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Can Sustainability and Safety Keep Pace With Progress?

Texas has the nation's fastest-growing population. Last year, 466 people moved to Texas every single day. Many of the move-ins are coming to Dallas, and the never-ending construction in our city reflects our efforts to accommodate this burgeoning population.

With more and more people relocating to Dallas, and a growing number of busy construction sites, the need for safety has never been greater.

Construction sites are host to a number of hazardous conditions. Construction worker injuries, pedestrian injuries and vehicle accident injuries are just of a few of the many consequences of unsafe construction sites. But, the good news is that these accidents are almost entirely preventable. With an eye towards safety awareness, and through smart planning, we can make Dallas's growing pains a little less daunting.

Risks to Construction Workers

In the last year, Dallas saw a massive increase in the amount of construction workers, adding almost 4,000 jobs. Over 120,000 people work in construction in Dallas, so perhaps it is no surprise that there are also a high number of workplace injuries in the area. Dallas residents regularly read headlines regarding injured workers and on-site accidents.

For example, a 34-year-old worker was trapped for over three hours in a construction trench collapse on May 5th. The day before, another worker was injured on the fifth floor of a Dallas high-rise after a wall collapsed on top of him.

Perhaps the most alarming and public of all construction accidents is crane collapses. In 2012, a crane collapse killed two construction workers at the University of Texas Dallas. More recently, a Dallas crane collapse was even caught on video though, fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.

Construction is perennially ranked as one of the most hazardous of all sectors, to the point that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has given a name to most common causes of fatalities to construction workers. The 'Fatal Four' cause over half of all deaths among construction workers. They are falls, electrocutions, being struck by or against an object, and being trapped in or between objects. It's worth noting that the most dangerous of the Fatal Four, by far, is falls.

Falls are common in the construction sector, in large part, due to the danger of scaffolding. Scaffolding collapses are far too common on construction sites. In October of 2015, a scaffolding collapse in Houston resulted in injuries to six workers at an unfinished apartment building. After the accident, OSHA chief David Michaels discussed the lax safety culture in the state, saying that more construction workers die in Texas in any other state in the nation. He went on to say that workers need more protection on the job.

Michaels isn't the first public official to speak to construction worker safety problems in Texas. Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall also said that Texas has the most dangerous construction sector in the nation. Marshall pointed to the fact that Texas had 585 construction worker fatalities from 2007 to 2011, 386 more fatalities than California, a state that has a larger construction workforce.

Injuries to Non-Workers

Workers are not the only ones who suffer from unsafe construction sites. The American Traffic Safety Services Association said that from 2002 to 2006, around 15 percent of work zone fatalities were pedestrians. Pedestrians are susceptible to many of the same hazards as construction workers, including loose flooring, structural collapses, cluttered walkways, and falling objects.

Motorists can also be vulnerable to injuries in and around construction. Every year, over 40,000 people are injured in vehicle accidents in work zones. These accidents can be caused by increased traffic and heavy congestion around construction, or by equipment and materials from the construction site itself.

Avoiding Construction-Related Injuries

There are a number of building construction site management requirements. For example, notices containing the contractor's name, phone number and address of the project must be posted prior to construction.  Streets, alleys and walkways must be cleared of debris. Public right-of-ways cannot be used for staging of construction equipment and materials unless a barricade permit is approved by the Public Works and Transportation Department.

These are just a few of the requirements that contractors must adhere to, but they by no means represent all of the actions that should be taken to make a construction site as safe as possible.  Construction project management should include steps to go above and beyond basic requirements. This could mean installing extra guardrails and performing more frequent checks on structures and equipment.

Worker Safety Potential in Green Construction

Green technology and environmentally conscious practices are on the rise in the U.S. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that in 2011, over 70 percent of construction businesses reported using at least one form of green technology or practices. The CDCP also points out that ratings systems for the building and use of these technologies don't specifically address worker safety. The opportunity does exist, however, to incorporate safety into the emerging technologies and designs, so that workers can also reap benefits from sustainable technology.

OSHA offers a pocket guide for construction site safety, including common hazards and solutions for preventing accidents. The guide provides checklists for protective gear, scaffolding, cranes, and links to other resources. The Texas Department of Insurance also provides checklists for construction safety to be used as guidelines for contractors and safety managers.

Contractors should make construction site safety their highest priority, both for the benefit of their workers and the general public. Investments in safety might seem like a large cost to some contractors, but the consequences of an unsafe work site can be exponentially more costly for a business.

The challenges facing Dallas mirror obstacles of cities all around the United States. Migration to urban areas is a trend almost as old as our country itself, and it shows no sign of stopping anytime in the near future. We will continue to see new buildings and cranes populate our cities' skylines in the years to come, and there will be more and more people walking our streets, living in apartment buildings, driving on our roads and finding themselves in close contact with construction sites.

With an emphasis on safety and investments in improving construction site conditions, we can ensure that progress does not come with a price tag for our citizens.