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By Jeff Wing
September 24, 2018
Your construction company has a safety program. Of course it does! Every man and woman on your jobsite knows to wear a hardhat and safety vest, knows when it’s a good idea to tie off, and knows how best to avoid striking one’s thumb with a hammer. That should do it.
Not quite. With 1970’S Occupational Safety and Health Act, workplace safety became a legally actionable concern of the Federal government, and not just a measure of the site supervisor’s well-meant personal oversight. A true construction safety program today must meet an array of very specific benchmarks and conditions set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Within the framework of OSHA’s specifically defined safety criteria, each construction company can either focus on a superb safety environment for its workers, or simply check the minimal OSHA compliance boxes and hope for the best.
In either case, workplace safety comes down to the diligence and training of the individual worker, combined with a structured, disciplined, and energetically maintained safety environment. At last count, one in five worker deaths in the U.S. occurred in the construction sector, so the stakes are very high.
OSHA is happy to provide guidance on the particulars of meeting legal safety requirements, but understanding the spirit of worker protection on the jobsite is what really drives the safety initiative. Here are the safety elements that, apart from simply satisfying OSHA’s definitions, set the bar for humane common sense on the jobsite. After all, everyone wants to go home at the end of the work day.
New workers should be thoroughly trained, on both OSHA standards and jobsite safety common sense. No worker should be allowed to operate any of the machinery until they have been thoroughly trained in its use, or can provide documentation that shows the worker having attended a training program specific to that piece of equipment. And safety training should be ongoing, with the object to keep safety “top of mind” for the worker. When safety training is worked into the schedule in such a way that it is not exhausting to the recipient but is presented in as engaging a format as possible, it will become second nature to the worker.
Workers should also receive basic first aid training, whether or not a designated colleague with specialized training is on site. When a colleague is injured or has an accident, time may be of the essence, and the basics of resuscitation may mean the difference between life and death. Have members of the project team take ownership of their responsibility to each other, and build into the first aid training an esprit de corps that makes it personal.
Reach for Zero
There are few goal environments where Zero is something to aspire to, but institutional safety “success” is a measure of how close to zero an institution can get in terms of incidents and accidents. Being in compliance with OSHA is one thing, but beyond OSHA’s “letter of the law”, there are surely many jobsite scenarios that may feature potentially unsafe conditions given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances. Don’t settle for a hurried and uninvolved OSHA Compliance Reflex that sees safety as a minimal effort based on legal or penalty exposure. Make the mission to exceed OSHA safety standards an initiative the workers are genuinely engaged in owning. The goal truly is Zero incidents and accidents. Make that an unspoken action item in the worksite culture every hour of the day.
Leaders? Please Lead.
See to it that the company’s leadership is committed to safety, and shows it. Regular inspections of tools and machinery, and of the whole site itself, will show workers that the company leadership is invested in safety. Where possible make this investment financial. The construction outfit that provides personal protective equipment (PPE) to its workers is demonstrating an authentic and literal buy-in of the safety ideal. Have the company’s safety policy posted prominently where it can be read. When there are site inspections, have a member of the company leadership accompany the inspector and be seen to genuinely engage with the particulars of work site safety. Have the leadership issue semi-regular communications emphasizing, in a very human and conversational way, the importance of everyone staying safe and watching out for everyone else to the extent possible. These communications should be as truly concerned as they sound. The desire to remain healthy is the great leveler. Leverage that fact in language and tone the workers can recognize as humane and driven by interpersonal concern. Make it real. Knowing the leadership is engaged in safety will change the mood of the site, and make safety more than an abstract concern.
Make Inspections a Familiar Part of the Culture
Site inspections, and planned observations of workers to ensure they are engaged in safe work practices, should take place regularly. Though there is, of course, value in surprise inspections that hope to capture a snapshot of the jobsite environment in its natural element, safety inspections should never be conducted in this sort of “gotcha” environment, or one that seems to (or may inadvertently) compare and contrast workers’ “safety excellence.” Safety is not a lightweight tactic for gaining the boss’s favor, and neither should it take on the negative connotation of a contest.
Safety inspections conducted with regularity will make safety awareness a natural element of the work environment in a way that compels workers to adapt naturally to safety as an element of the workday. Having said that, when a worker is found to have been in violation of basic safety standards, the result should be compulsory training in the affected area. This compulsory training shouldn’t be presented as a slap-down or punishment, but as a friendly tool with which to return that worker to safety awareness. When safety practices become the target of punitive measures, safety itself will be seen as another burden the worker has to carry, and a viral object of displeasure on the jobsite.
Encourage Participation in the Rule-Making Process
When OSHA is considering a rule change, or an altogether new rule, they open the process up to public comment, as they should. When possible, make this process known to the workers. Put notices up around the site that announce the time and place of this public forum, if one is happening in the region. Or if the public is invited to communicate their thoughts on the proposed rule change in a write-in campaign, get the workers on board and encourage them to add their ideas and voices to the mix. Once the worker has been “in the room” where consensus forms decisions and work-affecting policy is crafted, it makes them informed and engaged players in the larger safety culture that affects everyone. That sense of authorship and participation is genuine, and will inhabit the worker’s daily routine, and conversations with colleagues.
Safety on the construction site is a much-discussed subject; so much so that “safety” can become a meaningless buzzword in the air that has no connection to one’s personal well-being. In 2016 (the last year for which complete counts have been tabulated), 991 men and women died in accidents on the construction site. These were, of course, people with friends and families. And it’s a fair bet that—when they thought of it at all—these workers thought something along these lines; “Those awful things happen to other people.” Construction safety can mean life itself. Let’s make sure we understand what’s at stake.
To learn more about best practices for for mitigating risk, reducing rework, tracking performance, and gaining key insights for future projects using standardized quality and safety processes. Be sure to sign up here for the free webinar "Building a Safer Future: Digital Inspections."
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