Data Breaches, Cyber Security and the Construction Industry

Is cyber security a major concern for your construction business? Maybe you don’t think your company is a potential target for a cyberattack. You’d be right too if your company doesn’t use computers to store any information about your business and if you never connect to the internet.

As the construction industry becomes more connected through internet-connected solutions and remotely accessible systems such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), telematics and project management software it creates more opportunities for hackers to launch a cyberattack.

Construction firms have access to a wealth of information that might be desirable to hackers. Intellectual property, proprietary assets, architectural drawings and specifications as well as corporate banking and financial accounts are all prime targets. Access to employee information such as full names, Social Security numbers and bank account data used for payroll are frequently targeted in spear phishing scams. Hackers often go after general contractors and subcontractors as a means to gain access to clients’ networks.

Here are a few examples of how companies in the AEC industry have become victims of cybercrime:

Turner Construction was the victim of a spear phishing scam in March when an employee sent tax information on current and former employees to a fraudulent email account. Spear phishing is an email scam targeted at a specific individual, business or organization. Hackers spoof the “From:” field in an email to make it appear to come from a trustworthy source, say from your CEO or CFO. Typical spear phishing scams include messages requesting personal information on employees such as names and Social Security number, corporate banking account information, or login credentials.

In the case of Turner Construction, the information provided to the fraudulent email account included full names, Social Security numbers, states of employment and residence as well as tax withholding data for 2015. All employees who worked for the company in 2015 were affected by the data breach. Turner, which is headquartered in New York, is one of the largest construction management firms in the U.S. with offices in 24 states.

Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner Contracting, another of the nation’s top construction management and general contracting companies, may have also been the victim of a data breach. In March, the company was notified by an outside vendor that prepared W-2 and 1095 tax forms for the company’s employees about suspicious activity on that vendor’s systems. Around the same time, employees of Whiting-Turner were reporting fraudulent tax filings being made in their names. In addition to employee information, it is also possible that personal information on children and beneficiaries of employees who received healthcare insurance coverage through Whiting-Turner was compromised. Whiting-Turner has 31 offices in 18 states and Washington, D.C.

The construction industry is clearly not immune to cyberattacks. Central Concrete Supply Company out of California, Century Fence out of Wisconsin, Trinity Solar and Foss Manufacturing which makes nonwoven textile products for a number of industries, including construction, were also recent victims of spear phishing scams this year involving employee W-2 tax information.

Close to 100 companies have reported data breaches where employee information was compromised. There are probably many more attacks that either have not been reported yet or have so far gone unnoticed. Targeted companies span a wide range of industries including healthcare, hospitality, financial and retail. Municipalities, school districts and universities have also reported being victims of phishing scams and data breaches this year. Some of the companies you might be familiar that have suffered data breaches this year include Advance Auto Parts, Medieval Times, Sprouts Farmers Market and Mansueto Ventures, publishers of Inc. and Fast Company.

Remember the Target data breach from a couple of years ago? The attackers got access to login credentials for Target’s computer network from one of their vendors, Fazio Mechanical. An employee fell victim to a phishing scam that allowed malware to be installed on the company’s computers. Fazio had access for electronic billing, project management and contract submission and not because they were remotely monitoring and controlling any of the HVAC and refrigeration systems at any of their stores.

A spear phishing attack also led to physical damage at a steel mill in Germany. Malware was downloaded onto a company computer that had access to the plant’s business network. From there, the hackers were able to gain access the production network where they compromised the control systems resulting in a blast furnace not being able to be properly shut down.

Here are a few tips to prevent data breaches and avoid being the victim of a cyberattack:

  • Install security software on you company’s servers and computers that can provide real-time protection and automatically receives the most up-to-date malware definitions.
  • Make sure your firewalls are enabled and updated regularly with security patches.
  • Train employees on security policies and practices. Employees should be required to change their passwords every three months.
  • If employees are using mobile devices to access your company’s network they should be equipped with hardware and software data encryption and passwords or PIN locks should be used.
  • Secure your company’s Wi-Fi network, both at the office and at the jobsite, by encrypting your wireless signal, securing your router with a password and filter MAC addresses of devices so only employees and authorized personnel can access your network.
  • Regularly backup data offsite or with a trusted cloud storage provider.

Most security experts agree that it’s a matter of when, not if, your company is targeted by hackers. Even the most sophisticated networks can be breached so it is also important to have a response plan in place in the event of a cyber incident. Your company should also invest in cyber insurance since traditional insurance coverage such as commercial general liability (CGL) policy might not cover cyber and technology liability.

Five of the World’s Greenest Buildings

In honor of Earth Day today, we’re taking a look at some of the greenest and most sustainable buildings throughout the world. Since measuring the greenest or the most sustainable or even the most eco-friendly building is nearly impossible to do, we chose a few of our favorites that highlight and showcase the many ways architects and construction companies are using design, materials and technology to create more sustainable buildings.

The Edge – Amsterdam, Netherlands

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The Edge, Deloitte’s Amsterdam headquarters, earned a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) of 98.36 percent, which at the time was the highest BREEAM score ever attained. The Edge was beaten out by the Geelen Counterflow headquarters in Haelen, Netherlands which achieved a BREEAM score of 99.94 percent.

The 430,000+ sq ft building, designed by PLP Architecture, uses 70 percent less electricity than a comparable office building. This was achieved by orienteering the building along the path of the sun and using 65,000 sq ft of solar panels on the roof and facades as well as on the roofs of buildings at the nearby University of Amsterdam. The building is net positive, meaning it make more electricity than it consumes, and any extra electricity is given to the university.

Green elements of the building include Ethernet-powered LED lighting, using collected rainwater to for irrigation and to flush toilets and an aquifer thermal energy system to heat and cool the building.  The Ethernet-powered lights are equipped with sensors that monitor movement, occupancy and temperature for better energy management.

Bullitt Center – Seattle, Washington

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The Bullitt Center was the first office building to earn Living Building certification from the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge is easily the most stringent green and sustainable building certification program in existence. There are 27 imperatives that must be met to receive certification, including a requirement that the building be built on a previously developed site which includes greyfields and brownfields. The project also has to achieve net zero water and net zero energy before it can be certified.

The design of the building was inspired by a forest of Douglas fir trees. The 575-panel solar array atop the building is arranged in such a way as to mimic a forest canopy by allowing light to pass through in some areas to the ground below. The solar panels generate about 60 percent more electricity than the building uses each year. Rainwater collected on the roof is stored in a 56,000-gallon cistern located under the building. The collected rainwater is treated to potable drinking standards and supplies the building with all of its water needs. The building features a composting toilet system and all wastewater from sinks, showers and drains gets filtered through the rain garden. The building is constructed mostly of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood which was sourced from local, sustainably harvested forests.

Shanghai Tower – Shanghai, China

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Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building behind Burj Khalifa, has received both LEED Core and Shell Platinum certification and a 3 Star rating from China’s Green Building Evaluation Standard. The building used locally sourced and recycled materials in its construction. The 120° curvature of the building, which was designed to reduce wind loads, is visually stunning and allowed for lighter materials to be used for the structural elements of the building.

The tower features a double-skin facade that provides additional insulation to the building and houses the sky gardens located in each of the nine vertical zones of the building. Other energy saving measures featured in the building are vertical axis wind turbines, geothermal energy, rainwater harvesting and a blackwater treatment facility. These sustainable measures are expected to save about 178 million gallons of water a year and reduce energy consumption by 22%. Pretty impressive for a 2,073-foot tall structure consisting of 4.5 million sq ft.

DPR Construction’s Phoenix Regional Office – Phoenix, Arizona

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DPR’s regional office in Phoenix is a 16,533 sq ft renovation of a building built in 1972 that previously housed the Castle Boutique Megastore. The project received Net Zero Energy Building certification through the ILFI’s Living Building Challenge as well as LEED-NC Platinum certification. This is in a city where the daily average high temperatures during the summer months are in excess of 100 degrees.

