Safety Stories – 2020

Shane Hedmond

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2020 was a challenging year in many respects, but none greater than from a safety standpoint. The coronavirus pandemic placed the notion of “people over profits” under the microscope, while also balancing the needs of their employees to continue to make an income under difficult circumstances. While the pandemic was a large part of the construction safety conversation last year, there were several other developments to take note of for your projects in the future.

Below are the 7 biggest construction safety stories of 2020:

1. The Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic

As mentioned above, there’s no way around the impact that this ongoing pandemic has had on the construction industry, from delayed and canceled projects, to increased safety precautions helping to slow the spread of the virus and keep our workforce safer.

The AGC published results from a survey of over 2,000 construction firms, which asked how their company had been affected and also how they reacted. A large number of the respondents said that they had increased the use of technology, a response that I heard many times from construction technology companies last year. Companies were not only adding new technology to allow for more off-site collaboration, but also increasing their usage of existing technology.

2. Trench Collapses

Before the virus hit the US, the construction industry needed some tough love regarding the amount of trench related injuries and deaths it continued to have. There’s just simply no justification for either getting into or sending someone into an unprotected trench, no matter how quick the job might be.

3. More Companies are Developing Exoskeletons for Contractors

Muscular-skeletal injuries are a serious hazard in the construction industry, as all of that bending, kneeling, lifting, and twisting can have major long term health effects on your knees, back, and other joints. Exoskeletons are an emerging technology that hopes to reduce of that stress on the body to keep construction workers healthier and happier for longer on the jobsite.

While exoskeletons have been around for years, 2020 saw many new developments, including new offerings from several different makers. Ekso Bionics released a new lighter weight exoskeleton called the EVO, Hilti announced their first foray into the technology, Fraco announced an exoskeleton specifically for masons at World of Concrete 2020, and RB3D developed a suit specifically for asphalt raking. 

4. OSHA Regulatory Changes

The 2020 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is released by the federal government on a yearly basis, highlighting the steps that agencies plan to take in the months ahead. As part of that, OSHA announced 24 items they planned to amend, add, or remove, with 8 of those specifically affecting the construction industry.


5. OSHA’s Stance on Headphones on the Construction Site

The topic of music on a construction site will generate mixed reactions depending on who you talk to.  Some sites allow it and others don’t, for a variety of reasons.  Recently, there have been a few emerging headphone brands that limit the playback volume and also provide external noise reduction.  In a recent “Standard Interpretation” letter, OSHA has clarified its stance on this technology.

6. Mobile Fall Protection Anchorage Point

Not only are falls the most common cause of workplace fatalities in construction, but fall protection is continually the most common OSHA violation.  One of the excuses for lack of fall protection that I hear the most is the lack of a proper spot for an anchorage point.  Finding anchorage points can definitely be a struggle in certain circumstances, which is why I was intrigued when I found the Malta Dynamics Mobile Grabber last year.

The Malta Dynamics X Series Mobile Grabber is a mobile fall protection device that provides an overhead anchorage point for those exact situations. The system is road-towable, has a relatively quick setup time, and can even be moved by a forklift for indoor use.

7.  Construction Owner Charged with Perjury After Giving “False Information” to OSHA

Having an OSHA investigation on your jobsite that results in fines is bad enough, but don’t be tempted to compound the issue by misleading OSHA investigators. That can leave you in a legal bind personally.

You may not realize that an OSHA investigation carried out in a state under the Federal OSHA plan is considered a federal investigation and misleading investigators can result in a perjury charge if proven untrue.

The owner of a residential home construction company found that out the hard way after he plead guilty to lying under oath during an investigation and was sentenced to two years of probation and a $5,500 fine.