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By Missy England
May 8, 2017
One of the toughest aspects of a superintendent’s job is safety. They often visit work sites to ensure everything’s in order from a safety perspective. But, as soon as they walk away, someone removes a guard from a piece of equipment, or someone takes off their safety glasses while using a nail gun. The super can’t be everywhere at once and people are always going to engage in risky behavior.
Ultimately, you want your jobsites to be as safe as possible, and the superintendent plays a crucial role in achieving that. And, while they can’t singlehandedly make your jobsites the safest in the world, they can keep you on track to constantly strive for that goal. But first, you have to create the environment where the super can excel.
If a superintendent is going to effectively manage the safety aspects of the construction site, he has to understand and know all the best safety practices, and when, where, and how to use them. To help them prioritize, they should provide information on the most common OSHA violations and most common dangers in construction. They also need to know where to quickly get the information on the best safety practices for situations they are unfamiliar with.
There is no substitute for training to get a superintendent up to speed on safety. Of course, the training needs to cover all of the best practices for the various situations the superintendent might encounter on the construction site. But, in some cases you might have to do site-specific training to prepare the superintendent for safety situations that are unique to a given site. You can do some of the basic training in a classroom environment; however, to reinforce that, you should bring the superintendent out to the jobsite and visit the various work areas. While there, highlight the safety risks along with the best safety practices.
Superintendents need your support when it comes to managing safety effectively. A major part of that support is investing the time and resources necessary to make sure people understand the safety requirements for each activity they participate in. One method that works well is including safety requirements in the work packages for each activity. But, there are also general safety requirements that apply across the jobsite that are not activity-specific. To support the superintendent, it's important to make sure that everyone who is going to work on the jobsite, or visit it, understands the safety requirements for the situations they will encounter.
Once superintendents understand the safety requirements and where to get additional information about them, there are expected behaviors you should explain to them. When a super practices these behaviors, they will make sure safety has the right amount of importance on the job.
A superintendent who is trying to enforce safety policies that no one knows about is going to have a tough time keeping a construction jobsite as safe as possible. To reinforce all the hard work you have already done in making sure that everyone who goes to work on the site understands the safety requirements, you need to include ongoing safety awareness and training as one of the superintendent's duties.
This doesn't mean the superintendent has to hold regular classes or spend time tracking the safety credentials of people on the job. But, it does mean superintendents should understand their role in making sure that people know the safety requirements, and that they also know when to require additional safety training for people who need it.
If your super ignores safety rules while going about daily job duties, then, it’s a good bet everyone else will either ignore them, or pick and choose the ones they want to follow. Superintendents spend a great amount of their time where the activities are happening. In one hour they might be sorting out a material issue where a foundation is getting installed, and the next they are negotiating a conflict between two of the trades.
Superintendents can show their commitment to safety by making hardhats and safety glasses a standard part of their attire. If safety vests are required then a superintendent that always has one on is not only setting the example, but it's also leading by example.
The other part of leading by example when it comes to safety is a thoughtful approach. When the superintendent steps on to each new area of the jobsite and takes a minute to assess the environment for safety concerns, they show that safety is top-of-mind. Not only are they more aware of the dangers they might face themselves, but also asses the dangers and safety practices of the people working in the area.
There is always a focus on catching people doing something wrong. However, when it comes to safety, it's also very important to catch people doing something right. The wise superintendent makes it a habit to look for people who are following the safety rules and to recognize them for doing so.
This is especially effective for bringing attention to the correct safety practices in situations where people are unfamiliar with those practices. For example, many people on construction sites don't work often with scaffolding, but there are very specific safety requirements people need to follow when using scaffolding. When a superintendent recognizes a properly set up scaffold, they should make it a teaching moment as they recognize the crew and remark on the safety aspects the crew successfully followed.
There’s one other area where you can help your superintendent be the safest super in the world and that’s with ongoing safety support. There are the required safety trainings items, but you can also hold special events to support a safety mindset:
Your super can hold the title of the safest super in the world, but it’s much better to have the safest jobsites in the world. And for that to work, you need everyone involved.
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