The DPR office utilizes a number innovative sustainability features to help cool the building in the Phoenix heat. There are 87 windows operated by an energy monitoring system to open and close them based on the relative indoor and outdoor temperatures. An 87-foot zinc clad solar chimney creates a convection current that draws cool air into the building and releases hot air out. These two features work with shower towers to regulate building temperatures by acting as an evaporative cooler. The building also features 12 of Big Ass Fans’ eight-foot Isis fans for air distribution and 82 Solatubes that meets practically all of the building’s daytime lighting needs.

The building also features a “vampire” shut-off switch that can be activated by the last person leaving the building and kills power to all power plugs so any electrical device plugged in won’t be wasting electricity. Electricity for the DPR Phoenix building is generated onsite using a 78.96 kW direct current photovoltaic array along with a solar thermal hot water system to generate all the power needed to run the building. DPR’s San Francisco office is also Net Zero Energy Building certified.

Powerhouse Kjørbo – Oslo, Norway

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Powerhouse is a collaboration of companies including Skanska, the architectural firm Snøhetta, the environmental group ZERO and others that are dedicated to developing energy positive buildings. The Powerhouse Kjørbo involved the renovation of two 28,000 sq ft buildings built in 1980. To be energy positive, the building needs to generate not only the energy required to operate the building but to also cover the energy used to produce the building materials, construction and eventual demolition throughout its 60-year life expectancy. That’s a high bar to set when you consider how much energy is consumed during the production of building materials and construction of buildings.

The building is using geothermal energy and solar panels which were expected to produce twice the energy used by the building each year. The next two projects planned by the Powerhouse consortium, Powerhouse Brattørkaia and Powerhouse Telemark, will be new construction. The idea of energy positive buildings is unique and is probably the next evolution in creating  greener and more sustainable buildings.

Work Zone Safety: A Shared Responsibility

This week. April 11 – 15, 2016, is the 17th Annual National Work Zone Awareness Week which was started to increase public awareness about work zone safety and is held each April at the start of the highway construction season. This year’s theme is “Don’t Be That Driver!” with a kickoff event being held on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, near the I-75 widening project outside Toledo, OH.

This national event began as an internal awareness program initiated by the Bristol District of the Virginia DOT held April 7 – 11, 1997. The following year, the VDOT launched a statewide public awareness campaign to spread the word to promote safe driving habits and how to avoid hazards when traveling through work zones. In 1999, the American Traffic Safety Service Association (ATSSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) got together and signed an agreement to create the National Work Zone Awareness Week with the inaugural event taking place in 2000.

Work zone safety is a shared responsibility between motorists and workers. In honor of National Work Zone Awareness Week, here some tips for both motorists and workers to follow to make sure everyone gets home safely.

Work Zone Safety Tips for Motorists

Don’t Speed. Speeding through a work zone could result in a hefty fine, jail time or the loss of life for you, another motorist or a construction worker. Speed limits in work zones are reduced for a reason and there’s nowhere you have to be that’s worth endangering the lives of others by speeding through a work zone.

Avoid Distractions. You need to stay alert and pay close attention to everything going on when driving through a work zone. This is not the time to be changing radio stations, talking on your phone, texting, eating nachos, practicing on your ukulele or finishing your taxes which are due next week. Heed the advice of The Doors and “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel”.

Obey All Signs & Flaggers. When you enter a work zone you’ll encounter a number of those orange traffic signs or flaggers letting you know you need to reduce your speed, traffic patterns have shifted or that lanes are closed and you need to merge one way or the other.  Read them and heed them as soon as possible; it will help traffic flow more smoothly.

Find an Alternate Route. In most cases there is more than one way to get from Point A to Point B for your daily commute. I can think of few alternate routes off the top of my head that would get me to and from work that would avoid any of the active work zones in my area. If you aren’t sure of a way around the construction try using your GPS device or Google Maps to find an alternate route.

Remain Calm. Don’t drive angry. Dealing with work zone congestion can be frustrating. Stop-and-go traffic and long delays in your commute can get anyone’s blood boiling, but getting angry won’t get you to your destination any faster. Try leaving earlier to avoid the morning or afternoon rush.

Work Zone Safety Tips for Workers

Create Separate Work Areas. Road construction work zones are busy areas usually with several work activities taking place at the same time. To avoid accidents use cones, barrels and barriers to clearly delineate specific areas of the work zone such as material storage, areas where heavy equipment is being used, vehicle parking and safe areas for workers on foot to move about in.

Wear Proper Safety Equipment. Proper safety equipment should be worn by all personnel inside the work zone. Personal protective equipment (PPE) including hard hats, steel-toed boots, highly visible clothing and, depending on the noise levels, hearing protection. All PPE should meet or exceed the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) developed standards. All highly visible clothing whether it’s a vest, jacket or shirt should be bright fluorescent orange or lime/yellow and also have visible reflective material especially if working at night and should meet ANSI Class 2 or 3 standards.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings. Regardless of what your job duties entail in the work zone you should always be mindful of what’s going on around you. Avoid walking behind any vehicles that may be backing up or into the swing radius of heavy equipment. Whenever possible, face traffic while inside the work zone or have a spotter available when you have to have your back turned. Spotters should also be used to monitor the movement of vehicles and heavy equipment inside the work zone in addition to monitoring traffic in order to alert workers to any potential dangers.

Avoid Blind Spots. There are always vehicles and heavy equipment moving about inside the work zone including dump trucks, compactors, pavement planers, excavators, pavers and rollers. Operators should ensure that all mirrors and visual aid devices are attached and operating properly including backup alarms and lights. If you are on foot and working near these machines while in operation remember that the driver has a limited line of sight. Always stay in visual contact with the driver. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can’t see them then they probably don’t see you.

Have a Competent Person on Hand. A competent person should be onsite whenever work is being performed. According to OSHA, a competent person is someone who is “capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” A competent person is needed to conduct hazard assessments and regular inspections of the worksite. A competent person is also needed to select the appropriate class of PPE to be used by workers and to approve the appropriate types of traffic control devices. Workers should report any unsafe hazards or equipment to the competent person assigned to the work zone so they can be corrected immediately.

Start Each Workday with a Safety Meeting. In addition to ensuring that all personnel at the jobsite have the proper training required it is also a good idea to have a quick safety meeting before work begins. Since conditions can change greatly from day to day in the work zone workers should be briefed on the work activity scheduled each day and notified of all potential hazards. This is also a good time to ensure that all workers have and are wearing the proper PPE required for the work being done that day.

Have a Site Specific Safety Program. Every road construction project is different and each work zone has its own unique hazards and challenges so creating a safety program geared specifically for the site can go a long way in preventing accidents. The site specific safety program include identifying all hazards and plans to control and mitigate them, schedules to routinely inspect all equipment and material, a plan for first aid and emergency medical care in the event of an accident and safety training schedules for all employees.

Stay Hydrated. Workers performing road construction are susceptible to overexertion and heat-related illnesses. Asphalt absorbs 95% of the sun’s rays and asphalt temperatures can easily be 30° F or higher than the surrounding air temperature. Workers should drink plenty of water or liquids high in electrolytes like sports drinks or coconut water. Workers should also get out of the heat and sun as much as possible especially on extremely hot days to avoid heatstroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion.

10 Tips for Submitting Better Bids

Putting together a winning bid proposal, or even a competitive one, takes knowledge and skill. It’s a bit more complicated than just putting some numbers together and hoping for the best. Good bid preparation requires a lot of time and effort and involves everything from reading and fully understanding the plans and specifications to accurately estimating costs for labor, materials and equipment. Making even the smallest mistake can mean the difference between submitting a winning bid and missing out on a coveted and profitable project. We’ve put together our top 10 tips for submitting better bids.

