Employee Safety Risks to Mitigate When Constructing High-Tech Manufacturing Facilities

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By Travelers
5 minutes
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Contractors looking to capitalize on the U.S. high-tech manufacturing boom must manage a variety of job site safety challenges unique to constructing the facilities in which products like smartphones, solar panels, semiconductors and other advanced technologies are made. Working at heights and in confined spaces; operating complex machinery and handling sensitive materials; managing large teams of specialized laborers over massive sites – proactive mitigation of these and other risks can help ensure that high-tech builds are delivered safely and successfully.

The common job site safety hazards on high-tech manufacturing builds.

Working in confined spaces

Workers on high-tech builds often find themselves in tight, confined spaces that are designed to house equipment and wiring but not people. Atmospheric conditions in these areas may have limited oxygen or be toxic due to decreased airflow or off-gassing from nearby materials and processes, which may increase the risk of suffocation, poisoning and respiratory issues. They may also be more vulnerable to fire, explosion, electrical shock, engulfment, cave-in and extreme-temperature hazards. Furthermore, enclosed spaces can be difficult to move around in and escape from in an emergency. This can take a physical and psychological toll on workers.

Retrofitting or expanding existing facilities

Many high-tech builds involve adaptive reuse of older buildings or expansion of existing manufacturing facilities. Demolition and construction on such projects can expose workers to a variety of hidden dangers. Older buildings may contain hazardous materials, like asbestos, lead and other contaminants, which may cause serious health problems if inhaled or ingested. Hidden structural issues can pose collapse hazards. Outdated, damaged or improperly labeled electrical wiring and systems may increase the risk of electrical shock. Biological irritants, like mold, or hazardous chemicals and materials from the building’s past use may also be present. Working on operational facilities requires extra care and consideration to keep employees and existing infrastructure safe during construction.

Employees and equipment operating at heights

Constructing high-tech facilities often involves working on elevated platforms or scaffolding and operating complex machinery to complete tasks at heights. Both can significantly increase the risk of falls and accidents. Hazards that even at ground level may result in serious injury – slipping on a wet surface, tripping over obstacles or simply losing one’s balance – become particularly dangerous at heights. Complex lifting requirements on high-tech builds add risks specific to the use of cranes and specialized rigging equipment. These can include damage caused by dropping heavy materials from heights to injuries caused by improper equipment operation or malfunction. These operations may also expose workers to pinch points and struck-by hazards.

Hot work and high-voltage demands

The complex, higher energy demands of high-tech buildings can make the structures vulnerable to electrical and fire hazards, particularly on jobs that involve retrofitting or expanding existing facilities. High-voltage work on main power sources and existing electrical infrastructure can cause electrical shock, electrocution or explosion. The high volume of hot work often required on these jobs may also increase burn, smoke inhalation and fire risks. Though common to many construction projects, injuries or damage related to electrical anomalies like faulty wiring, equipment malfunctions, overloading capacity, improper grounding, bonding deficiencies, or welding, cutting, brazing and other flame- or spark-producing activities may be amplified on projects of this scale.   

Labor management challenges

High-tech construction projects demand expertise and skilled labor that remain in short supply. Any inability to find workers trained in the unique techniques, equipment and materials required for high-tech builds can increase job site safety risks. Coordinating large, specialized labor forces and complex, interdependent construction activities over massive worksites can also make it more difficult to establish and maintain clear lines of communication and oversight between team members. These and other workforce management challenges may compromise employee safety efforts.

Proactive risk management can help create a safer work environment.

Prioritizing job site safety is critical on any construction project but particularly those of the size and scale of high-tech builds. Normalizing strategic risk mitigation tactics can help reduce the impact of job site accidents and injuries.

  • Address potential exposures and mitigation strategies in all aspects of project planning, from design to delivery.
  • Select laborers and subcontractors carefully, hiring only those who have the specific experience, qualifications and training required for your project.
  • Minimize employee involvement in moving and lifting materials by strategically planning where materials and equipment will be delivered and stored on the job site or utilizing technologies to assist in handling heavy objects whenever possible.
  • Ensure that all necessary special licenses and permits are in place, particularly for millwrights and electrical contractors.
  • Create detailed lift plans in the event of crane operations, addressing weight calculations, rigging requirements and safe operating procedures.
  • Practice proactive industrial hygiene to anticipate, evaluate and help control workplace conditions likely to cause injury or illness to workers.
  • Consider safety technology like wearables, drones, augmented or virtual reality and safety inspection software to help identify and mitigate potential hazards.
  • Establish and follow rigorous safety controls, including regularly inspecting and maintaining machinery, materials and work environments and using third parties to test and validate working conditions and operations for safety compliance.
  • Monitor teams and subcontractors diligently to ensure compliance with safety protocols throughout the project.
  • Keep and retain records for the full statute of repose, including material safety data sheets, equipment safe operating manuals, all testing and quality control procedures followed, and evidence of adherence to safety protocols and standards.

Work with an insurance provider that will help businesses keep employees and job sites safe.

Travelers’ industry-leading risk control tools and specialists can help businesses manage job site risks. When accidents happen, Travelers’ Workers Compensation and General Liability policies can provide critical coverage. With a dedicated construction claim investigations team, forensics lab and ergonomics consulting services, Travelers has a holistic and collaborative approach that helps construction firms safeguard workers and their businesses from the potentially devastating impact of safety-related incidents on high-tech builds and other projects.

To learn more about Travelers innovative insurance and risk management solutions for construction companies, contact your agent or a Travelers representative today.

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