Construction sites can be a significant health and safety challenge: almost every conceivable hazard exists within this constantly changing environment. Construction workers often work at a fast pace around many other construction tradespeople who are supervised by different companies. In addition, some companies do not employ experienced safety staff, so the proper safety training and oversight are not always present.

Companies have recognized the significant impact safety can have on their operations. OSHA estimates that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs alone. Direct costs of workplace injuries and illnesses include workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and costs for legal services. Among the indirect costs is the damage accidents can cause to a company’s reputation.  In the construction industry, laborers have increased risk for on-the-job trauma, acute lead poisoning, mesothelioma, musculoskeletal injury, and dermatitis. Furthermore, construction workers are known to be potentially exposed to asbestos, noise, and lead. These exposure risks can be reduced significantly through task hazard analyses, training, and the assignment of appropriate PPE.  According to statistics from OSHA, one in ten construction workers is injured every year. These injuries can range from cuts, scrapes, and strains to amputations, permanent disabilities, and even death. Data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that sixty percent of construction workplace injuries occur within the employee’s first year of employment. With nearly one in five worker deaths in the U.S. last year attributed to the construction industry, the right personal protective equipment is crucial for worker safety.
Past industry experience suggests that investment in and enforcement of sound safety requirements yields a significant return on investment. A white paper from the American Society of Safety Professionals identifies several sources of ROI: Cost savings. Occupational safety and health programs can reduce costly worker injuries and incidents, allowing companies to reduce expenses related to workers’ compensation insurance, medical care, paid time off, and potential litigation. Regulatory compliance. Non-compliance with regulatory requirements and disregard for best practices can cost an organization both financially and in public perception. Increased operational efficiency. An organization-wide focus on safety can lead to higher worker productivity and reduced downtime due to incidents, which drives short-term revenue growth and supports long-term sustainability. Improved employee satisfaction. Organizations that provide safe and comfortable workplaces and demonstrate care for employee well-being through strong safety practices are more likely to attract top talent and retain experienced employees. 
Accident Analysis & Prevention
: “Motor Vehicle Fatalities in the United States Construction Industry” (September 1997).
American Journal of Industrial Medicine
: “Job Tasks, Potential Exposures, and Health Risks of Laborers Employed in the Construction Industry” (October 1993). American Society of Safety Professionals: White Paper Addressing the Return on Investment for Safety, Health, and Environmental (SH&E) Management Programs (June 2002). Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Injuries at Work Are Fewer among Older Employees,” (
, March 1981). OSHA:
Business Case for Safety and Health
. OSHA: Job Hazard Analysis (
, 2002).  OSHA: Protect Yourself: Construction Personal Protective Equipment (
To develop a successful construction PPE program, we need to examine the hazards at the job site. Listed below are some common hazards that may be encountered on a construction site:
Airborne fibers and materials.
Construction sites can be dusty, and there are several activities during construction (and demolition) that can generate airborne materials and fibers that can potentially damage the lungs. These types of exposures can contribute to conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and silicosis.
Structures built prior to the 1970s often contain asbestos, a substance known to cause cancer. While many of these buildings have undergone assessments and abatements, many others may still contain asbestos. EPA has estimated that as many as 107,000 buildings in the U.S. contain asbestos, although that number is suspected to be much higher since many buildings have not been completely surveyed. Asbestos-containing building materials include vinyl wall coverings such as wallboard, wall mud, ceiling tiles and lay-in panels, vinyl floor tile, vinyl sheet flooring, flooring backing, tile mastic, and siding and roofing materials (for example, roofing shingles, roofing felt, base flashing, and mastic). Workers can encounter these materials when a construction or remodeling project disturbs an asbestos-containing component such as a wall material or a pipe. Construction workers may unknowingly expose their families by bringing home clothing contaminated with asbestos fibers. 
Hand/Arm Vibration Syndrome.
HAVS is a painful and debilitating industrial disease that affects blood vessels, nerves, and joints. The syndrome is triggered by the prolonged use of vibratory power tools, jackhammers, and earth compaction equipment.
Lead-containing materials, such as lead-based paints, are more of a concern when they are disturbed. In the construction industry, lead exposure occurs mainly during tasks that generate fumes (for example, cutting or brazing components coated with lead based-paint, welding) and activities that generate respirable dust when disturbing components containing lead-based paint (bridges or other steel components). 