Select the Right Projects to Bid

You don’t have to bid on every job you come across. Winning jobs your company can’t adequately perform can be just as costly as not winning them. Remember, it is never too late to abandon a bid you are working on. For example, let’s say you have purchased plans, attended the prebid meeting, done your takeoffs and started taking subcontractor pricing. Once you start crunching the numbers you realize that your company won’t make a reasonable profit if you were to win the contract. The best thing to do is dump it and move on to the next project.

If at any time during your bid preparation you realize that your company cannot adequately handle the scope and requirements of the project, you need to make the smart business decision to walk away from the bid. Finding the right balance between bidding and winning enough jobs can be difficult. On the one hand, you don’t want to bid and win so much work that you can’t properly manage and complete the projects you’ve been awarded. You also don’t want too little work that you aren’t making any money and your workers aren’t staying busy. Selecting the right work to bid is vital to maintaining a profitable business.

Visit the Site and Attend Prebid Meetings

Having a good understanding of the existing site conditions can eliminate problems down the line should you be awarded a project. Unique site conditions like limited accessibility or a location that would require additional costs on items like transportation, equipment, material storage and labor could exist. Failing to visit the site would leave you unaware that these conditions exist and that additional costs need to be factored into your bid which would cut into your profitability.

Many times a prebid meeting will be held at the construction site or a site visit will be held directly following a prebid meeting. Prebid meetings are held to in order for the project team to answer questions regarding plans and specifications, site conditions and specific project details. Failing to attend a prebid meeting means you miss out on the best opportunity to get clarification on the requirements of the project. It could be the only chance you get to walk around the site and get a better understanding of exactly what you will be dealing with. If the prebid meeting is mandatory, failing to attend would result in not being able to even bid on the project.  When preparing a bid proposal you want to have as much information as possible in order to submit a competitive bid and refusing to attend a prebid meeting or a site visit will put you at a severe disadvantage.

Seek Clarification

When preparing a bid you need to do your due diligence to ensure that you have all the pertinent information, that the information is accurate and that you have a complete understanding of this information. This means fully reviewing the plans and specifications to determine everything required to bid the project and complete the work. This includes knowing everything from what bonds are required to whether or not there are participation goals for minority business enterprises (MBEs) or if material substitutions are allowed in the bid. If you are unsure of any aspect of the project when preparing your bid, you need to seek clarification the architect, owner or owner’s representative.

Be aware that there are typically cut-off dates in place for questions to be submitted. This allows for any changes to the plans or specifications to be made and for any addenda to be issued to the bidders. If you are unclear on any aspect of the project the onus is on you to get clarification. Making assumptions is no way to submit a winning bid. If you aren’t able to get your questions answered to your satisfaction, you might want to reconsider bidding the project.

Perform Accurate Takeoffs and Measurements

Take the time to fully review the plans and specifications to determine accurate measurements and takeoffs. This will result in correct construction costs when calculating your bid. Takeoff software can ensure that correct measurements are obtained in order to submit an accurate bid. Inaccurate measurements will cause you to miscalculate the amount of building materials and labor needed to complete the job which in turn will lead to either over- or underestimating your construction costs. Using the right units of measure is also important when calculating your bid. Using square feet when you should have used square yards or vice versa can drastically affect your estimated costs.

Make sure that you are taking measurements from the right place. Often the plans will instruct you not to scale the drawings or direct you to use the written or calculated dimensions provided in the specifications. This often occurs when electronic documents are used because enlarging or shrinking the size of a drawing to in order to print them can result in the scale being incorrect.  If there is ever any doubt as to where to take your measurements from you should contact the architect for clarification.

Avoid Arithmetic Errors

Errors with your math can have a devastating impact on your bid. Arithmetic errors can result in your bid being under or over the actual cost of completing the job. Manual calculations can easily result in arithmetic errors. Always use a calculator or some type of construction bid software to ensure that your calculations are accurate. If you are using bid software or a calculator errors can typically be attributed to not inputting your numbers correctly. If you are using a spreadsheet like Excel to calculate costs check that your formulas are correct. Always double-check your math to make sure that all you numbers and calculations are correct. This is another one of those instances where having another set of eyes to look over your figures and calculation can help prevent costly mistakes.

Evaluate Subcontractors & Subcontractor Pricing

Getting subcontractor pricing can be complicated. You want competitive prices from your subcontractors but you also want some assurance that they can perform the work required. This is true whether it is a subcontractor you are using for the first time or one that you have worked with for years. One solution is to set up a prequalification process for subcontractors who wish to work with you. This allows you to have a better understanding of the type of work they are capable of performing by evaluating their quality and performance on past projects.

At a minimum, you should get bids from at least three different companies for each trade you will need to subcontract out work for to ensure you are getting competitive prices. Carefully review and evaluate every subcontractor bid to make sure that the prices quoted are complete and accurate. When requesting bids from subcontractors, clearly define the scope of work that the subcontractor is expected to perform. Failing to do this can result in unnecessary costs being added to your bid from an overlap of work being bid by both you and your subcontractor.

Identify and Manage Risks

Every construction project comes with its own unique set of risks. Identifying and managing risks is probably the most overlooked aspect of preparing a bid. Once you’ve identified the potential risks, you need to analyze and evaluate each one individually so that they can be properly managed and mitigated. Take into account the probability of each identified risk and the impact it can have on the project. A low probability risk with a low impact might be easy to mitigate, but a high probability risk with a high impact that you can’t effectively manage could be detrimental to the profitability of the project. Identifying and evaluating possible risks associated with a project when preparing a bid will make you better prepared to handle a situation when something goes wrong.

Labor Costs

Accurately estimating labor costs can be one of the most difficult aspects to preparing your bid. To determine your labor costs you have to factor in hourly wage rates with the number of man-hours a specific task will take to complete. You also have to take into account the productivity and experience of your workers. Employee turnover, absences and injuries can all affect your actual labor costs. More experienced workers may be able to complete tasks quickly which would reduce the number of man-hours needed, but you will have to pay a higher rate for their services. Workers with less experience will require more man-hours to complete a job but you can pay those workers a lower wage.

Wage rates can vary greatly from state to state and even from county to county. It is important to understand what, if any, wage rates apply to the project you are bidding in order to incorporate those rates into calculating your labor costs. Wage rate determination is required on all federal government construction projects as mandated by the Davis-Bacon Act. Wage rates are determined by the location of the project and the type of construction being performed. Many states also have prevailing wage laws for public construction projects. Always check the current prevailing wage rates where the construction is taking place so you can accurately determine your labor costs. When determining your labor costs remember to factor any projected overtime needs as the wage rates for overtime hours worked can be as much as double the prevailing wage rate.

Materials and Equipment Costs

Costs for building materials and supplies can change rapidly and can vary greatly in different parts of the country. If specialty materials are required that you aren’t familiar with you shouldn’t assume that the cost is comparable to similar items. Your best bet is to call around to local suppliers to get up-to-date costs for materials and delivery. You also need to make sure that the building materials and supplies required in the specifications are clearly defined so your pricing is correct. If you are uncertain of the materials being requested in the specifications you should always get clarification from the architect, owner or owner’s representative.

When putting a bid together you need to make sure that you have all the necessary equipment needed to perform the work. This may mean you have to rent or purchase additional equipment. Even if your company owns all the equipment needed you need to make sure that it isn’t already allocated for use at another jobsite and that no major maintenance or repairs are scheduled that would take the equipment offline for an extended amount of time.

Make sure that the equipment is in good working order and operating at peak performance which might otherwise cause delays in your construction schedule. Equipment that isn’t optimally performing can increase the time it takes to complete certain tasks. Unexpectedly having to rent additional equipment or face delays can negatively affect the bottom line on a project. Remember to factor in fuel costs to operate the machinery and to transport the equipment to the jobsite.

Incomplete Bid Forms and Documents

Failing to fully complete the bid form and submit all required documents is a surefire way to get what might otherwise be a winning bid rejected. Required documents and paperwork can be anything from bid bonds to acknowledging receipt of any addenda. A good way to ensure that you have all the required paperwork for your bid is to use a checklist as you prepare your bid and then go back and double-check to make sure that everything is included. It never hurts to get another set of eyes to look over the bid proposal to make sure nothing has been forgotten before you submit your bid.

