Let’s face it; working in construction is dangerous. In 2015, one in five worker fatalities occurred in construction. Is it any wonder why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted almost four times as many inspections and issued over twice as many penalties for the construction industry compared to the next closest industry classification? By the numbers, that’s 11,869 inspections, 29,777 citations and nearly $72 million in fines from October 2015 through September 2016.
When it comes to job site safety, it is important for OSHA compliance to be the foundation of your safety program. In fact, it is necessary. However, focusing solely on OSHA compliance does not make for a complete safety program. Even though there are many contractors that would consider themselves OSHA compliant, they may still experience frequency and severity issues when it comes to employee injuries. When too much time is spent on compliance, we tend to lose site of the simple things we can do to keep ourselves and others safe. What follows are six construction safety tips to help create a more impactful job site safety program. Some of these have roots in OSHA compliance, but all are just good safety practices.
Job Site Safety Tips
- Plan ahead to make sure all the appropriate equipment, tools, and safety gear is available and staged prior to starting the day. For example, proper planning and staging will ensure employees have the 8’ ladder they need instead of trying to make do with a 6’ ladder by standing on the top step!
- Provide training for any equipment that will be used for both new and current employees. Don’t assume new employees who may have “years of experience” can operate equipment safely. You cannot be certain as to the level of training (if any!) they received from a previous employer. As for current employees, it is never a bad idea to review procedures on how to operate equipment safely.
- Promote and enforce good housekeeping practices. The saying, “A clean workplace is a safe workplace,” is not too far from the truth. A housekeeping issue is often a contributing cause of a job site accident, such as a trip and fall.
- Enforce and reinforce safety – but there needs to be balance. Top management and foremen need to enforce the rules when they observe or become aware of an unsafe act or condition. At the same time, they need to reinforce positive behaviors. When you see the crew taking the time to work safely, you should take the time to recognize their effort!
- Empower employees to be part of the safety program by encouraging them to report safety concerns to foremen, supervisors or upper management. If a hazard or concern is reported, management must act on it – don’t ignore it! If you ignore it or blow it off, you will kill your safety program. Take advantage of the time during new employee orientations, formal safety meetings, or tool box talks to remind employees that they should say something if they see something. Many accidents can be avoided if someone just speaks up.
- Do not become complacent. Job sites present new safety challenges every day. Both management and employees need to maintain constant vigilance of their surroundings.
Ultimately, owners of construction companies are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for their employees. However, it is everyone’s responsibility to follow rules, procedures, and protocols to avoid accidents. Safety is a two-way street. As an employee, you have the right to speak up. As an owner, you have the right to expect everyone will stay vigilant to uphold and follow safety policies and procedures. While it may sound cliché, the cost of instituting a safety program far outweighs the cost of an accident.
Really, when it comes down to it, the key to effective job site safety is teamwork. It takes a team to complete a construction project and it takes a team to make sure everyone goes home the same way they arrived. You should take as much care to keep your fellow employee safe as you do to keep yourself safe. If all else fails, ask yourself this one question: How would we do this job tomorrow, if someone was injured or worse yet, died, doing that job today?
For more information on strategies for construction safety in Society’s online Risk Control Library. You can also find construction-specific information on the OSHA website. Use these resources to identify, reduce and eliminate hazards for your team.