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OSHA: Oops, It Happened... Again


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They come out of nowhere and conspire to make your days go to…  well, you know. Accidents are dangerous surprises to any construction project. In fact, one in five worker deaths in 2014 were in construction, making it the leader in worker fatalities in the private industry.  

But despite this dizzying statistic, some people have figured out how to prevent many of their workplace woes. 

The solution? Investment. 

Invest time into the training of management and employees, invest money into safety programs, and invest your energy into keeping your worksite as safe as possible. 

Will Owners Pay What it Takes?

The day is approaching when intelligence built into every aspect of construction will make construction sites safer than they’ve ever been. Tools with sensors will know when hands move into danger. Equipment won't start unless the appropriate safety gear is in place. Roof top edges will provide multiple warnings as people stray too close. 

But even after those days arrive, safety will largely be in the hands of people. It takes committed management, committed employees, training, and a safety plan that people follow to make accident-free job sites. It also takes owners who are willing to pay a percentage of project budgets toward safety. What are the results? 

Researchers studied real construction projects valued between $70 million and $480 million, and calculated the return on the money invested in safety. A $100 million project with 3% of project value invested in safety got a 46% ROI, while a $480 million project with 2.25% invested in safety saw a 424% ROI. The other four cases studied all had between 85% and 363% ROI.

Money Aside

Of course, all those numbers ignore the greatest benefits of all; less pain and suffering, fewer deaths on the job, fewer disabilities from the job, improved company reputation, and a point of competitive advantage for the employer. Most owners want to avoid the issues that accompany accidents and deaths on their projects, and they will weigh that factor accordingly when selecting participants.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as other safety experts, recommend having a company wide safety and health program. While setting up a safety program requires effort and commitment, small businesses routinely deal with issues of much greater complexity. 

Just Make It A Project

The heart of construction is managing projects. So that's the best way to approach setting up a safety and health program. Set a beginning, fill in the activities necessary for completion, and put the rough schedule out to the stakeholders for their input on how long they need for completion. Bring it all together by assigning their estimates to the project timeline to come up with a completion date. Assign a budget based on resources required to create the program.

Don’t think you can handle it? Here are the main activities for your project timeline, along with things to consider, and questions looking for answers:

Management Commitment and Employee Involvement

  • Include ideas from all managers, superintendents, and foreman on the methods they will use to show their commitment to safety.
  • Ask employees how they would like to be involved with the program in ways not directly related to working safely. For example would they participate in making safety inspections, or conducting safety training, or investigating accidents.
  • Decide how to use assignments to involve everyone in the safety and health program.
  • As the information comes in, start the budget process by assigning costs to those aspects that require money so that people with the authority for the safety program have the resources necessary.
  • Establish a periodic review process for your program, including who is involved, and when it should happen.

Worksite Analysis

  • Bring in paid consultants or OSHA representatives from your state on-site consultation program to get new eyes on the risks of your job sites.
  • Define sources you can go to for professional safety advice when you need to change procedures, tools, or equipment on tasks.
  • Get feedback from employees on risks they face, and on ways to reduce their risk of injury during specific tasks.
  • Look at each job for the risks posed.
  • Make a checklist for an ongoing process to evaluate hazards.
  • Outline policies that will make employees feel comfortable in bringing safety and health hazards to management’s attention.
  • Establish an investigation process, necessary forms, and checklists so accident investigations are consistent.
  • Go back and look at the injury historical record, and identify trends so you can devise strategies that will extend the positive trends, while cutting off the negative trends.

Hazard Prevention and Control

  • Set up safe work procedures for all hazards that you've identified, involving employees in the process.
  • With employee input, establish a disciplinary system for when people fail to follow safe work procedures.
  • Set up equipment and tool maintenance procedures, schedule, and responsible parties.
  • Set up an emergency plan to follow in the event of fire and natural disasters. Also set up procedures for regular practice so people can perform better under stressful situations.
  • Get advice from doctors and local emergency responders on the best ways to minimize injuries and illnesses in the emergencies.
  • Set up a process to track both corrected and ongoing hazards.
  • Establish a replenishment program for personal protective equipment and first aid materials.

Training

  • Set up safety and health program training so that all employees understand the program, the commitment from management, the employee commitment, and the people who are responsible for managing the program.
  • Establish training for people who will do safety inspections, safety training, and accident investigation, and those who will run the emergency practice exercises.
  • Set up training for program administrators and those who have regular safety and health program assignments.
  • Train people in identifying risks.
  • Train people in what actions to take to protect themselves for each task they do.
  • Train people to know when, and what personal protective equipment to use.
  • Set up scenarios and a schedule for employees to participate in mock emergencies. 
  • Set up a master training schedule so refreshers, required OSHA training, and new hire training happens as it should.

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