There are a few other requirements that go along with preparing your bid that can get your bid rejected if you don’t comply with them or simply overlook them. The first is to get prequalified to bid a project when it is required. The second is to attend all mandatory prebid meeting and site visits. The third and most important of these is submitting your bid by the due date and time. All of these requirements will be clearly stated in the bid.

Preparing a construction bid proposal is no easy task. A competitive and winning bid proposal requires a lot of time and attention to detail. Making mistakes can lead to submitting a lot of overpriced, uncompetitive bids or worse a lot of underpriced bids that you win but make no profit on.  The key to winning more bids is being able to accurately estimate all costs required to complete the job while factoring in a reasonable profit for you company.

OSHA Publishes Final Rule on Respirable Silica Dust

Last Friday, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) published its final rule for occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica in the Federal Register. This is the final step in a decades-long process to establish specific standards for occupational exposure to silica dust and reduce permissible exposure limits (PELs) for workers. The final rule created two separate standards, one for general industry and maritime and the other for construction.

What is Silica?

Silica, also known as silicon dioxide, is a chemical compound that occurs in nature as a basic component of sand and quartz. Silica is found in a number of building products and construction materials including shingles, asphalt, bricks, drywall, tiles, cement and concrete. Respirable crystalline silica dust is created during work operations involving stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar and industrial sand. Current PELs were established back in 1971 for general industry, construction and shipyards. OSHA claims those levels are outdated, inconsistent between industries and do not adequately protect workers from the health hazards of exposure to respirable silica dust.

Health Hazards

OSHA estimates that about 2 million construction workers are exposed to silica dust. Inhalation of crystalline silica dust can lead to bronchitis, silicosis and lung cancer. Silicosis is an occupational lung disease that can cause scarring of the upper lobes of the lung, inflammation and fluid buildup. There is no cure for silicosis as it is an irreversible condition however treatment is available to improve lung function and reduce inflammation. Sufferers of silicosis also have a higher susceptibility to contracting tuberculosis.

A Brief History

Back in 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended that a standard for occupational exposure to crystalline silica be established with a PEL of 50 μg/m3 for a 10-hour shift. OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking later that year seeking public comments and input from stakeholders on whether a new standard was warranted. In 1998, OSHA finally got around to moving occupational exposure to crystalline silica to the pre-rule stage. It wasn’t until September 2013 that a proposed rule was finally published. The agency held numerous stakeholder meeting and had to extend the comment period both before and after the 14-day public hearing. OSHA received over 2,000 comments on the proposed rulemaking.

New Construction Standard

The final rule establishes a new standard for the construction industry and reduces the current PEL of respirable crystalline silica from 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3) averaged over an 8-hour period down to 50 μg/m3. OSHA claims the new rule will save the lives of 642 employees and prevent 918 cases of moderate-to-sever silicosis a year across all industries. It’s estimated that approximately 2.0 million construction workers will be affected by the final rule.

The construction standard establishes specified exposure control methods for to protect employees when working with materials containing crystalline silica. These engineering and work practice control methods cover 18 specific equipment/tasks commonly found in construction work. OSHA has acknowledged that conducting exposure assessments can be burdensome which is why they are emphasizing the use of the control methods as opposed to the alternative exposure control methods which would require firms to determine if workers will be exposed, or reasonably expected to be exposed, to respirable silica at or above the action level of 25 μg/m3. As long as employers fully and properly implement the prescribed controls, they won’t have to demonstrate compliance with the PEL since those controls provide an equivalent level of protection.

Other requirements in the construction standard include having a written exposure control plan that will be implemented by a competent person who will conduct regular and frequent inspection of jobsites, materials and equipment. The standard covers all occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica in construction work where the action level will be met. As with all other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), employers are required to provide appropriate respirators to employees when they are required to use them. Employees who use a respirator for 30 or more days a year are entitled to employer-provided medical surveillance.  There are also requirements for hazard communication, training and recordkeeping. 

A Controversial Rule

Shortly after OSHA announced the proposed rule back in 2013, a group of 11 national construction industry trade organizations announced the formation of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition in order to oppose the proposed rule. The coalition includes the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) among its members. CISC membership quickly grew to include 25 organizations.

The CISC argued that the proposed rules were not technologically or economically feasible for companies to abide by and suggested OSHA focus on enforcing compliance with existing exposure limits.  By their estimates, OSHA also grossly underestimated the cost to implement the new rule. According to the CISC, the new rule will cost the construction industry $4.9 billion per year, which was about 10 times higher than OSHA’s estimate.

Important Dates

The final rule goes into effect on June 23, 2016, which is 90 days after being published in the Federal Register. Compliance with all provisions of the new rule will begin one year from the effective date. The only exception is for certain requirements for laboratory analysis which won’t be enforced until two years after the rule goes into effect.

In Other OSHA News

Last week, OSHA also published a final rule to make revisions to their eye and face protection standards. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards for construction refer to outdated consensus standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The new rule also modifies the language in the construction standard for eye and face protection to match up with the general industry standard.

Effective Communication = Better Construction Management

Effective communication is vital to the successful completion of any construction project. Good communication can improve teamwork and lead to better project collaboration. Poor communication can result in misunderstandings, delays and issues down the road.

Communication is simply the exchange of information in order to convey a message and good communication involves being able to transmit your message so it is received and understood by the intended recipients. Seems simple enough, right? If you’ve ever played the Telephone Game you know it’s not always that easy. The game involves communicating a message to a large group of people. The trick to the game is that the message must be passed by whispering it into the ear of the next person in line who whispers it into the next person’s ear, and so on until everyone has heard it. The messenger cannot repeat the message and the last person in line must say aloud what they heard.  The message usually gets misheard a few times so by the time it gets around the room, “I like lazy Sunday afternoons the best” gets turned into something like “I saw an alien walking my neighbor’s dog yesterday”.

The Telephone Game is a great way to demonstrate how poor and ineffective communication can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Being a good communicator is a skill that can be improved upon with practice and training. Here are some simple tips to improving your communication skills:

Establish a communication chain of command.

It’s important to determine a chain of command for communication on a construction project. These are typically spelled out in the contract documents and usually require the owner and general contractor to communicate with each other through the architect. The architect is responsible for communicating with its consultants and the general contractor is responsible for communicating information to the suppliers and subcontractors. The superintendent on a project is typically the main point of contact for the general contractor.

The contract documents, including the drawings, specifications, change order forms and requests for information establish the basis for all construction communication. It is important that any direct communication not outlined in the contract documents receives proper authorization and any changes to the scope or schedule that need to be made are documented and reported through the proper channels.

I overheard a conversation a while back between a superintendent and a subcontractor. Apparently, the subcontractor was not going to be able to start work on a project the following week as scheduled.  Some issue or another had arisen and it would probably be a month before they could start on that project, and insisted they had told “someone” at the general contractor’s office.

The superintendent was understandably upset by this news, not only would this cause a major delay in the project, but the subcontractor had not followed the established communication chain of command.  I don’t know what the final outcome of the conversation was, but it’s probably safe to assume that the superintendent had to scramble around to find another subcontractor to do the work and that the initial subcontractor probably won’t be invited to work with the contractor again.

Establishing a clear line of communication that includes identifying points of contact with contact information for key team members is vital to ensuring that information is getting to the right people in a timely manner.

Choose the right communication method for the message.

We communicate in a number of ways every day, both verbally and nonverbally and construction communication is no different. We text, we talk on the phone and in person, we send emails and some of us in this digital age inexplicably still use the old fax machine. On the construction site, we communicate through signs, drawings, hand signals and meetings. We compile daily reports, take photos, create requests for information (RFIs) and review change orders.

