By Doug Hanna
Building construction is a dangerous business. At a time when many jobs have moved from factory floors to cubicles, and from farms to malls, construction remains something that must be done on-site, by actual people. Those people, the people who work on your homes, face potential dangers every day. Electrical hazards fall, and injuries from tools make up the majority of injuries suffered each year.
It is the homeowner’s duty to confirm that whoever is being hired to perform the work has proper insurance for both worker’s compensation and general liability, both for the safety of the workers and for the benefit of the homeowner. It’s also a good idea to ask the contractor about their safety training and inspection program. It may be tempting to go with a lower-priced company that does not adhere to these requirements and guidelines, but the odds go up that an accident may occur on your job site.
Dangers include accidents with heavy equipment, cave-ins of trenches, and exposure to toxic materials (recently two men drowned in a trench in the South End within minutes after a water main burst). Accidents, while more likely among the young and inexperienced, can also happen to even highly skilled and seasoned people. The odds are that at some point in a career, you are going to have some kind of an injury doing construction. It’s kind of like driving a car. It’s unlikely that you will go through your entire driving career without an accident. Now think about that same theory, but let’s say you drive a motorcycle instead. The implications of an accident are going to be potentially much worse than with a car (my bike riding friends don’t really like to hear my point of view on this subject). That’s similar to working every day in construction every day. The potential dangers are out there, lurking.
Certainly, training can help mitigate accidents. OSHA offers 10 and 30-hour courses that cover many different hazards of the trade. Good construction companies have safety committees, toolbox talks, and safety manuals. They also do self-inspections and outside party inspections of their job sites. Worker safety costs money for the companies that value it. Those costs may translate into somewhat higher costs for the consumer, but the alternative of going back to the construction world of the past is bleak to consider. Back in the Depression, way before OSHA or any kind of formal safety programs, over 82 men died building the Grand Coulee dam. The work never stopped and there was barely any recognition of their passing or sacrifice.
Building construction, both commercial and residential, is one of the pillars of our economy. Home renovation and construction are considered benchmarks of the financial health of the country. This critically important industry, one that employs millions of workers, brings so many benefits, not only to the customer and to the local and national economy, but also to the families of the construction workers. Let’s please take a moment to give thanks for the men and women in construction, who take risks every day to make our lives better.