Material and manual handling.
Materials and equipment are constantly lifted and moved on construction sites by multiple contractors. Both manual lifting and the use of equipment to move materials involve some degree of risk and can result in a minor strain, a permanent injury, or a fatality. 
Noise is a major hazard within the construction industry. Sources include but are not limited to jackhammering, grinding, cutting, concrete work, heavy equipment use, sand blasting, and others. Repetitive, excessive noise causes long-term hearing problems and can contribute to accidents by distracting workers.
Slips, trips, and falls.
Many circumstances on construction sites can lead to a slip, trip, or fall. These include but are not limited to buildings at various stages of completion, open trenches, open excavation, miscellaneous holes in the ground, poor illumination, poor job site housekeeping, unprotected openings or edges, and improperly stored materials. 
Struck-by hazards.
Moving objects on construction sites that can injure personnel include heavy equipment, overhead lifting equipment, overhead loads/operations, and shifting of heavy loads. 
Working at heights.
The construction and demolition of buildings frequently require different tradespeople to work at height. Falls from elevated heights is the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. 
In accordance with OSHA safety and health regulations for construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart E), employers must ensure that appropriate PPE is used in all construction operations where there is an exposure to hazardous conditions. In addition to looking at the regulatory requirements, another important foundational step of your construction PPE program is to conduct a thorough job hazard analysis and determine the “right” PPE. Conducting a comprehensive job hazard analysis has several purposes. The analysis can: 
  • help identify hazards associated with the task and within the work area 
  • help identify what PPE should be worn
  • be used to train new and existing employees
  • establish minimum PPE requirements
The use of a comprehensive job hazard analysis is likely to result in fewer worker injuries and illnesses; safer and more effective work methods; reduced lost work time; reduced workers’ compensation costs; and increased worker productivity. A detailed job hazard analysis will guide you to the appropriate PPE for the tasks on your job site. OSHA lists the following PPE and recommendations on its website for construction operations: 
Eye and face protection.
Safety glasses or face shields should be worn any time construction operations can cause foreign objects to get in the eye or strike the face. Examples of these operations include sand blasting, cutting, grinding, hammering, using powder-actuated tools, brazing, welding, working with harmful chemicals, or working when exposed to flying particles. Workers should also wear eye and face protection when exposed to any electrical hazards, including when working on energized electrical systems. Eye and face protectors should be selected based on the anticipated hazards and the expected force of potential impact.
Foot protection.
Construction workers should wear work shoes or boots with slip-resistant and puncture-resistant soles. Safety-toed footwear should be worn when working around heavy equipment or falling objects that may affect or crush a worker’s foot.
Hand protection.
Construction workers may perform several tasks where hand protection should be worn. For example, heavy-duty rubber gloves should be used for concrete work, insulated gloves and sleeves for protection against electrical hazards, welding gloves for welding, and leatherwork gloves for handling construction debris that can injure the hands.
Head protection.
Construction workers should wear ANSI-approved hard hats where there is any potential for objects falling from above, bumps to the head from fixed objects, or accidental head contact with electrical hazards. 
Hearing protection.
Construction workers should use hearing protection such as earplugs or earmuffs when working in high-noise areas where chainsaws, powder- actuated tools, or heavy equipment are used.  Other PPE that may be required include:
Fall protection.
Fall protection with harness, self- retractable lanyards, and an appropriate anchor point should be employed whenever a worker is exposed to heights of six feet or greater. Equipment should comply with ANSI Z359.1.
High-visibility safety vests.
Construction traffic poses obvious and well-recognized hazards to workers in construction work zones on roadways and job sites. High visibility is one of the most prominent needs for workers who must perform tasks near moving vehicles or equipment. The sooner drivers see a worker in or near the path of travel, the more time they have to avoid an accident.  ANSI/ISEA 107,
Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories
, should be referenced to determine which class of vest is appropriate for your exposures. Vests can be either Class 1, 2, or 3, with 1 the lowest visibility and 3 the highest. Class E is used to designate pants, shorts, overalls, and other accessories, but they must be worn with the proper vests to provide the proper level of protection. Additional subtypes of high-visibility clothing include Type O for off-road applications, Type R for roads and highways, and Type P for emergency medical personnel and police.  OSHA standards require employees who may be exposed to vehicle traffic to wear high-visibility garments in two specific circumstances: when they work as flaggers and when they are exposed to public vehicular traffic near excavations. Other construction workers at construction jobsites are also in danger of being struck by vehicles operating near them. For such workers, section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. §654(a)(1), also known as the General Duty Clause, requires similar protection. High-visibility vests should be worn on construction sites. 