All methods of communication have their advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right method of communication can expedite and simplify the exchange of information. Sometimes a quick email is all that’s necessary while other instances may call for a meeting of all key personnel on the project. Items like RFIs, change orders and daily reports are usually laid out in the contract documents with their own specific forms and submittal procedures that have to be followed. For example, if you can’t communicate your email message in one or two short paragraphs, or if there ends up being a lot of back and forth, it may be time to pick up the phone or schedule a quick face-to-face meeting.

There is also a host of project collaboration software solutions available that will allow you to quickly share and disseminate information to all stakeholders on a project. All changes and project documentation can easily be stored and updated so everyone has access to the most up to date information. These software solutions and mobile applications can be a great tool for effective communication as long as all stakeholders have access to it, have been properly trained and are committed to using it.

Methods of communication for specific tasks and information sharing should be established early on in the project and agreed upon by all stakeholders. Any deviations from the prescribed methods of communication could result in messages not being received by the intended parties in a timely manner causing delays in the project.

Be an active listener.

When you engage in oral communication, whether in person or over the phone, you want to be an active listener. Don’t just sit there and absorb the information like a digital recorder, that’s passive listening at best. Try to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate from their point of view. Take notes on key points, don’t just transcribe every word they utter and make notes on details you may need clarification on. Make eye contact and provide nonverbal signals such as head nods to show that you are actively listening.

Don’t interrupt the speaker or try to talk over them. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying and avoid forming a response in your mind until they are through. You could miss a vital piece of information that answers your question if you are focusing solely on what you are going to say when it’s your turn to speak. Once the speaker has finished is the time to ask questions and get clarification on any points that remain unclear. Try and rephrase what you’ve heard and understood in order to verify the information provided.

If in a meeting, seek feedback and ask questions when you have the floor. The whole point of project meetings is to communicate and make sure everyone has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten back to the office or jobsite to send out an email requesting clarification on some aspect of the project because you didn’t feel comfortable asking it at the meeting.

Avoid confusion, be clear and concise.

When communicating in construction you want to make every effort to have your message understood the first time you send it. Avoid using jargon or terms that the people you are communicating with might not understand. Your message should be focused and to the point. Keep it short and simple as much as possible. If you are working on multiple projects with the same owner or architect, focus on only one project at a time to avoid confusion.  The real challenge is trying to be as detailed as possible while using as few words as necessary. Being brief but comprehensive in your construction communication takes practice. Proofread all written message before sending to see if you can edit it down without altering the meaning or leaving out any critical information.

Keep written communication professional at all times.

Avoid using foul language or allowing your emotions to impact your message. If emotions are running high, take 24 hours before sending that email so you can review and make any changes to your message before sending. If a more immediate response is required, read the message aloud to yourself or have someone else take a look at it to get a second opinion. Break large chunks of data up into smaller paragraphs. People tend to scan instead of reading emails so breaking the information up into smaller chunks makes it easier to process. Use numbered or bulleted list when providing lots of information or asking questions.

 

Stick to the facts.

Basically, you want to be the Sergeant Joe Friday of the construction industry. You should only be interested in providing or getting the facts. Don’t overelaborate or include extraneous information in your communications. Unless asked, keep your personal opinions or feelings about a project to yourself. It is, however, important that you share your professional opinions on a project when you feel they could be beneficial to the successful completion of a project. Your company’s expertise is part of what landed you the project, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

In addition to establishing a clear chain of command for communication and determining the best methods of communication to use, you should also discuss how often you should be updating and communicating with the owner and architect on the progress of the project. You may be required to file daily reports, but the owner may only want to be updated every other week.

Another good tip is to document and record all communication you have on a construction project. This is easy to do with written communication and should be filed away for later reference in case there are any disputes or need for clarification later. For all oral communication, make notes of what was discussed along with dates and times of these conversations. If you feel the need to document this, send out a quick email to everyone involved that briefly summarizes what was discussed.

The flow of communication affects the flow of a construction project. Problems and delays start to occur when people stop communicating or responding to inquiries. When everyone is collaborating and communicating effectively and efficiently, projects tend to run smoother and be completed on time and budget.

Top 10 Benefits Of Construction Equipment Telematics

Telematics systems combine GPS technology, on-board diagnostics and monitoring sensors to track, log and report data via cellular networks on the performance and operation of your construction equipment. Data from telematics systems are typically accessed through a web portal and can provide data on a number of machine systems. Common data points include GPS location, fuel consumption, idle times and machine alerts. Equipment manufacturers are installing telematics systems as standard equipment on an increasing number of their product offerings each year.

Equipment owners using telematics data are reaping benefits such as improved productivity and reduced operating costs. Here are the top 10 benefits of using telematics systems to monitor and control your heavy equipment:

Asset Allocation

Telematics data can show you how much each machine is being used on your active sites. By analyzing telematics data you can determine if you are allocating too much or too little equipment to a jobsite. Perhaps you have an excavator that has been sitting at a project site unused for weeks that could be redeployed to another site. On the other hand, maybe you don’t have enough equipment onsite and your operators are overworking your machines in order to keep the project on schedule.

Using telematics data to understand exactly where and how much your equipment is being used. Over time, this data will help you realize whether you have underused assets that you can divest or whether it’s time to invest in more equipment. By adjusting your fleet size to meet your needs you can reduce equipment rental costs if you don’t have enough equipment or reduce ownership costs if you have too much equipment.

Maintenance & Repair Schedules

Telematics technologies continue to evolve, providing even more data points to equipment owners. Sensors and onboard scales are being incorporated into the design of new machines capturing and reporting data from a number of systems. Everything from fuel consumption to fault codes can easily be monitored.

Integrating the telematics data into a maintenance management program you can better schedule and perform preventive maintenance and repairs. Accurately tracking engine and working hours can ensure you aren’t pulling equipment out of service too early or too late to perform preventive maintenance. Telematics systems can also be used to alert you when equipment isn’t operating at peak performance, which could be an indication that a component is failing and needs to be replaced. Identifying problems early can help extend the life of your equipment and reduce repair and labor costs.

Operator Performance

Telematics data can help you improve the efficiency of your equipment operators and identify bad habits like prolonged idling time. Speeding, erratic movements and overloading a machine are all safety hazards that can lead to rollovers and equipment tipping. By monitoring telematics data, you can identify operators who are overworking or misusing equipment. Correcting this behavior can lead to reduced labor costs, avoid accelerated wear on your equipment and result in safer worksites.

Reduce Theft

With GPS tracking and geo-fencing you can be alerted the moment your equipment leaves the jobsite. You can also use time-fencing to send alerts when equipment is being operated outside or scheduled work hours, which could indicate someone is trying to make off with your equipment. Some systems even allow you to remotely shut down the engine if unauthorized use is detected or prevent it from being started during set hours. With telematics and GPS technology you can track and locate all your equipment from one location so in the event equipment does go missing you can provide the local authorities with its location for faster recovery.

Reduce Fuel Consumption

Reducing fuel consumption is one of the biggest money savers telematics systems have been proven to solve. By monitoring idling time versus work time on equipment you can identify which machines are being left on without any work being done and specify which operators are responsible for wasting fuel. Implementing best practices to reduce idling times will result in better fuel efficiency. Reducing idle times can also extend engine life and reduce repair and maintenance costs.  

Fuel Tax Refunds

The federal government and states collect excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. These taxes are used to fund road construction and highway maintenance projects. Businesses that use fuel for off-road purposes, such as construction equipment, are eligible for refunds on the federal level and by many of the state governments. Telematics data can GPS tracking data along with fuel consumption information to easily provide records of how much fuel was used off-road. Note: Tax credits or refunds are not given if using red-dyed diesel fuel meant for off-road use since it is not taxed in the first place.

Insurance Premiums

Some insurance providers will reduce or eliminate deductibles or provide discounts if your equipment has GPS tracking with geo-fencing alert capabilities installed. Depending on the size of your fleet, this can result in huge savings on your insurance costs. Monitoring and correcting unsafe operating behavior by your employees will reduce the number of accidents on your jobsites, which could also help save on insurance costs.

