Struck-by incidents are the leading cause of death in the construction industry. Since 1992, they are also the leading cause of non-fatal incidents. Surrounded by many moving parts, construction workers face serious safety risks. Injuries resulting from struck-by incidents can have critical and long-term consequences. It’s important for employer to learn how to protect employees – and their businesses – from unexpected impact.
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Jessica Bunting and Brad Sant. Bunting is the Director of the Research to Practice Program at the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). The organization is a leader in construction safety, health research and training. Sant is the Senior Vice President of Safety and Education at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). The group advocates for the investment and policy needed to provide safe work zone and transportation conditions.
First, we’ll break down how struck-by incidents happen. Then, we’ll discuss why employers should keep an eye on this major safety risk – and the consequences that may happen if they don’t. Finally, we’ll share ways to reduce risk on work sites and where employers can learn more.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Struck-by incidents: The basics
Struck-by incidents occur when a moving object strikes a worker. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) finds that there are four types of objects that hit workers most often: flying, falling, swinging and rolling objects. Large objects are often the first to come to mind, like vehicles or machines. However, even small items can cause harm when height and speed are added. Workers can face impacts from things like:
- Rocks and gravel. Moving machines or vehicles can throw material at workers standing nearby.
- Tools and helmets. An everyday item used on the job can become a hazard when it’s dropped or thrown from a high place.
- Machines and equipment. When workers aren’t paying attention, it becomes easier to be struck on the job – or to strike someone else.
- Cars and trucks. Roadside workers doing construction during peak times face constantly moving traffic.
According to CWPR, one in five non-fatal incidents in 2019 were struck-by incidents. Vehicles presented the biggest risk. “Forty-seven percent of struck-by fatalities were caused by transport vehicles,” Bunting explained. Falling objects were responsible for another 27 percent. Machines and equipment accounted for 18 percent. Other incidents fell into the remaining eight percent.
Struck-by vs. struck against incidents
Incidents where workers are struck can be divided into two types: struck-by and struck against. Struck-by incidents happen when an object strikes a worker. However, if a worker runs into an object, it is considered a struck against incident. For example, a worker hitting their head on a low-hanging beam would be considered a struck against incident. Since the beam wasn’t moving, the impact is driven by the worker.
The impact of a struck-by incident
Struck-by incidents can have a far-reaching impact. Injured workers, and their families, face a long road to physical and emotional recovery. Some roadside workers have been killed by drowsy or speeding drivers.
Worse yet, Sant has seen workers unintentionally injure others. Many large vehicles, such as dump trucks, have wide blind spots. Backing up without checking mirrors or cameras has resulted in workers being struck or backed over. “Those are the types of struck-by incidents that my industry is dealing with that happen way too frequently,” Sant shared. “They are certainly not only sad for that person that’s killed or injured, but also their families, their co-workers.”
In addition, businesses are also impacted by struck-by incidents. There are direct costs that come with an incident, like OSHA fines. However, there are also indirect costs. And some of those costs, like third party liability, don’t necessarily fall under work comp. “In an industry where we’re working often at four to six percent profits, you think about how fast that can get eaten up by an incident or how fast it gets eaten up if you’re competing with someone that has an e-mod lower than one.” A struck-by incident can lower your competitive advantage.
Construction and roadwork are on the rise
Both Bunting and Sant have seen an increase in construction and roadwork. With opportunities on the rise, it’s more important than ever to take precautions on the job site. “I think with the current administration’s infrastructure spending act, it’s really a good time, as we’re seeing massive amounts of infrastructure building and rebuilding, to focus on preventing struck-by incidents and making sure these numbers don’t skyrocket,” Bunting said. “Because there’s going to be a lot of infrastructure-related construction and other work where employees are exposed to to struck-by hazards.”
Employers who invest in risk reduction now are ahead of the curve. “Making the business case for safety and health improvements is always on our mind at at CPWR,” she added.
How employers can reduce the potential for impact
What struck-by risks are construction workers really exposed to? One way to see them easily is by the way workers dress. Sant uses the personal protective equipment (PPE) workers often wear to point out potential hazards. For example, a hard hat, goggles and reflective vest are standard on many job sites. A hard hat offers protection from falling items, like hammers or buckets. Goggles protect eyes from gravel and rock thrown by passing cars. A high-vis vest makes sure drivers – both on the road and on the job – can see workers walking by.
The right PPE offers workers protection from some safety risks – but not all of them. This is where employers need to step in and fill the gap. “We’ve found that for addressing all hazards, it’s really critical that planning ahead begins before the work,” Bunting said. This planning should start even before bidding on projects, and carry through all the way to the job site. It ensures that all the right equipment, PPE and tools are available. For instance, how will workers communicate with each other? A planning meeting beforehand can ensure that each worker has a radio and knows any emergency signals that are in place.
Stop, talk, act
Sant recommends the theme of National Stand-Down to Prevent Struck-By Incidents Week as a starting point for all work sites: Stop, Talk, Act. This means that employers, or site supervisors:
- Stop. Before starting work, gather everyone who will be working on the site.
- Talk. Where are struck-by and other safety risks present? For example, are cranes lifting materials to a higher floor? Do workers need to pass under a place where others will be working above them? Construction sites tend to change daily. Take a moment to talk about the day’s risks.
- Act. Put a plan in place to reduce risk. Meet as often as you need, whether it’s the day before, the day of or as work conditions change.
For example, Sant recommends something called internal traffic control. When a roadside work zone is coming up, barrels and signs warn drivers that it’s up ahead. It encourages them to slow down and anticipate changes. These warning measures can also be implemented on a job site. Use signs to show where hazards are present. For instance, where trucks may be crossing or dropping off materials. Mark paths where workers on foot will be, so drivers operating equipment know where to watch. Employers can even mark stations where workers can take a break, to prevent them from sitting or standing around active work.
It may seem simple, but this planning can go a long way to protect workers. “Thinking about the job, thinking about the process ahead of time, and then just putting a simple plan into place to separate the workers from the hazard will get us 90 percent of the way there.”
Resources to help employers reduce risk
While some construction crews are large and established, others are small, or even made up of family or friends working together. Both Bunting and Sant work with organizations that partner to reach businesses of all sizes. Employers can join in for free resources and events during National Work Zone Awareness Week and National Stand-Down to Prevent Struck-By Incidents Week from April 11-15, 2022. Tune in for:
- Free webinars in English and Spanish
- Toolbox Talks and infographics for work zone and lift zone safety
- Resources on PPE and equipment safety
- Access to the ARTBA Safety Center
- NIOSH reports on roadway incidents
For free safety posters, sample policies, and safety toolkits, visit our Resource Library. Then, check out this WorkSAFE Podcast episode to learn about Stop Work Authority programs, where workers can intervene in unsafe situations.