Thursday, June 14, 2012

Construction Safety over time

The Taj Mahal. The Eiffel Tower. Stonehenge. Today, the world’s greatest structures stand against time and oblivion because of the capable hands that built them. Though we marvel at the wonders of construction peppered throughout skylines and cities – on neighborhood corners or offering a gateway to the West – we seldom remember the men and women that built these marvels. Construction safety has been and will continue to be an important part of an industry that is constantly plagued by the specter of death.

A lot has changed since the first bipeds cobbled together stones until they had formed a crude hut to protect their matted, pre-human fur from the cruelty of the elements. Today our buildings are monuments to marriage of the creative mind and sophisticated building design, but if one aspect of construction sites still persists, it’s that the threat of injury or death that looms over every construction job. Federal regulation and safety training offer ways to educate construction workers and the general public on how to be safest in construction situations. Sadly, these types of programs haven’t always been in place.
Construction Site Safety Then and Now

Job site safety is a major issue for workers and employers. Of course, this wasn’t always the case with major building projects of the past. The Great Pyramids of Egypt took 80 years to complete and saw the deaths of thousands of people. Of course, worker conditions and employee safety are much different now than they were in the height of Egyptian rule.
Fast forward to the 1960s, to see a construction project that took the safety of workers very seriously. The Gateway Arch located in St. Louis, Missouri started in 1963 and took 2 1/2 years to finish. Each side of the arch was started at the same time and grew in height together. Massive cranes were attached to the sides of the arch in order to lift each triangular piece in to place. When the last piece of the arch was ready to be put into place, each side of the arch had to push back four feet in order to accommodate the last piece of the monument. Once complete, the arch stood a towering 630 feet into the sky. Not one life was lost during the construction period.

What Makes a Construction Site Safe?
Scholars estimate that 27,500 people died in the process of building the Panama Canal. Some died from illnesses while others perished from construction accidents. Since that time, there has been a serious shift in the way certain buildings are constructed. In the early 1970s, personal protective equipment (PPE) standards went into effect. Nearly two decades later, after discovering that workers continued to be injured whether or not they were wearing PPE, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised the standards to reflect changing construction methods. The standards include guidelines for various protections including head, foot, hand and eye and face along with general requirements of worksites.

There are different methods that are used when constructing different types of buildings. Hardhats and utility vests are standard procedure for most construction sites. For skyscrapers, guardrails are sometimes placed around dangerous corners to prevent falls and tether lines are used to keep welders and workers from falling to their deaths. But what about single story buildings? There really is no need for tether lines or large pieces of machinery for building the structure. Smaller construction sites still have to play it safe. Each worker still have towear colored vests for safety. In addition, workers may be required to wear steel-toed boots to keep their feet from being crushed and, like every project, there are regular inspections that take place to make sure each step of the process meets the coded standard. Job site construction safety is very important, and looking back on history, it’s easy to see why.

As freeways continue to expand and dazzling buildings continue to reach for the heavens, it’s important to remember the human cost of our modern construction marvels and take every step to keep them as low as possible in the future.


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