Job Estimates

Using telematics data can lead to more accurate job costing and estimates. Telematics can provide you with machine hours and fuel usage to determine operating costs that can be combined with labor costs for more accurate billing. Analyzing past data on previous projects will help you better predict how much a specific task or job will cost on future projects. This will result in more accurate estimates and lead to submitting more competitive bids.

Manage Operating Expenses

It’s important to keep track of the operating costs of your equipment since many owners determine the lifecycle of a machine as being when the operating costs begin to exceed ownership costs. Fuel consumption, preventive maintenance, operator wages, repairs tire/track costs all make up operating costs. Telematics data can help you identify areas where you can reduce operating costs whether it be by reducing idling time or correcting operator behavior to extend component lifecycles and reduce the frequency of preventive maintenance.

Improve Productivity

Having a better understand of how, when and where your construction equipment is being used can lead to increased productivity on the jobsite. Operator performance can be coached when equipment isn’t being operated under normal parameters. Overworking or underutilizing equipment can be better managed by understanding telematics data. Know where each piece of equipment is at all times and how much each one is being used will allow you to better deploy your equipment to the sites where they are most needed.

Telematics will also allow you to schedule preventive maintenance when needed and avoid pulling equipment out of service too early, or worse, too late when costlier repairs might be required.

Fatal Four: Avoiding Construction’s Deadliest Hazards

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries to work in. One out of every five worker deaths last year was in construction, a percentage that has remained fairly constant over the last several years. The four leading causes of construction worker fatalities are falls, electrocutions, being struck by objects and being caught in or between objects. OSHA has dubbed these the “Fatal Four” and in 2014, they accounted for 508 of the 874 construction worker deaths.

The total number of construction fatalities has been on the rise the past couple of years, after declining for six consecutive years which ended in 2012. The fatal injury rate per 100,000 workers has declined the past three years, going from 9.9 in 2012 to 9.7 in 213 and 9.5 in 2014. Construction employment has been on the rise which would account for the rise in total deaths but a slight decline in the fatal injury rates. Employers still need to do a better job of mitigating these four types of hazards to better protect their workers.

Falls

Falls are the leading cause of all construction worker deaths. In 2014, they accounted for 348 of the 874 fatalities in construction. Looking at the most cited OSHA standards violations for the construction industry in Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014 – September 2015) and it’s no surprise that falls were the cause of nearly 40% of all construction worker deaths.

Six of the top 10 most frequently cited violations deal with protecting workers from fall hazards. The top four have consistently been the most cited standards for the past several years. They are:

  1. Standard Number: 1926.501 – Duty to have fall protection.
  2. Standard Number: 1926.451 – General requirements for scaffolds.
  3. Standard Number: 1926.1053 – Ladders.
  4. Standard Number: 1926.503 – Training requirements for fall protection.

The other two that made the top 10 were Standard Number: 1926.453 – Aerial lifts and Standard Number 1926.502 – Fall protection systems criteria and practices at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

In construction, fall protection is required for all employees working at a height of six feet or more above a lower level. It is also required when working at any height directly above dangerous machinery or equipment, including impalement hazards such as rebar. There are exceptions to this rule. When working on scaffolds the height for requiring fall protection is 10 feet.

OSHA has outlined three prescribed methods of providing fall protection to workers: guardrails, personal fall arrest systems and safety nets. Of the three, guardrails are the only method that actually prevents falls. The other two methods are designed to prevent a worker who has fallen from coming into contact with a lower level.

Guardrails are typically used on unprotected edges, scaffolds and around openings such as skylights and elevator shafts. The top edge of guardrail systems should be 42 inches (+/- 3 inches) from the walking or working surface. The top rail should be able to withstand 200 pounds of force and the middle rail should be able to withstand 150 pounds of force to prevent falls.

Personal fall arrest systems are made up of three main components: full-body harness, connecting device and anchorage. The minimum breaking strength for connectors, D-rings and snaphooks, and vertical lifelines and lanyards that make up the connecting device is 5,000 pounds for each component. Personal fall arrest systems should prevent a worker from falling any further than six feet and should prevent the worker from making contact with a lower level. Personal fall arrest systems should be inspected before each use and after any fall to ensure they are free of any damage and in proper working order.

Safety nets should not be placed further than 30 feet below a working surface and be positioned as close as possible to the work area. Safety nets must extend a minimum of eight feet out horizontally from the working surface. A minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds is required for all border ropes on a safety net. Safety nets must be able to successfully absorb a drop test with a 400-pound bag of sand.

The top three sources of fall fatalities in 2014 were roofs at 30%, ladders at 25% and scaffolding at 16%. Roofers have the highest fatality rate in construction at 46.2 per 100,000 workers. Employers are responsible for providing fall protection, ensuring safe ladder use and ensuring proper scaffold construction designed by a qualified person and overseen by a competent person. Employers are also required to provide adequate training to all employees exposed to fall hazards.

Electrocutions

Electrocutions, death by electric shock caused by exposure to lethal amounts of electrical energy, were the second leading cause of construction worker deaths in 2014. Electrocutions accounted for 74 deaths, or 8.5% of all construction worker fatalities. Common causes of electrocutions include improper extension cord use, contact with energized sources and contact with live overhead power lines. De-energizing or simply maintaining a safe distance are the easiest methods to prevent electrocutions from power lines.

The most cited violations in construction that can lead to electrocutions include 1926.405 – Electrical wiring methods, components and equipment for general use; 1926.404 – Electrical wiring and design; 1926.501 – Duty to have fall protection and 1926.413 and 1926.403 which are general requirements regarding equipment and worker protection, respectively.

Employers should establish an assured equipment grounding conductor program to cover all temporary receptacles, power cords and equipment. Detailed records of all tests and inspections. Visually inspect all power tools, equipment and extension cords for cuts, frays and exposed bare wires. Ensure that ground prongs have not been removed or become defective Conduct continuity tests on all equipment grounding conductors.

All receptacle outlets not part of the permanent wiring of the structure are required to be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs monitor the electrical current flow from hot to neutral and will trip the circuit to shut off the electricity if an imbalance is detected. To avoid accidental electrocution implement lockout/tagout procedures when equipment and circuits are not being used. A qualified person is required to ensure that all equipment and circuits are de-energized before a lock and/or tag is applied. A qualified person should be available when it is time to remove locks and tags and re-energize equipment and circuits.

Death can occur from exposure to as little as 50 – 100 milliamperes of current. The maximum current that a person can grab and release a live wire is only 16 milliamperes, any higher and they will not be able to release their grip. Paralysis of respiratory muscles occurs when exposed to 20 – 30 milliamperes of current. Most 120 Volt circuits carry 15 to 20 amperes of current. 15 amperes of current is 300 times what is necessary to cause death. Other causes of death from electrical hazards include burns, arc flash and blasts, explosions and fires.

Struck by Objects

Being struck by objects was the cause of 73 worker deaths, 8.4% of all construction fatalities in 2014. A wide range of hazards can cause injuries and fatalities, everything from falling tools to accidental nail gun discharges to being hit by vehicles or construction equipment. The four most common struck by hazards in construction: flying objects, falling objects, swinging objects and rolling objects.

Employers should alert all workers of areas where there is greater potential for struck by accidents to occur limit access to those areas. OSHA requires that employers provide employees with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All PPE should meet current American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. OSHA is in the process of issuing a final rule to update their standards on eye and face protection in construction to be more in line with current national consensus and ANSI standards. PPE should be inspected prior to each use to ensure that it’s in proper working condition and free from any defects or damage.

Struck by Rolling Object Hazards – Rolling object hazards typically involve being struck by a vehicle or heavy equipment while it’s in motion. They also include any object that rolls, moves or slides on the same level as a worker. Equipment operators generally have limited or no visibility when operating in reverse. Workers need to be made aware of areas where heavy equipment is being operated so they can avoid them. Struck by accidents involving heavy equipment often occur when operators have not received proper training on how to safely operate the machinery.

