Safety Should Be Priority One!

By Jeff Winke

One issue that surfaces frequently in paving and construction industry websites, magazines, blogs, and books is the issue of safety. It makes total sense when you consider the volatile mix of people, technologically complex machines, and shrinking deadlines.

When you think about it, an asphalt paving construction site is the perfect storm for accidents: contractor margins depend on efficient, high production because projects need to be completed within tight deadlines. Get in, get-‘er-done, get out, and move on to the next jobsite to repeat the process. In the haste, safety can too often be ignored.

Millions of tons of asphalt are produced and used every year, the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers’ Compensation (TDI) notes, and more than 500,000 workers are exposed to fumes from asphalt. According to the TDI, exposure to asphalt fumes can cause headaches, skin rashes, sensitization, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, cough, and skin cancer.

Inhalation of fumes and fire/explosions are the two main hazards to workers cited by the TDI. Asphalt is often stored and handled at high temperatures, so it’s important to take fire prevention seriously.

“One of the greatest hazards in handling hot asphalt is exposure to a source of ignition,” TDI stated. “Sparks, electricity, open flames, incandescent material (lighted cigarette), or other possible ignition sources should be prohibited or otherwise strictly controlled in the vicinity of asphalt operations.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the most common construction site injuries include:
• Head injuries – Falling objects, tools, or materials, especially for workers who are digging or building from the bottom up. Injuries can include lacerations, concussions, traumatic brain injuries, etc. Wear a hard hat!
• Spinal cord injuries – Typically caused by falls, usually off a high part of a machine. Partial or full paralysis, lifelong disabilities, and brain damage can be the result.
• Broken, fractured, or crushed bones – Due to heavy equipment not being secured properly or operated correctly. When it’s you vs. machine, you will always lose.
• Loss of hearing – The loud noises of heavy machinery and paving equipment make hearing loss one of the more common construction site injuries suffered. If you fail to wear earplugs while operating jackhammers or other extremely loud equipment, chances are you could affect or lose your hearing.
• Heat stroke – Overexertion and sun exposure, especially in the heat of summer, can cause heat stroke, which comes with nausea, lightheadedness, and often fainting. If left untreated, it can lead to brain, heart, or kidney damage.

Clearly, construction paving sites can be dangerous. Here are a couple of sobering stats to help keep safety uppermost in mind:

1. One in ten construction workers are injured every year.
(Source: OSHA)

2. Over the course of a 45-year career, a construction worker has a 1 in 200 chance of dying. (Source: National Safety Council)

Safety is important to everyone. Workers and management need to stay alert and aware of all activities on the worksite.

Did you know that getting on and off the machine is the number one cause of injury to equipment operators? When it comes to a moving piece of equipment like a paver, making sure that mounting and exiting the machine properly is paramount to safety. If the machine needs additional hand holds or steps installed, do it. Operators come in different sizes. Make it as easy and safe as possible to ascend/descend. Avoid the need to stretch by putting the grab rails where they’re easy to securely reach.

Don’t let people crowd the work area. Ask any roller operator what their biggest headache is and they will tell you without hesitation… people on the ground crowding the machine. People love to stand and watch the operator compact the mat. There is usually no reason for them to be there, just force of habit. But why create an exposure to injury when none needs to exist. Clearly, workers on the ground must stay well away from the machine operating area.

Ample lighting should also be present in the work zone, in addition to mandating that all crew members wear proper reflective safety apparel and bright, safety-color shirts. The lighting should be installed to ensure proper illumination for workers, while minimizing glare. Workers should be encouraged to stay clear of unlit areas.

Take time to review safety daily. You can never think or talk about it enough. Check with OSHA or the company’s insurance provider for additional resources and help.

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through