrocutions made up nearly nine percent of all construction burn injuries, but only resulted in one percent of construction deaths. A job site is filled with plenty of electrocution hazards including live power lines, standing water, exposed metal, and potentially faulty power equipment. The variety of ways electrocution can injure workers is the reason why this is one of the most common burn injuries workers receive.
Combating electrocution requires a concentrated effort by every worker on the job site. Supervisors need to make sure that work areas where there are live or potentially exposed power lines are clearly marked so that workers who are not working on those lines can avoid them. Electrical workers should follow all of the company’s safety rules regarding installing and uninstalling temporary power lines. All power tools should be checked regularly for any repair or replacement needs.
In April 2016, three construction workers were injured when a fire broke out in a Manhattan apartment job site. The fire started with an electrical incident that caused an explosion. The workers were all treated for burns on their bodies, and there were civilians injured as well. Fires in the construction industry are more common during remodeling and demolition projects, but they are still one of the causes of construction burn injuries.
Of all of the reasons for burn injuries in construction, fires prove to be the most elusive when it comes to solving the problem. There are so many ways a fire can be started on a job site that clamping down on any major cause is almost impossible. Construction workers need to be more vigilant in what they do and learn to ask questions if they are unsure how something is supposed to work. In many cases, construction fires are caused by workers doing jobs they are not familiar with without approval from management.
Increased Construction Activity Leaves Room For More Injuries
Burn injuries on construction sites claim lives and cause injuries that will scar the victim for the rest of their days. In many cases, those who receive burn injuries were workers who were in a place where they were not supposed to be, or they were trying to do a task for which they were not trained. In other cases, careless workers who do not follow the company safety rules make the job site more dangerous for everyone.
As the pace of construction in New York City picks up, the opportunities for workers to get hurt from burn injuries also increase. In some boroughs such as the Bronx, older properties are being remodeled and repurposed. This opens the door to even more burn injuries as old parts of buildings are removed improperly, or the work being done on certain parts of a building is performed in a careless manner.
Many of the burn injuries that occur on job sites can be avoided if workers would only follow the company’s safety rules. Construction companies need to spend more time reminding their workers of the rules regarding activities such as electrical work, chemical application, welding, and cutting if they want to give workers all of the information they need to avoid getting involved in a burn injury situation.