Struck by Falling Object Hazards – Falling object injuries typically occur when tools and materials get knocked off from unprotected edges by employees working at height. Employees should be prevented from working or walking in areas where work is being performed overhead. Toeboards and screens should be used to keep tools and equipment from falling to a lower level. Debris nets and catch platforms can be used deflect falling objects.

Struck by Flying Object Hazards – Examples of flying object hazards include thrown tools or materials, accidental nail gun discharges and using unguarded power tools. Workers should stay out of the line of sight when a nail gun is being used. Avoid working on the opposite side of a wall of plywood or sheetrock because misfires have enough force to easily penetrate both materials and kill someone on the other side. Inspect power tools before use to ensure protective guards have not been removed and are in good condition. Workers should always wear eye, face and head protection when using power tools or working near them.

Two of the most cited OSHA violations in construction involve the standards for head protection and eye and face protection. Issuing workers proper PPE and enforcing their use can go a long way in protecting workers from flying and falling hazards.

Struck by Swinging Object Hazards – Swinging object hazards generally occur when something causes loads being mechanically lifted to sway. Accidents can also occur when a worker enters the swing radius of a piece of heavy equipment like a crane. Employees should never be allowed to walk under a suspended load. Barriers should be erected to keep employees from accidently stepping inside the swing radius of heavy equipment.

Caught in or Between Objects

Getting caught in or between objects rounds out the list of OSHA’s Fatal Four. In 2014, they were the cause of only 12 construction worker deaths. These are similar in nature to being struck by objects, the difference being these fatalities are the result of crushing injuries rather than the initial impact. Caught in or between accidents occur when someone is caught, crushed, squeezed, compressed or pinched between two or more objects.

Getting caught in moving parts of machinery and power tools are common types of caught in accidents. Safety guards that are missing or have been intentionally removed are the most likely cause. Loose clothing can get caught in moving parts and pull workers in. Equipment should be de-energized when not in use, especially when making repairs, performing routine maintenance or changing accessories.

Heavy equipment is commonplace on constriction sites and can lull workers into a false sense of security. Never allow workers to place themselves in between a moving vehicle and an immovable object such as a wall. Caught in or between accidents can also occur when you are behind the wheel of heavy equipment. Never overload or overwork a piece of equipment since it can lead to tip overs. Always wear seatbelts or safety restraints when operating equipment. The cabs of those machines are designed and reinforced to protect the worker. Jumping out or being flung out could result in being crushed underneath tipping equipment.

Unprotected trenches and excavations are another leading cause of caught in accidents. Trenches deeper than five feet must have protective systems in place. A professional engineer is required to design protective systems for trenches or excavations over 20 feet deep. Sloping, benching and shoring trenches can be used to prevent collapses. Trench boxes and shields protect workers from being buried alive or crushed by cave-ins.

Heavy equipment should not be used near trenches with workers inside. They can cause cave-ins and even fall into excavations if they get too close to the edge. OSHA requires trenching and excavation work be inspected by a competent person. The competent person must be trained on the requirements of the OSHA standard, the use of protective systems and soil classifications. They are responsible for identifying and eliminating any hazards before workers enter the area and while work is ongoing.

Nearly every accident at the construction site is preventable when proper planning and safety procedures are established. The keys to keeping workers safe are ongoing training, providing proper safety equipment and identifying and eliminating existing and potential hazards. A strong safety program takes work and requires buy-in from all employees. For more information, be sure to check out our 8 Tips To Building A Stellar Safety Program.

 

Five High-Tech Ways To Control Construction Site Theft

Jobsite thefts of tools, equipment and materials continues to be an issue plaguing the construction industry. Unattended construction sites are easy targets for thieves, especially those lacking adequate security measures. Heavy equipment, power and hand tools and materials such as copper are the most targeted items. According to the National Equipment Register (NER), heavy equipment theft has been on the rise the past couple of years with 11,625 thefts being reported to law enforcement in 2014.

The cost of being the victim of construction theft runs deeper than just the value of the items stolen. You also have to factor in the delays in work, the cost to replace materials and supplies, renting or replacing equipment and tools along with the increased insurance premiums you’ll have to pay going forward.

Check out these five high-tech ways to help combat and control theft at your jobsite. Implementing these systems into your security plan and antitheft programs can go a long way in deterring thieves from targeting your jobsite.

Geo-fencing & GPS Tracking

The ability to receive text or email alerts the moment a piece of equipment is moved off the jobsite or if the engine started up outside of work hours is a good way to thwart theft of your construction fleet. If your equipment already has a telematics system installed you should be using the features available to control theft.

Telematics systems uses GPS technology, monitoring sensors and onboard diagnostics to track location, performance and operation of equipment and report specific data points like working hours, fuel consumption, engine temperatures and idle times. The real-time data collected is sent via satellite or cell signal and can be accessed through a website or be sent to your smartphone as a text message.

Geo-fencing allows you to create a virtual perimeter around your construction site or within a specified area on the jobsite. During working hours geo-fences can be used as a safety feature, shutting down the engine if a piece of equipment is operated outside a designated area. After hours it can act as a security feature to notify you of unauthorized movement like when a thief is trying to make off with your equipment. GPS tracking allows you to easily locate and recover your stolen equipment.

More and more manufacturers are installing telematics systems as standard equipment on new machines. Most offer access to the data on their websites free for the first few years after purchasing new equipment. You should already be using telematics to better manage your fleet, improve job costing, reduce operating costs and better maintain your equipment. It makes sense to use the system for theft prevention since it can act as a deterrent by shutting down the engine when thieves try to drive your equipment offsite and as a recovery tool to locate stolen machines.

Security Cameras

Highly visible security cameras act as a strong deterrent to would-be thieves at your construction site. Solar powered units with battery backups offer the flexibility of placing cameras wherever you need them without having to time them into an additional power source. You typically have the option to record continuous video or take time-lapse photos at scheduled intervals. Motion detection and infrared sensors, which measures changes in thermal activity, can be used to activate idle cameras and begin recording.

Security cameras can be equipped with Wi-Fi or cellular communication to transmit the video or images for cloud storage or for live monitoring through a web portal. The benefit of an internet connected camera means you can also get text alerts when a camera is activated by the motion or infrared sensors. This allows you to immediately notify the authorities when unauthorized access to your jobsite is detected. Internet enabled cameras also give you the freedom of accessing live feeds from virtually anywhere. Some models even allow to control the camera so you can pan, tilt and zoom in on different areas you are monitoring.

Camera technology continues to improve while prices continue to drop meaning you can find security camera systems that capture high resolution images for a reasonable price.

Jobsite security cameras can also serve a dual purpose. Sure, they’re great for keeping an eye on the site when everyone’s gone home for the day, but you can also use them during working hours. They are a great tool for monitoring workers for safety and productivity and also for recording progress on a project. Time-lapse videos can edited and used as to market your construction company. Solar powered cameras equipped with infrared sensors and built in Wi-Fi or cellular are great options for construction firms because they are self-contained units that can be easily deployed and mounted throughout the jobsite.

RFID Tracking

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can help you manage assets and reduce theft at construction sites. RFID systems consist of a reader that transmits a signal to an RFID tag. Tags contain a microchip that can store and process information along with an antenna that receives the signal from the read and transmits data back. RFID readers emit electromagnetic waves to power the tags, allowing them to transmit data back to the reader.

A number of RFID systems have been developed over the past few years for the construction industry. RFID technology was primarily used for supply chain management initially, but is now being used in construction to keep track of tools and equipment as well as a replacement for timecards, since attendance can be recorded when an employee walks onto a jobsite.

RFID systems can be used to combat your company’s tools from magically growing legs and walking off the jobsite. RFID solutions are an ideal of keeping track of which tools were checked out and by which employee and when they were returned. Handheld and vehicle mounted readers can help you located missing tools on the site.

