Top Priority in Construction Business: Safety
Ask any construction business owner, regardless of the size of their firm, what their top priority is and we’re guessing you’ll get the same response every time: worker safety. The real question owners should constantly be asking themselves is whether or not their safety program is robust enough to meet their commitment to protecting their workers.
One out of every five worker deaths occurs in construction. The total number of construction fatalities has been on the rise over the past several years. Creating an effective safety program and promoting a culture of safety throughout your organization can go a long way helping you achieve your goal of zero accidents, zero injuries and zero fatalities on every project you undertake.
We’ve put together the following eight tips for building a stellar construction safety program:
A Commitment to Construction Safety Starts at the Top
Getting your employees to buy into your safety program begins with buy-in from your leadership team. Prove your commitment to safety by providing training and personal protective equipment to all your employees. Make sure your tools and equipment are inspected regularly and are in good working order. If equipment is faulty or in disrepair, make sure it is taken out of service until it can be repaired or replaced.
Have a written safety policy and make it available to all employees. At a minimum, it should cover procedures for injury reporting, basic safety rules, preventative measures, emergency procedures and all policies and rules that promote and enforce a safe working environment. Each employee should be responsible for reading and acknowledging that they fully understand and agree to comply with the safety policy.
Have a Plan for Every Construction Project
There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ safety plan. Every project is different and every jobsite is unique. Before any work begins on a new project, identify all existing and potential hazards that could crop up throughout the duration of the project. Determine what controls need to be instituted to mitigate or eliminate those hazards.
This is also the time to identify and inspect the tools and equipment that will be needed for the job. The safety manager should work with the project manager to discuss the schedule of work in order to plan out the weekly safety meetings. An emergency response plan and a jobsite specific first aid program should be developed for each new project. The safety plan should be shared with everyone setting foot on the jobsite.
Construction Safety Training Never Stops
All new employees should be provided with in-depth training on safe work practices and all applicable OSHA standards. Employees should be able to recognize hazards and unsafe working conditions. Train workers on the safe operation of machinery and equipment regardless of their skill level. Employees should not be allowed to operate any equipment or machinery unless they can prove that they can do so safely and proficiently.
Safety training shouldn’t start and stop with new employees. Repeated and ongoing training not only reinforces your company’s commitment to safety to your workers, it keeps it on the top the minds of your employees. Be sure to use site inspections as teaching moments when safety procedures are not being followed. This can be done as one-on-one training for isolated events or to the whole team if it appears the issue is more pervasive.
Basic first aid training should be taught to all employees. Even if you have a trained medical person on the jobsite every day, they can’t be everywhere all the time. The sooner first aid can be administered to an injured worker, the better, even if it’s just basic care.
Corrective measure such as retraining should be a part of any disciplinary action taken when someone is caught not obeying the rules or for any unsafe or reckless behavior. It’s always a good idea to do a little research before handing down punishment. Was the behavior a result of a blatant disregard of the rules or did the employee not receive proper training? Your training program should be evaluated regularly and adjustments should be made as needed to make sure your employees are receiving the best possible instruction.
Stay on Top of the Rules
OSHA is constantly issuing new rules and making changes to existing rules with the intent of helping owners provide the safest work environments possible. In 2016, OSHA is expected issue a final rule on occupational exposure to crystalline silica as well as final rules to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses and to update eye and face protection to meet current consensus standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In addition to those final rules, OSHA is also planning to issue a proposed rule for crane operator qualifications in construction as well as a proposed rule to make some clerical corrections to the crane and derricks in construction standards. Not to mention the fact that OSHA fines are set to increase by more than 70% at some point in 2016.
In order to remain compliant with OSHA standards, you need to stay up to date with all the rulemaking changes that will impact your business. There is always a window of time for the public to respond to any proposed rulemaking with written arguments or evidence for or against a proposed rule as well as request a public hearing if one isn’t already scheduled. This is an opportunity to make your voice heard if a possible rule could negatively impact your business.
Go Above and Beyond the Construction Standards
Think of adhering to OSHA standards as the bare minimum to stay compliant. Just doing enough to stay compliant can lead to complacency. To truly have an effective safety program you should be going above and beyond the rules laid out by OSHA.
This doesn’t mean you have to make sweeping changes to your existing safety program or policy. Take a look at what you are currently doing and determine if there are measures or procedures you can implement to improve worker safety. Repeated accidents involving the same type of work activity is probably an indicator that your safety program needs some improvement.
Hold Everyone Accountable
Jobsite safety is the responsibility of every worker, not just your safety managers. Again, this starts at the top and goes all the way down to your project managers and site supervisors to skilled workers and your laborers. Empower your employees to speak up if they notice an unsafe work environment or hazard. Employees shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to tell a superior or a coworker to put their hard hat on or to quit using the power tool with the frayed power cord.
If you are a general contractor this means holding your subs accountable for following your safety requirements. Reviewing a subcontractor’s safety policies and procedures along with their safety record should be a part of your prequalification process. Make it clear to everyone working on the project that they will be held to the same high safety standards that you hold your own employees to.
Conduct Regular Inspections and Create a Culture of Construction Safety
Frequent, regular inspections of the jobsite are vital to ensuring your safety plan and program is effective. Create a safety audit checklist for each job and make notes as you perform the inspection. Spend some time observing workers to make sure they are working safely and productively.
Have a camera or smartphone on hand to document any areas that may require additional safeguards or controls. Take time to chat with employees to discuss any safety concerns they may and address them accordingly. Regular safety inspections reinforces your company’s commitment to safety and along with the other tips allow you to create a culture of safety.
When accidents do occur, be sure to conduct a thorough investigation so you can uncover the root of the problem. Typically when an accident occurs the cause is either inadequate training or where an employee didn’t retain the information they were taught.
Never Stop Improving Your Construction Safety Program
Your company may already have a top-notch safety program in place, but there’s always room for improvement. The first of the year is the perfect time to evaluate your current program. Take stock of what’s working well as well as areas that may need some revision. Be sure to get all your employees involved in the process. Your workers are the ones on the jobsite day in and day out and are probably the best suited to help identify deficiencies in your safety program and offer suggestions for improvement.
Once you have a rock solid safety program in place you’ll start to reap additional benefits other than just protecting you top commodity: your employees. Companies with great safety programs also tend to see lower insurance premiums, better quality of work from employees and fewer injuries. Your company’s reputation will also grow with your commitment to safety which can lead to more contracting opportunities as well as establishing your firm as an employer of choice among jobseekers.