Construction site disaster safety tips

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Are you taking risks you don’t even know about?

  1. Because natural and man-made disasters are occurring more frequently, view these construction site disaster safety tips.
  2. Construction sites can incur millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
  3. Go over disaster preparedness plans with all employees.

All manner of natural disasters are becoming more common, and workers often lack knowledge of basic construction site disaster safety tips. According to a study by Apurva Pamidimukkala, et al., the increased frequency of natural disasters has caught construction workers unprepared: Hurricane Sandy, for instance, caused damage at the World Trade Center building site of $185 million in 2012. New Yorkers, hardly used to such storms, were properly terrified.

In the wake of such disasters, we hear news reports about homes lost and businesses destroyed. Yet construction sites, which involve buildings that are in the process of construction and stabilization, are more vulnerable to destruction during natural disasters than are finished edifices.

With that in mind, let’s go over some of the major causes of construction site damage, natural disaster-wise.


Fire-based construction site disaster safety tips

The state of California and the Canadian province of Ontario are often in the news these days. They seem to be perennially on fire. Are these fires truly “wild,” in the sense of occurring spontaneously without a catalyzing human event? Not necessarily: In Wisconsin, 98 percent of wildfires are caused by people. Even wild animals can start majorly destructive fires.

Discarded cigarettes, despite what many think, are seldom at the root of wildfire activity. A major culprit is skyborne lanterns—often used to celebrate the new year and other holidays—which are dangerous, and common enough that they’ve been banned in 29 states.

Man-made fire risks abound at construction sites by the very nature of the work involved. These include:

  • Ungrounded temporary heating and lighting equipment
  • Combustible heat sources such as propane or kerosene
  • “Hot work” tools involved in welding and grinding and any other work that throws off sparks

Furthermore, emergency alarms and fire suppression systems—sprinklers and such—are seldom to be found at construction sites, making early warnings moot.

Related: Help your commercial clients create a fire protection and prevention plan


Hurricane- and flood-based construction site disaster safety tips

The National Hurricane Center says storm surges—defined as “abnormal rises of water generated by a storm”—account for the greatest loss of life and property during hurricanes. It’s easy to see why: One might describe a storm surge as a water avalanche: it carries away everything in its path.

Those along the Atlantic coast are most vulnerable to hurricanes. Per, hurricane season lasts from June 1st to November 30th.

Luckily, hurricane tracking technology allows people to plan days, even weeks, ahead. Know which tools and equipment are easiest and most expensive to damage, and get them out of the way, or locked up safely, to the extent such a thing is possible. Get tie-downs and anchors, make sure structures are stable, and ensure there are no loose power lines or electrical panels on your site.

Electrical issues are a particular concern. Be sure to bond and ground electrical apparatuses and install lightning rods to draw natural electrical activity away from the more vulnerable parts of the worksite.


Snow and cold weather-related construction site disaster safety tips

Even if your area never experiences snow, you’ll likely need to take winter precautions against extreme, or at least uncommon, cold temperatures. Store equipment in heated areas, insulate water lines and keep walkways free of ice and slush.

Also, know what kind of load capacity your roofs and floors have. Depending on its density, snow weighs around 20 pounds per cubic foot—about 1.5 pounds per inch of depth.

Amazon Web Services offers this helpful snow weight calculator:

S x 1.5 = P, where:

  • S = inches (depth) of snow on the roof
  • 25 = weight of 1 sq ft of snow for each inch of depth
  • P = pounds per square foot

By looking up your area’s average snowfall, you can prepare accordingly by reinforcing roofing and flooring as necessary. Per the Farmer’s Almanac, as of October 2023 the snowiest cities in the U.S., along with their average annual snowfall, are:

  • Sault Ste. Marie, MI—119.3 inches
  • Syracuse, NY—114.3 inches
  • Juneau, AK—93.6 inches
  • Flagstaff, AZ—87.6 inches
  • Duluth, MN—83.5 inches
Related: Update your natural disaster emergency response plan

Earthquake-related construction site disaster safety tips

There are no advance warnings when it comes to earthquakes, other than to note whether or not you live along a fault line. And even if you don’t, you may still be in some danger. Atop all that, aftershocks can be as damaging as the initial quake.

According to World Atlas’s website, the states that experience the most earthquake activity are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Nevada
  • Washington

And according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), California suffers the most natural earthquake damage.

The USGS warns about human-induced earthquakes, too. These increasingly common events are caused primarily by wastewater disposal, as well as the search for oil and strip mining—all common practices in the oil and gas industry, whose profits in 2022, Reuters reports, shot up to $4 trillion (from a previous recent average of $1.5 trillion).


Other construction site disaster safety tips

The above cover the major causes of worksite damage. Some others include:

  • Major chemical spills
  • Nuclear meltdown and radiation spread
  • Volcano eruptions
  • Disease outbreak and pandemics
  • Civil unrest
  • War

Theft and vandalism can be problems, as well. To prevent these, erect physical barriers around your worksite. Be sure gates and doors are locked, your site is brightly lit, and you have installed a visible surveillance system. Hiring security guards can be a good option, too.


Things you can do, generally speaking

OSHA recommends developing an emergency action plan (EAP). In fact, it requires construction sites to have one. A construction site EAP must include these elements:

  • Emergency escape procedures
  • Alarm systems
  • Pre-evacuation operations of critical aspects of the workplace
  • Accounting for all employees following evacuation
  • Assigning of medical duties
  • Reporting disasters—fires, chemical spills, etc.
  • Listing of persons who can further explicate the EAP should OSHA agents need them to

Furthermore, all employees must be trained in evacuation procedures and other emergency measures, and retrained after any procedural changes.

Related: Top 10 construction site safety basics

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), regarding electrical damage during a natural disaster, says repairs should be prioritized as follows:

  1. Medium-voltage equipment including distribution transformers
  2. Low-voltage distribution equipment
  3. Electric motors
  4. Power and control wiring
  5. Balance of the plant electrical equipment

But be very, very careful: An NFPA report says 911 call centers continue to display serious dysfunction due to poor employee training, tech failures, limited government budgets, and the stressful nature of the job (and attendant recruitment difficulties). So you may not be able to count on getting the emergency help you need in exigent circumstances.

That’s not to say you’ll necessarily be left to your own devices when disaster strikes. But the emergency response system is overburdened as a matter of plain fact. Plan ahead and train all employees in disaster preparedness and emergency measures.


Keep construction site disaster to a minimum

Employee wellness is paramount in the wake of a natural disaster. OSHA gives all U.S. employees the right to expect to:

  • Receive workplace safety and health training in a language you understand
  • Work on machines that are safe
  • Refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to a hazard
  • Receive required safety equipment, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls
  • Be protected from toxic chemicals
  • Request an OSHA inspection and speak to the inspector
  • Report an injury or illness and get copies of your medical records
  • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses
  • See results of tests taken to find workplace hazards

Agents, take a look at our Workers’ Compensation Program to add to your portfolio of insurance solutions.