These systems can be completely automated, eliminating the need for manual processes. This will create better accountability among your employees and lead to better inventory control.

Here’s how it works: Workers are issued badges with RFID tags. When a worker passes through a reader into a tool crib trailer the system registers and records his entrance. The tools are embedded with RFID tags so when the worker exits the trailer the reader logs and records which tools he checked out and when. When the employee returns the tools to the trailer at the end of his shift, the systems acknowledges the items that were checked back in. At the end of the day a report can be run to identify any items that were not returned and who was responsible for checking them out.

Keyless Ignition/Transponder Chip Keys

Equipment manufacturers tend to use the same ignition across their entire product line meaning all the keys are cut the exact same way, creating a one key fits all system. The benefit is that owners can operate all their equipment from the same manufacturer with the same key. It makes it easier to get replacements when keys are lost or missing and owners tend to accumulate lots of spares to avoid downtime by operators not being able to start up equipment. The downside to this is that it is very easy for would-be thieves to get their hands on duplicate keys to steal your equipment. A quick search on Amazon and eBay reveals a number of vendors selling sets of keys for every major manufacturer of construction equipment.

The solution to this is to replace the factory installed ignition with either a keyless ignition system or a more secure ignition lock. Keyless ignition systems require an operator to input a PIN in order to start the machine. Owners can program PINs to expire after a certain number of days or delete them when an employee leaves the company or is terminated. Keyless ignitions can be equipped with wireless relays in the ignition or fuel pump circuit to prevent the system from being circumvented and hotwired. These systems can deter theft and also prohibit unauthorized use of equipment.

Caterpillar (CAT) created a Machine Security System that works the same way that your transponder, or chip, key works on your car or truck and another example of how RFID technology is being used. Each security key has a unique ID number which is read by an electronic control module and only keys that have been programmed into that particular machine can start it. Individual keys can be programmed into multiple machines. The system can also be unarmed so that any CAT ignition key can be used during working hours and then rearmed at the end of the day to prevent theft.

Drone Surveillance

In an earlier post, Construction Industry Gears Up For The Drone Revolution, we discussed how construction firms are currently benefiting from the use of drones to handle tasks like mapping and surveying of construction sites. We briefly touched on the fact to drones could one day be used to patrol construction sites at night equipped with motion sensors and infrared or night vision cameras. They could be automatically deployed from a charging station and fly along a preprogrammed route at regular intervals.

It’s uncertain if this type of use would be allowed by the FAA. Currently their proposed rules for commercial use would require a visual line-of-sight (VLOS) be maintained between the operator and the drone. It’s possible that exemptions would be allowed in instances like this since the drone would be operated at a pretty low altitude over a fixed area.

None of the systems and devices we covered should be used as your sole means of preventing theft. A solid security plan should involve multiple layers of theft deterrents and measures. A well-lit site encircled by security fencing topped with razor wire should be your first line of defense. Put up warning signs to discourage thieves and trespassers.

The harder it is to access your site, the less likely it is thieves will target it. When feasible, lock up all tools, equipment and supplies inside buildings or trailers. For heavy equipment, use wheel locks and other immobilization devices to prevent them from being driven off the site or winched onto a trailer and hauled off.

Contact the local authorities and ask them increase their patrols or consider hiring security guards to monitor the site on weekends or holidays when the site is unattended. Make sure you involve as many workers as possible in helping maintain a secure jobsite. Remember, no system is 100% effective, but incorporating multiple security measures will help to minimize your losses.

How Construction Companies Can Beat A Growing Labor Shortage

Is your construction firm planning to increase headcount in 2016? That could prove to be a difficult task. According to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 71 percent of firms indicated they plan to increase headcount this year. Unfortunately, 70 percent of firms reported having a hard time finding qualified workers and 52 percent stated worries over worker shortages was their biggest concern for their business.

The recession led to the loss of over 2.3 million jobs in construction from 2007 to 2011. A little less than half of those lost jobs have been gained back. Most of the workers that were let go during the recession either aged out of the workforce and retired or moved on to greener pastures in other industries. The median age of people working in construction is 42.7, while the average age in 1985 was 36. About 44 percent of all people employed in construction is age 45 or older. Compare that to the less than 9 percent that are 24 or younger. Individual companies and the industry as a whole needs to step up their efforts in order to attract more youth to jobs in construction.

In order to attract top talent you have to establish your company as an employer of choice, both within your industry and your local area. Offering competitive wages and benefits like health insurance and gym membership reimbursement to your employees is just the beginning. Remember, you’re competing for employees just like you compete for work.

Set your firm above your competition by creating a strong company culture that values its employees and empowers them to have their voices heard and is backed by a strong leadership team. Engage your employees by offering opportunities that are both challenging and rewarding. Be the first place a candidate applies to when seeking a new job rather than being their last resort.

Construction firms need to increase their investment in training and development of the workforce. Make sure you are making opportunities such as training and continuing education courses available to both your new and existing employees. Offer to reimburse employees for classes once they’ve successfully completed them. Potential employees want to know that there are advancement opportunities and multiple career paths to move up within an organization.

Retaining good employees should be as important to your company as recruiting them. You want to keep the good workers once you’ve hired them. This means investing in them and their continued growth and success with your company. People want to feel like they are contributing team members as opposed to just employees who show up to do a job. Show your employees they are appreciated and valued. Keep employees motivated by recognizing and rewarding them for their hard work and dedication to your company.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson

Seldom will a job candidate walk through your door with all the prerequisite skills, education, training and work experience listed in your job posting. Remember, skills can be trained, a strong work ethic typically cannot. If you’re willing to put the extra time into training a new hire make sure they have the right attitude, integrity, are reliable and willing to put in the same amount of effort you are investing in them.

Conduct background checks, drug screenings and pre-employment assessment tests on potential new hires before you make that job offer. Make sure the candidate is a good fit for your company by asking for references.  Contact them to get an idea of what kind of employee your candidate will be. One of the best questions to ask a reference is whether they would hire/rehire the candidate.

Even after you’ve done your due diligence and made a job offer, not everyone you hire will be a good fit for your firm. This will be evident after the first couple of months they are on the job. Sometimes businesses are hesitant to let someone go considering the time and money that went into recruiting and training an employee. Don’t continue to spend your time and money on an employee who isn’t working out.

Construction firms need to look to the future by offering internships and co-ops to local high school, trade school and college students. Reach out to your local universities and community colleges that offer courses of study in the construction industry. More and more companies are setting up training programs with community colleges and vocational schools to offer training programs to meet their needs.

Consider getting involved in youth programs aimed at getting kids interested in construction careers. The ACE Mentor Program and MAGIC Camps, which stands for Mentoring a Girl in Construction, are both great programs to get involved with. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Education Foundation (NEF) offers a number of education programs for both adults and young people. Their Block Kids program introduces grade school children to careers in construction. They also have a CAD/Design/Drafting Competition and an Accessory Structure Project competition for the high school level. You can learn more about the NEF programs here.

Find local apprenticeship programs, or consider starting your own registered apprenticeship program so you can offer industry specific training programs that that can benefit your company.  This creates an additional pipeline to tap into when it comes time to hire a new employee.

Don’t forget to look to veterans and active-duty military who will soon be transitioning to civilian life and looking to start new careers. There are a number of programs like Helmets to Hardhats, Veterans2Construction and Veterans in Piping are all geared to attracting and training veterans for careers in construction.

We’re already seeing reports of construction delays due to worker shortages in states like Florida, Georgia and Texas. This issues are only going to get worse and spread to other areas of the country, especially for construction companies that aren’t being proactive and creative in their recruitment efforts. The December 2015 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had the seasonally adjusted rate of job openings in construction at 207,000. That’s the highest level since February 2007. The entire construction industry needs to pull together to develop a fundamental change in its approach to attracting more people to careers in construction.