Injury and illness prevention programs are a major focus for modern construction firms. Companies call these by different names, often based on the state where they operate. They might be called accident prevention programs, injury and illness prevention programs, or safety and health programs, but they usually all derive their origins from federal guidelines.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration puts out guidelines to help companies and their workforces address safety and health issues in the workplace. The original guidelines, published in 1989, are currently under review. A draft is completed, and public comments are finished. It’s possible the new guidelines are going to be quite different from the previous ones. For example, based on the draft, there will now be seven core elements instead of the current four. The new guidelines are placing high value on making safety a proactive activity, according to OSHA. Continuous improvement is also a key part of the new guidelines.
Regardless of what is finally included in the new guidelines, construction employers can still follow a similar path to setting up an accident prevention program. For many construction companies, adopting the new guidelines will depend on what their state OSHA plans do. According to OSHA, 34 states have their own guideline programs for protecting worker safety and health, and 16 of those have programs specifically for construction. Some of the programs are voluntary, others are mandatory, some apply to all employers, while others only apply to certain industries. So, it’s important for construction firms in those states to follow the lead of their state OSHA plans.
There are others who also put out guidelines that contractors can use in developing safety programs. For example, the National Association of Homebuilders offers its Home Builders’ Safety Program Manual. The association claims this “is a practical guide for small to mid-sized companies that assists them in adopting and maintaining a total loss-control safety program.” Having an accident prevention program not only helps to maintain a safer workplace, but also helps in financial transactions, contracts, and legal requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. When you are ready to implement one, here are some aspects to consider.
Current OSHA guidelines show four core elements to include in your accident prevention plan:
- Management commitment and employee involvement
- Worksite analysis
- Hazard prevention and control
- Training for employees, supervisors and managers
Support From the Top
The emphasis on safety needs to start at the top. When management takes safety seriously, it sets the tone for the rest of the organization. Therefore, to implement your accident prevention plan you need to think about how to involve management, and then how to involve employees.
- Hold meetings with all stakeholders where you discuss your plans for the safety and health policy, and seek input from them.
- Make sure all of your managers and supervisors are well-versed in safety requirements and that they follow them.
- When you can, involve your employees in assessing the safety of certain sites or certain areas of sites, and you can extend their involvement by making some employees responsible for safety monitoring.
- Through all of this, you need to make sure that you allow enough money, time, and training, as well as give people the proper authority they need to enforce safety requirements.
Construction businesses operate on many different work sites. Unlike a manufacturing company where activities take place every day on the same property and in the same situations, construction activities take place in varied locations and under a wide range of conditions. So, your accident prevention plan is most effective when it is developed per jobsite. Sure, you will also have to prevent accidents at your offices and warehouse or any other buildings that you operate from. However, each jobsite will offer different safety challenges and, therefore, your accident prevention program needs to take that into account. In fact, your contract documents very often already require an accident prevention plan for each project.
All of your good plans and forethought will have little effect on preventing accidents if people don't understand what the requirements are and know how to follow them.
For each jobsite, you will assess the hazards through worksite analyses. There are many ways to do this including involving your OSHA State on-site consultation program, or even hiring outside professionals. You might also have enough experience with the kinds of hazards faced on the type of construction projects you do to handle the task yourself along with your employees.
However you decide to do your worksite analysis, the net result should be that you know what items or processes you need to keep your workers safe. An important part of this is to make sure everyone understands it's okay to bring attention to issues they perceive to be dangerous or out of place, without fear of retaliation. Reviewing your past records on accidents and illnesses will also shed some light on areas you may need to focus on as you do your worksite analysis.
Plan for Prevention
After you know what your existing and potential hazards are, you can set up some systems to help prevent them, or at least control them. When possible, you want to eliminate hazards. But, when you can't do that, then you need to have systems in place to control them…
- Standardize the response to hazards by setting up safe work procedures for the hazards you've identified.
- Train people so they know what those procedures are.
- Enforce the rules for safe work procedures, and you might even have employees help to establish a disciplinary system.
- Be sure people have access to personal protective equipment and that they know how to use it, and when to use it.
- Plan for emergencies and how you want people to respond when emergencies happen.
Training Yields Understanding and Compliance
All of your good plans and forethought will have little effect on preventing accidents if people don't understand what the requirements are and know how to follow them. Employees, supervisors and managers are all key players in making your accident prevention plan effective. Make sure to 1) Let your employees know that they don't have to do any job until they have received instructions on how to do it properly, and have been authorized to do it 2) Tell them they shouldn't start a job if it doesn't appear to be safe.
Not only should you train employees initially on the potential hazards they face and how to protect themselves, but particularly for construction, this needs to be an ongoing process because construction happens in changing environments. Supervisors need to understand their roles in constantly assessing hazards and reinforcing good safety practices.
Implementing an accident prevention plan is something that varies according to the potential job hazards and the complexity of the job. And a construction environment accident prevention plan is often constantly evolving to accommodate the changing hazards that occur at jobsites. That's why if you can manage it, you can have much better results when everyone is a safety ambassador. When all of your people focus on not only their own safety, but the safety of others, the team effort is a cornerstone of having a proactive accident prevention plan.