Five Worker Safety Risks That Can Impact Your Bottom Line

Keeping workers safe is crucial for any company, but the stakes are particularly high in construction. According to the “Commonly Used Statistics” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the construction industry is responsible for one in five job-related deaths.

This article outlines five common health and safety risks to consider in order to help build a more effective safety program and prevent long-term negative impacts to your bottom line:

  1. COVID-19
  2. On-the-job injuries
  3. Violations of standards, regulations, and mandates
  4. Training and education
  5. Identifying hazards


The Problems

It’s not necessarily the longest-lasting or most costly risk on this list, but protecting employees against COVID-19 is top of mind right now. Companies with employees in multiple states or counties can find it difficult to stay on top of the often conflicting and changing regulations and directives.

The Costs

Costs related to personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance can be significant. Even if the training consists solely of 60 employees taking one 20-minute module online about COVID-19 safety, consider the cost of the training, the 20 hours of wages, and the opportunity cost of employees not working on the jobsite while they’re training. Another option is to have a third party write and implement a COVID-19 safety training program; however, those costs are often higher.

There are also the costs of engineering controls to consider, such as plexiglass, signs, and markers on the floor to promote social distancing.

In terms of staffing, a dedicated staff member might be needed to screen other employees for symptoms and conduct temperature checks. Whether a new hire or an existing staff member, this employee could have been producing in other ways. There’s also the time a foreman or supervisor must spend enforcing the rules on-site.

Additional unknown costs include OSHA fines and the litigation and settlement of lawsuits. Employees in all industries are complaining to OSHA more frequently that they feel unsafe due to employers not enforcing the rules.1

The Solutions

The costs that come with training employees on proper COVID-19 PPE and safety compliance and protecting them are unavoidable, so planning for and building them into your bids prevents the expenses from coming out of your bottom line. At a minimum, you should:

  • Inform employees about which PPE is required, who will provide it, and how to use it. Discuss the risks of contracting the virus and how to prevent its spread. Train, remind, train, remind.
  • Educate them about the vaccine and any associated restrictions that will be loosened as a result of being vaccinated.
  • Explain policies about reporting COVID-19 safety violations to management and the consequences for noncompliance.
  • Screen employees for symptoms per local government recommendations and requirements.
  • Provide the correct PPE to each employee every day.
  • Document violations of the regulations and policies. Create an audit trail in case you need to discipline or terminate an employee for multiple infractions.

Best Practices

  • Develop and administer a written COVID-19 safety program. Whether you do it yourself or hire a third-party to do it, consider everything from sanitation and face masks to temperature checks, training, and reporting of exposures. Determine how to keep up with federal, state, and local regulatory changes to ensure compliance.
  • Use technology such as online tools or software platforms to help streamline inspections and other routine tasks related to COVID-19. Analyze whether implementing new technology will improve productivity and be less costly in the long run.
  • Budget for costs related to COVID-19 and build them into your bids.

On-the-Job Injuries

The Problems

The number one OSHA safety violation in 2019 was inadequate protection against falls.2 And, unfortunately, 58% of construction workers said they think management values production over safety,3 which could be why more than 25% of workers haven’t reported a work-related injury at some point in their careers.4

According to Construction Workers’ Reasons for Not Reporting Work-Related Injuries: An Exploratory Study, the construction industry lost more than 130,000 workdays to injuries each year from 2014-17. Even though construction workers make up only 6% of the U.S. labor force,5 20% of all work-related deaths are in the construction industry6 and an average of 16 U.S. construction workers die on the job every week.7

Also, because of the nature of the construction industry, multiple employers can be liable for the same employee injury. For example, say that ABC Company had to unscrew a bolt to get the scaffolding up at a job, and they didn’t tell anyone about it. The next day, an employee of Smith Plumbing Inc. goes up the scaffolding and gets hurt. The controlling employer (the GC) should have been monitoring hazards and safety on the job. Because of this, the injured employee could sue his own employer, the GC, and ABC Company.

In addition, OSHA routinely fines multiple employers for the same violation at the same worksite. “The Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine has allowed OSHA to extend liability to GCs, host employers, staffing agencies, and anyone else who can be conceivably related to an employee accident or alleged safety hazard.”8

The Costs

According to Costs of Occupational Injuries in Construction in the United States, construction injuries cost the U.S. $11.5 billion per year — $4 billion of which is due to fatalities and $7 billion of which is due to nonfatal injuries, including time away from work. For employers, the costs of workplace injuries include being shut out of bidding on projects, employee sick leave, lost productivity, and OSHA fines. High injury rates lead to high experience modification rates (EMRs), which lead to high workers’ comp premiums.9 It also means you can’t bid on jobs where the GC requires modification rates that reflect a good safety record. It’s possible to bid on some of those jobs if you write an acceptable letter explaining the changes put in place to address safety. You can also get an automatic reduction of your modification rate if your workers unionize. Of course, it’s best to keep your accident rate low in the first place.

