How to respond to a construction accident
No one expects a construction accident, but for your safety, as well as your employees, you need to know how to respond to a construction accident like when a fall, trench collapse or electrical accident occurs. Before a job begins, create an emergency response plan. Identify local rescue and medical services, and post emergency numbers in a prominent location on the site or have employees keep them with them. If it would take more than three or four minutes to reach a hospital, you are required to designate a first-aid responder for the job.
When a worker falls
Falls are the leading cause of death in construction accidents and the second most common cause of non-fatal injuries. Federal law requires workers be protected with an appropriate fall-protection system if they are working at heights of 6 feet or more, and employers are required to be able to provide rescue within six minutes.
Not all falls are serious but always call for emergency help if the person is in a lot of pain; has an obvious deformity, such as a broken bone; is unconscious; or appears grey in color.
While waiting for help, stop bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a small bandage. Wash your hands and wear gloves if they are available. Immobilize the injured area and apply a splint if necessary and if you have been trained to do so. Apply ice packs to limit swelling. If breathing is faint or the victim is short of breath, lie the victim down and elevate his legs. Keep the victim warm. Don’t move a victim you think may have a neck or spinal injury, and don’t give the victim any food or drink.
Fall victims in a harness can lose consciousness if the harness puts too much pressure on arteries, a condition called suspension trauma or orthostatic intolerance. Have conscious victims move their legs in the harness and push against any footholds. If the victim is unconscious, try to keep his legs as high as possible and his head as close to horizontal as possible.
When electricity strikes
Approximately 350 fatalities occur each year in construction from electrical accidents. When victims can’t free themselves from the circuit, even relatively low voltages can be deadly. Response time is critical. If a victim is still in contact with an energized circuit, turn off the current. If you can’t do that quickly, pry the victim from the circuit with something that doesn’t conduct electricity, such as a piece of dry wood. Don’t touch the victim until the source of power has been removed. Call emergency personnel.
It’s common for victims of this type of construction accident to go into shock following an electrical accident. Keep the victim lying down, keep his head low and cover him with blankets. Don’t give him anything to eat or drink. Don’t move the victim if you suspect a head or neck injury. If the victim is not breathing, have someone trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) begin artificial breathing. To be effective, CPR must be performed within four minutes of the shock.
If the victim has an electrical burn, check for shock. If there are no signs of shock, begin treating the burned area. Cover the burn with a dry, sterile dressing, but don’t cool the burn or removed burned clothing.
When a trench collapses
A fast-moving wall of dirt can break bones, cause internal hemorrhaging, initiate shock and set the stage for cardiac arrest. Even victims buried only waist deep have little chance of survival.
If a trench collapses, get everyone who is mobile out of the trench. Then call 911 for emergency assistance. Turn off any construction equipment and, if necessary, redirect traffic in the area to reduce vibration and avoid further collapse. Have someone record critical facts for rescue personnel, including the time of the collapse, type of soil, depth of the excavation, location of utilities and location of the victim.
Don’t remove hand tools or other material that can be used to locate a victim. If the victim is conscious, consider tying a digging tool to a rope and tossing it to the victim so he can try to dig himself out.
Don’t try to dig or lift a victim out, as both can result in further injury. Many deaths from trench cave-ins involve co-workers or would-be rescuers who enter the trench without understanding the danger. When a trench collapses, there is a 98 percent chance of a second collapse.
When rescue crews arrive, keep everyone away from the collapse area so rescue workers can work without distraction. Remember: rescuers won’t be able to just run in and get the victim; they must first shore up the trench and select the right method of retrieval. While it’s important to focus on preventing falls, trench collapses and electrical accidents, the fact is they do happen. A few minutes spent learning how to respond could very well save a life.
—By Joanne Costin
Save a life
Ideally, CPR involves two elements: chest compressions combined with mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. However, if you’re not trained in CPR, do hands-only CPR – the difference between doing something and doing nothing could save a life. Here’s how:
- Place the heel of one hand over the center of the person’s chest, between the nipples.
- Place your other hand on top of the first. Keep your elbows straight and position your shoulders directly above your hands.
- Use your upper body weight to push straight down on the chest about 2 inches. Push hard and fast — about two compressions per second.
Source: Mayo Clinic