The construction industry stands out from other employments as having one of the highest worker injury and fatality rates. Construction comprises a very small percentage of the overall workforce, yet has an incidence rate for nonfatal injuries and illnesses which exceeds that of many other industries. Construction has the most fatalities of any other industry sector (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2004). Studies have shown that a fairly large percentage of construction accidents could have been eliminated, reduced, or avoided by making better choices in the design and planning stages of a project (Hecker, et al 2005 and Behm 2005). Addressing construction safety in the design and planning phase, therefore, can have a substantial impact on reducing injuries and the cost associated with safety related project delays.
Construction accidents result from a variety of basic root causes such as lack of proper training, deficient enforcement of safety, unsafe equipment, unsafe methods or sequencing, unsafe site conditions, not using the safety equipment that was provided, and a poor attitude towards safety (Toole, 2002). Often times the role of the various contractors is unclear as some contractors may try to transfer responsibility for safety to others. The most common construction project arrangement is that of general (prime) contractor/subcontractor. In this arrangement the project owner contracts with a general contractor firm which in turn subcontracts out some or all of the work to specialty trade contractors.
Under OSHA 1926.16, the prime contractor has overall responsibility for job site safety and compliance with OSHA regulations. General contractors have the highest level of influence on site safety because they monitor, coordinate and direct the work of the subcontractors. General contractors frequently provide equipment that is shared by multiple subcontractors. There may be one or more prime contractors in come cases.
Subcontractors provide the labor and tools to complete their work. Under OSHA 1926.16, subcontractors are responsible for the safety of their employees with regard to their portion of the work. If a subcontractor creates a hazard, the subcontractor must protect its own employees as well as others who might be exposed.
The role of the design professional has traditionally been to design a building, facility, or structure such that it conforms with accepted engineering practices, local building codes, and is safe for the public. Safety during construction (the intermediate phase between a finished design and a completed building) is left up to the complicated, intertwined planning of the contractors and other site professionals. However, design professionals can influence construction safety by making better choices in the design and planning stages of a project. This would result in fewer site decisions that have to be made by contractors and workers that can lead to accidents (the root causes previously mentioned).