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May 3, 2016

Safety: The Responsibility of All

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Ways Employers and Employees Should Ensure Safety on Residential and Commercial Job Sites

By Burke Pinnell – President, Hickory Construction, Inc.

From an outsider’s perspective, the construction industry has the reputation of being a fairly dangerous trade.

There is some validity to this claim if working for a company or on a job site where employee safety is not a top priority.  Although construction can pose a range of safety risks, careful compliance to safety standards increases the likelihood of an accident-free, successful build.

The Shocking Statistics

One out of five work-related deaths in the United States in 2014 occurred in the construction industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The causes of more than half of construction deaths are considered the “fatal four”: falls (39.9%), electrocutions (8.5%), workers struck by an object (8.4%) and being caught-in/between (1.4%).

 

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OSHA projects that “eliminating the ‘fatal four’ would save 508 workers’ lives in America every year.” Through tens of thousands of yearly site visits, OSHA lists the following items as its top ten most cited standards:

  1. Fall protection
  2. Hazard communication standard
  3. Scaffolding
  4. Respiratory protection
  5. Control of hazardous energy
  6. Powered industrial trucks
  7. Ladders
  8. Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment
  9. Machinery and machine guarding
  10. Electrical systems design

Regulatory safety compliance is important. Failure to comply may result in fines, penalties and even loss of the ability to operate, in some extreme cases.

Although OSHA attempts to put systems and regulations in place to ensure the safety of workers on site, the agency cannot be on every site, every day of the week. Safety is the responsibility of every individual, and an understanding of its importance speaks to the culture of each specific workplace environment. It is important to have safety standards in place for those on site to stay aware of their surroundings and remain focused on the fact that anything can happen at any time.

Overall Strategies and Tips for Improving Safety

Safety standards do not have to be overly complicated, but they do have to be robust.

Employees must understand that every specific action or decision can result in injury or even death. One simple suggested policy is to have a “safety cabinet” on every job site which contains first aid supplies, material safety data sheets (MSDS) and emergency contact information for ready access.

As an employer, one of the most important safety roles is setting policies and procedures to help ensure that employees are trained on the equipment and understand the importance of safety on the job site.

Employers can work toward the goal of achieving high safety standards by requiring that all employees undergo drug-free workplace training, weekly “tool box talks” on safety-related activities, CPR training and renewal, OSHA training for field supervisors and thorough equipment training.

It is extremely important to have employees that are properly trained and prepared for the positions that they are tasked.

Listed below are examples of established policies among companies around the United States that promote a universal understanding that safety is everyone’s responsibility:

  • Drug-free workplace program/annual training
  • Periodic first aid and CPR training
  • Hazardous material training
  • OSHA reporting and documentation
  • Worker Compensation (WC) insurance for all employees on site, including subcontractors
  • In-house safety committee
  • Employee assistance program
  • Utilization of WC insurance carrier’s safety resources
  • Weekly “tool box safety talks” for the crews on every job
  • Annual, company-wide safety meeting
  • Employee rewards for achieving safety goals
  • Extensive safety policy and hazard analysis
  • New hire safety orientation
  • OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 HR training for field supervisors
  • Specific training for operating and setting up various equipment
  • Strict accident reporting procedures
  • Random job site safety inspections
  • Accident Investigation

 

Although specific regulations on the residential side of the construction industry may vary from the commercial side, it is helpful to look to the more rigid regulations for commercial construction when setting overall standards for the company’s safety performance in residential construction. Some of these regulations may include:

  • Hard hats
  • Safety glasses
  • Enhanced fall protection
  • Signage and barricades
  • Hazard analysis and special precautions
  • Enhanced training
  • Specialized PPE  (personal protective equipment)

 

Tracking Safety Standards

Benchmarking safety standards is vital to tracking how the company is comparing to national averages. Although even one injury on the job site is too many, learning from those incidents can reinforce for the employer and the full team the importance of standards for everyone on site.

One of the standards of safety reporting is the OSHA 300 log, which lists every accident which results in an employee’s lost work time beyond the day of the injury. A construction firm can use the data from its worker’s compensation insurance claims to monitor and record every injury which results in medical expense beyond first aid, as well as the costs.

From this data, a third party establishes an experience modifier specifically for each company as it relates to the average of all general contractors’ experience. This rating is also affected by the size of the company and its injury experience over the prior three-year period, not including the most recent year. The goal is to achieve the best possible rating, ensuring that one’s site safety is better than average.

A suggestion to keep employees focused on safety standards is to set a goal for hours worked without a “lost-time” accident. Once achieved, a reward can be given to all employees at the next company meeting.

Final Thoughts

Everyone in the construction industry must view safety as a priority.

Although it takes more time preparing on the front end of a project, the repercussions of not doing so can be fatal. Aligning your internal safety standards with OSHA regulations must be considered a priority among decision makers in the construction industry. The reputation of the company depends not only on the quality of work performed, but also the overall safety of individuals on the job site.

Overlooking these standards may not only increase the company’s liability exposure, but may also cause potential customers to consider their project with a firm that shows more attention to detail, not just through workmanship or materials, but also through rigorous safety standards.

 

Burke Pinnell is co-owner and president of Alcoa, Tennessee-based Hickory Construction, Inc. – a widely respected general contractor managing residential, commercial and industrial projects since 1977. 

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