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High Objectives


There are four elements of effective safety programs.   

By Bill Wilhelm

On any construction site, improving worker safety should be a primary objective. Effective safety planning and implementation not only keeps workers safe, but also can shorten project timelines, improve productivity and boost morale. Consider these four elements when developing or updating a safety program for your company:

1. Planning – Safety is about planning and communication. Before construction starts, identify which tasks are going to take place and what safety measures need to be implemented for each of these activities. The appropriate tools and equipment also need to be available to ensure these tasks are completed as efficiently and safely as possible.

One of the most pressing issues continues to be fall protection. Almost one-third (6,591) of construction fatalities from 1992 to 2009 were attributed to fall injuries, with 2,163 resulting from roof falls. Safe scaffolding needs to be installed, holes in the floor need to be carefully managed and any other potential fall hazards should be identified ahead of time. Ear and eye protection is also critical to preventing injury. Eyes are the most vulnerable because they are so exposed, and sparks from welding jobs, saws and a variety of tools are prevalent on many construction sites. 

Zoning is also an important part of the planning phase. This involves cordoning off sections of a construction site where certain tasks are taking place to minimize the chance of those nearby being injured. Only those who are actively working on the specific task being zoned for are allowed within the barrier, and those within the barrier will have the proper tools and protective equipment for the job at hand. Zoning not only protects other workers on the construction site, it also puts in place barriers, catch platforms, nets and other safety measures that prevents tools or debris from injuring passersby.    

2. Risk Management – As part of the planning process, factors proven to correlate with greater risk should be considered. According to a study commission by AGC of America, most fatalities occur between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with a peak at noon, and safety issues are more common on Monday through Thursday than on Friday or the weekend. Consider scheduling safety or other meetings around noon, especially during the first part of the week, and ensure workers have a safe place to eat lunch during this high-risk time of the day.

Fatalities increase during the summer months, peaking in August, and are more prevalent in the south than other regions of the United States – statistics that are likely correlated to heat-related illness or issues. Hydration, regular breaks and shade, training workers to monitor for signs of illness and planning for heat-related emergencies are all preventative measures that should be put in place.

3. Education – Safety is a culture, and education programs need to be implemented to ensure this culture is instilled at all levels of the organization. OSHA’s 30-hour Construction Training Course is a great choice for comprehensive safety education. While specifically designed for safety directors, foremen, superintendents, project managers and field supervisors, it is beneficial for anyone working in the construction industry. Safety training should be provided across all levels – from management and employees to subcontractors and other partners.

Safety events that continually educate workers about the latest regulations and best practices, and give a refresher on the education they have already received, should happen as often as once per week on job sites. Full safety inspections should also be done at least once every other week.

4. Scheduling – No matter how thorough you are in providing protection from, and education about, potential safety risks, if workers are exhausted and overworked it drastically increases the chances of safety issues occurring. One of the most critical, but often missed, ways of preventing accidents involves creating a realistic schedule and staffing appropriately from the start. 

This can be especially difficult considering the severe talent shortage we’re currently experiencing in the construction industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 13 percent growth rate in the industry through 2026, creating more than 180,000 jobs in the process. The growth is there, but the talent to fill these positions is not. In 2016, the National Association of Homebuilders estimated that there were approximately 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the United States. 

This undersupply of talent leads some firms to overschedule workers, leading to exhaustion and excessive wear and tear on their bodies. This can cause even the most experienced of workers to make simple, split-second mistakes or have lapses in judgment that can be deadly. Research shows that working 12 hours per day is associated with a 37 percent increased risk of injury, and extended shifts have been proven to lead to an increased risk of car accidents on workers’ commute from work.

According to OSHA, extended shifts may also lead to safety risks in the form of prolonged exposure to hazards such as noise and chemicals. Companies can prevent this by limiting extended shifts, ensuring employees and subcontractors aren’t working too many hours and taking any potential staffing issues into account when creating the building schedule. Consider these four strategies to improve your company’s safety record, create a better working environment for employees and subcontractors and improve recruitment and retention efforts during this challenging staffing environment. 

Bill Wilhelm is president of R.D. Olson Construction, an Irvine, Calif.-based general contracting firm founded in 1979. Wilhelm can be reached at bwilhelm@rdolson.com or 949-474-2001. Learn more at rdolson.com.


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