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Focusing on the Fatal Four in Construction Safety

August 19, 2015
 / Safety / 

Fatal FourIf you've ever attended an OSHA Safety Training class or sat in a construction safety meeting, you've heard of the Fatal Four.

The deadly combination of falls, struck-by, caught-in or caught-between incidents, and electrocutions accounted for 57.7 percent of construction-related fatalities in 2013, the leading cause of death in an industry that represents more than 20 percent of all worker fatalities in private industry. 

But knowing about an issue, and knowing what to do to prevent it, are two entirely different things. So, how can we lower the number of incidents attributed to these Fatal Four causes of injury?

First, you need to know the statistics. The most common of all Fatal Four incidents occur from falls -- 302 of 828 deaths in 2013 in construction alone, and 699 deaths in all industries combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of these were falls from a higher to a lower level -- i.e. down a flight of stairs, off a ladder, from a roof, etc. While same-level falls, like tripping, are dangerous in their own right, falls from elevation are far more likely to end in death.

Being struck by an object is another Fatal Four cause that accounts for 10.1 percent of construction worker fatalities. Most of these involve vehicles and large equipment. The types of struck-by incidents are broken up into four categories: objects flying through the air, objects falling from a higher level, objects swinging through the air, and sliding or rolling objects.

Similar to struck-by-object incidents, caught-in or caught-between incidents accounted for 21 construction deaths in 2013. These incidents occur when a worker is crushed between two objects or caught in moving equipment. Instead of just being struck by a moving vehicle, a caught-between incident would mean that a worker was crushed between a truck and a brick wall, for example. 

And caught-in accidents typically involve machinery or equipment with moving parts, even if they are slow. Saws and conveyor belts can easily grab onto loose clothing without the worker noticing immediately. 

Perhaps the most overlooked type of Fatal Four incident is also one of the most deadly in all of construction. Electrocution accounted for 71 fatalities in 2013. Most of these were caused by contact with overhead power lines and were simply tragic accidents. Getting too close to these lines can cause instant death, but broken or faulty equipment, environmental hazards such as wet wiring, or exposure to broken wiring can all cause electrocution. Less lethal but still just as harmful are burns that can occur from electrocution, as well as cardiac issues and other injuries. Electrical fires and explosions can also occur.

Knowing the causes of these Fatal Four incident types is the best way to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Keeping an eye out for dangerous circumstances, and always following safety protocol, can go a long way in keep yourself and your employees safe and alive.

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