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OSHA’s construction safety training mitigates ‘fatal four’

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Every morning before work begins, employees of Skanska in Blue Bell stretch and flex for 10 to 15 minutes.

They’re called the “fatal four” for a reason.

These four hazards – falling, getting caught in or between objects, getting struck by items and getting electrocuted – are at the heart of a campaign aimed at minimizing injuries and deaths in construction, the most dangerous industry in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s an opportunity to save lives,” said Bill Reis, safety director for Belcher Roofing Corporation in Montgomeryville.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, one in five worker deaths in 2016 occurred in the construction industry.

The Focus Four Hazards campaign is a safety program led by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and aims to save lives by creating greater personal safety awareness.

Reis said the program addresses the four biggest hazards.

“Focus Four [campaign] teaches you how to interact with construction best practices” and how to talk to workers, Reis said.

Frank Baxter helped develop Focus Four – a partnership between OSHA and private industry. Baxter is environmental health and safety director for Skanska (an international construction company) in Blue Bell.

“About three years ago, we saw an uptick in construction fatalities,” he said.


The regional safety campaign includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

It includes site visits and online virtual materials, which employers can access throughout the year.

The campaign’s annual push and Toolbox Talks occur during spring from March through June. Each of the fatal four hazard topics is assigned a specific awareness month.


March addresses electrical hazard safety, April is struck-by month, May deals with falls, and June’s focus is caught-in and between hazards, said Lenore Uddyback-Fortson, a spokesperson for OSHA’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia.

Baxter said OSHA regularly refreshes and updates the Toolbox Talk content to continue the conversation with workers and safety representatives.

“It’s easily accessible,” Baxter said.


Ty Reed, corporate safety officer for Alvin H. Butz Inc. in Allentown, said OSHA initiatives were a benefit to the industry.

“Toolbox Talks are a jump-off point. OSHA gives us the rules and regulations that this is what you need to do,” he said.

Reed said regular monthly safety meetings incorporated elements of Toolbox Talks. These provide a constant reminder and frequent opportunities to talk about safety to workers in the field.


Mason Mimnaugh said his company’s monthly safety meeting often includes an OSHA representative. Mimnaugh is health, safety and environmental manager for Allan Myers Inc. in Worcester Township.

“I think since [Focus Four Hazards] have become more formalized with training and materials, [safety efforts] have become more effective and easier to share with our managers and staff,” Mimnaugh said.

“[Addressing] these four hazards could save 600 lives a year, minimum,” Reis said.


But despite more formal awareness and regular reminders, construction deaths continued to rise, Reed said.

“You have seasoned veterans who are willing to take on risk. These are exactly the kind of guys – I call them cowboys – we don’t want on our jobs,” he said.

Reed said such risks that end in tragedy could include overextending to reach a fastener while on a roof or scaffold without taking the time to follow safety procedures or using a bi-fold ladder incorrectly. They also increase incident-reporting numbers, which affects the firm’s competitive edge in the marketplace, according to Reed.

“We constantly train our people so they have a fighting chance,” Reed said. 

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