Respiratory protection.
The type of respirator workers need depends on the potential hazards. The most common respiratory protection needed on construction projects includes dust masks, N95 filtering facepieces, and half-face air-purifying respirators. Dust masks are commonly used during demolition, grinding, and cutting operations.
Air-purifying respirators are commonly used when working with paints, solvents, and other chemicals; jackhammering; performing certain welding or cutting operations; and performing masonry work. APRs are also used for working around any products or building materials that may contain lead or asbestos.  Simply issuing PPE is not enough. Employers have a duty to properly train their employees to recognize potential hazards and properly wear and use the appropriate PPE for the tasks they will perform. OSHA 29 CFR 1926 requires all employers to properly train their employees in the PPE equipment that they use. 
There are many challenges when establishing PPE requirements on construction sites. For example, employees from other trades working on the site may not have received proper training in hazard awareness, hazard control, and PPE usage. In addition, work tasks that present different levels of hazard often occur in the same vicinity; drywall installers and painters may work near electricians, and many tradespeople may work alongside heavy equipment operations. In these cases, individual tasks may not require a particular type of PPE (such as hearing protection), but the actions of other trades may introduce a hazard that must be controlled. Here are some tips that can improve compliance, reduce risk to site personnel, and reduce liabilities to employers: 
Establish a minimum PPE site requirement.
Establishing a minimum PPE ensemble for all trades can improve compliance and reduce risk. A minimum ensemble should include a hard hat, safety glasses, safety vest, long sleeves, and safety shoes. Fall protection, respiratory protection, hearing protection, hand protection, and so on can be used on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the job hazard analysis or the company’s safe work practices.
Communicate PPE requirements.
PPE requirements should be clearly communicated to all site personnel, no matter their trade. This requirement should be reinforced through the site safety orientation, weekly tailgate meetings, safety bulletins, and other methods where applicable.
Conduct unannounced inspections.
Unannounced safety inspections can be a great tool to increase compliance and educate site personnel about PPE requirements and effective hazard control.
Provide inspection results to management and employees.
The management teams for both the site and the project should receive summaries of any job site inspections. This information also needs to be properly communicated to the leadership of any subcontractors whose employees were found to be in violation of PPE policies.
Implement a corrective action plan.
Establish a site-wide policy for how situations of noncompliance will be handled. This will typically involve a verbal correction for a first offense, followed by a written warning and the possibility of expulsion of that employee or contractor from the site. Following a third offense or serious event, some sites will hold a “stand-down” for all workers to reinforce the importance of PPE.
Establish meaningful key performance indicators.
Establishing the right KPIs can help determine whether a PPE program is effective. Useful data include the results of workplace inspections, reviews of accident investigations in cases where lack of PPE was a contributing factor, instances of improper or incorrect PPE usage, and so on. 
Provide a positive work environment with a strong safety culture.
Research has shown that organizations that promote safety and demonstrate their commitment to safety tend to have fewer injuries, fewer compliance issues, and better employee satisfaction. 
A sound PPE plan is essential to address the hazards created on a construction site and their impact on your operations. Implementing an effective hazard recognition process and the proper PPE requirements, combined with ongoing communication and training throughout the project, will set a solid foundation for your PPE and site safety efforts.   
is senior construction safety engineer for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
is senior risk specialist for Chubb Risk Engineering Services in Philadelphia.
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Employers have a duty to properly train their employees to recognize potential hazards and properly wear and use the appropriate PPE.
PPE Consensus Standards 
Applicable consensus standards for PPE include:
  • ANSI/ASSE Z359.1, fall protection
  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1, eye and face protection
  • ANSI Z41, foot protection
  • ANSI/ISEA 105, hand protection classification
  • ANSI Z89.1, head protection
  • ANSI/ASSE A10.46, hearing loss prevention for construction and demolition workers
  • ANSI/ISEA 107, high-visibility clothing
  • NFPA 70E, electrical safety in the workplace
  • ANSI/ASSE Z88.2, practices for respiratory protection
Establishing a Successful Personal Protective Equipment Program on a Construction Site