The Solutions

Preventing injuries and deaths is a regulatory requirement with economic benefits. At a minimum, you should:

  • Preplan to provide the proper safety equipment or require that your subcontractors bring the proper equipment. Just as you plan for time, tools, labor, and materials on a job, also plan for the proper equipment that addresses the safety issues of that worksite ahead of time.
  • Educate your employees about on-the-job injuries. Most construction worker injuries occur in the first year of employment,10 which suggests the need for more comprehensive onboarding training, such as the three points of contact method11 for preventing falls.
  • Require subcontractors and vendors to also perform safety training for their personnel.

Best Practices

  • Assign a safety monitor to every job. If you can’t afford a full-time person, consider if it’s possible to shift duties around and assign a different foreman or supervisor to patrol your jobsites on a consistent basis (e.g., Jack on Mondays, Sally on Tuesdays).
  • Build the cost into your budget and bids.

Violations of Standards, Regulations & Mandates

The Problems

While construction workers make up 6% of the U.S. workforce, according to OSHA’s “Commonly Used Statistics,” construction-specific violations make up three of the top five most cited violations.

Another issue is that paper documents and old technologies are insufficient when it comes to inspections. “Ultimately, spreadsheets can no longer keep up and support the speed and accuracy companies need” when it comes to managing their environment, health, and safety (EHS) programs, according to the High EHS Performance Requires Strong Leadership & Technology Investment study published in EHS Today. The study also shows that companies that rely on EHS software have lower rates of absenteeism, injuries, and safety violations than companies that rely on older or very little technology.12

The Costs

Depending on who promulgates the rule and how they enforce it, the outcomes for a violation may vary from no consequences to a fine or even criminal prosecution.

Concerning OSHA, some construction industry supervisors haven’t seen an OSHA inspector at a worksite in the 20 years they’ve been on the job, and that’s why the threat of OSHA audits or citations may not seem real — though the threat of employee injury and loss of life clearly is.

But as a CFM, it’s your responsibility to consider the potential consequences of flouting the law — monetary penalties; the time it takes to participate in the investigation; and, if the consequences are severe enough, possibly going out of business.

Take, for example, the case of Purvis Home Improvement Co. Inc. In 2019, OSHA fined the owner of the company almost $1.8 million for willfully and repeatedly failing to ensure that his employees used fall protection. Cited safety violations also included exposing his employees to electrocution and eye hazards. The owner’s carelessness resulted in the death of an employee from a fall at the end of 2018. Purvis was also found guilty of manslaughter and workplace manslaughter in a related criminal lawsuit.13

The Solutions

At a minimum, you should:

  • Assign a safety monitor to each job. Make sure that the monitor has well-rounded knowledge of general industry and construction standards and meets the OSHA definition of a competent person. They should be compensated in accordance with their more extensive knowledge and experience. If you can’t find someone, train and promote from within.
  • Consider moving to all online training for your safety inspectors. There is a plethora of excellent online training available at a reasonable cost.

Best Practices

  • Take advantage of OSHA incentive programs, such as the Cal/OSHA Golden Gate Partnership Program,14 which gives awards to employers that demonstrate that they are committed to continuously improving the effectiveness of their safety and health management systems.
  • Step up your technology game. Use apps, software, tablets, phones, and other available technology to manage your safety program. Digitize inspections, incidents and accidents, and preventive and corrective actions.

Use tablets to train employees while they’re in the field.

Training & Education

The Problems

The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health’s (NIOSH) educational booklet, “Prevent Construction Falls from Roofs, Ladders, and Scaffolds,” stated that worker inexperience and lack of training are at or near the top of the list when it comes to causes of injury and that training is at or near the top of the list of solutions.

Construction employers have traditionally faced many logistical challenges in administering training, including:

  • Employees are on a jobsite rather than at a central office where they have access to a computer
  • Not all employees are at one jobsite or under one roof
  • Not all employees have internet access or a way to complete the training from home
  • Not all employees speak English as a first language

Employers also have challenges specific to orientation and new-hire training. The sheer number of hazards in construction make training a logistical nightmare, and even the most minimal orientation training might take half a day or longer.

It takes even more time to train in depth on specific subjects like fall protection, excavation, scaffolding, and confined space entry — a type of training known as competent person or qualified person training. OSHA requires there to be a “competent person” on the jobsite, as someone who can identify the hazards, knows how to correct them, and can act accordingly. Hazard identification will be discussed more in the section on “Inability to Identify Hazards.”

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About the Authors

Brianna Stashak

Brianna, SHRM-CP, PHRca, is Human Resources Consultant at KPA ( in Broomfield, CO.

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Joe Souza

Joe is EHS Consulting District Manager for the western U.S. at KPA ( in Lafayette, CO.

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