Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education

Tips for Preventing OSHA’s Fatal Four on Worksites

Three people standing together at a construction site

Written by: Holly Welles, The Estate Update

Published: July 30, 2020

The construction and manufacturing industries are rife with hazards. Even being aware of potential risks isn't always enough to prevent on-the-job injuries and fatalities. According to OSHA, there are four types of accidents that occur most frequently on worksites. They've dubbed these the "Fatal Four." Which accidents make up the Fatal Four and how can you keep your job site safe?

What is the “Fatal Four?”

Which accidents fall into the category of OSHA's Fatal Four? How did they earn this designation? The four hazards OSHA incorporates into this category are:

  • Falls
  • Electrocution or electrical exposure
  • Struck by objects
  • Caught in or caught between events

These four risks gained their morose moniker because, collectively, they are the leading causes of death and injury in the construction industry. In fact, one out of every five on-the-job deaths occurs in the construction industry.

The question is: how can you address these four risks to prevent injuries and fatalities on your worksite?

Addressing Fall Hazards

Falls from any height can be dangerous. On construction sites, they are the leading cause of worksite fatalities. In 2018, 338 out of the 1,008 deaths in the construction industry could be directly attributed to falls. Whenever workers are more than four feet from the ground, they are at risk of serious injury or death and that doesn't take into account the times when they might be working above a dangerous piece of equipment.

The easiest way to address fall hazards on the worksite is to ensure that everyone wears and uses fall arrest equipment whenever they're off the ground. It's easy to take these things for granted, but having a properly connected tether on fall arrest equipment can mean the difference between a few bruises and a fatal injury. Any ladders, scaffolding, or secure points need to be able to support the force of a falling worker.

Supervisors should be aware of any potential fall risks and make it a point to monitor job sites for best practices to ensure that everyone is working safely.

Addressing Object Strikes

Whether objects are flying, falling, swinging, or rolling, they present a risk for any employees that happen to be in their way. Nearly anything, regardless of its size or weight, may do serious damage to anyone that it comes into contact with. These occurrences caused 112 fatalities in 2018, according to OSHA's statistics.

The best way to avoid object strikes, no matter how the objects are moving, is to require the use of personal protective equipment such as hardhats and safety goggles on the worksite at all times. Workers should also know where it is safe to stand to avoid moving objects and should wear high-visibility clothing, so it's easier for equipment operators to spot them.

Take a close look at your current job site, and do a risk assessment. Where can you make improvements to keep people safe and reduce the number of fatal object strikes?

Addressing Electrocution Risks

Electrocution risks come from a variety of different sources, including some that we can't really control. Anything from frayed wires to incorrectly grounded circuits and even lightning strikes can all create an electrocution risk on a worksite. In 2018, there were 86 electrocution fatalities in the construction industry or roughly 5.5 percent of the construction deaths for that year.

When it comes to incidences like lightning strikes, the only thing we can do is shut down the worksite during thunderstorms and poor weather that could put workers at risk. For other electrical hazards, start by doing a risk assessment. Ensure that everyone receives sufficient training in electricity safety, and maintain and enforce lockout/tagout procedures whenever equipment needs repair.

Addressing Caught In/Between Injuries

These are perhaps the most gruesome injuries included in the Fatal Four. Caught in and caught between injuries happen when an employee becomes trapped and crushed in a piece of equipment or between a machine and a stationary surface. In 2018, there were 55 of these occurrences that ended in fatalities. These incidents often happen quickly and without warning, making them difficult to protect against. That's not to say it's impossible, however.

Instruct your team members to never position themselves between moving and stationary objects. Create safe zones surrounding any large pieces of equipment that are off-limits to pedestrians while it is in operation. The best way to avoid caught in and caught between injuries and fatalities is to create a job site that keeps workers and equipment separate whenever possible.

General Recommendations

It's always a good idea to have specific procedures in place to help you avoid the four most common incidents that cause fatalities on the worksite. Is there anything you can do to improve the overall safety of your team?

Start by creating a culture of safety. Make job site safety everyone's responsibility. Incentivize the good, and educate rather than punish when someone slips up. Create a series of standard operating procedures and best practices for every role where safety is concerned. Ensure that everyone knows them, and enforce them consistently.