Our insurance companies call their after-hour liability an "attractive nuisance," but my order to all of our jobsite foremen is, "Eliminate any possible kid killer." We require them to walk their entire work area to evaluate any potential danger a child or adult might encounter if they were on that site after work hours. You cannot go home from that jobsite and merely assume no one will be there that night, especially over a weekend. What I really emphasize is for them to remember when they were children and imagine all they would have done or tried to do. That usually gets my message across!
Our liability results from the fact that we created that potential hazard, or attractive nuisance. Merely putting up NO TRESPASSING signs does not relieve us of liability since some small children cannot read, and someone could enter your site without seeing your signs. Keep in mind it could be after dark.
Regardless of fault or financial liability, none of us want to see anyone get killed or injured. Depending on the size of your jobsite, this "last look" usually only involves a couple of minutes of time. That's not much to ask when it easily could save a life. Many of my clients use a written checklist for their foreman to complete and sign each day before he leaves that site.
Common HazardsKeeping in mind what you would have done as a child on that site, let's look at some of the most common hazards:
1. Definitely the most inviting and most dangerous nighttime hazard on any jobsite is a piece of construction equipment: Backhoes, dozers, front-end loaders, bob cats, forklifts, cranes, scissor lifts, snorkel lifts, etc. Kids just love to jump into the operator's seat and start pulling levers. If the operator did not lower the bucket boom down on the ground, moving the lever will allow it to fall to the ground. Should other children be near or under any of those buckets or platforms, their limbs or entire bodies would be crushed. This danger even occurs with a bucket rolling or curling. Always be sure that nothing on a machine can be moved by pushing or pulling a control lever. If the equipment operator has left the site, you personally can move the levers to ensure no child could get injured.
If that equipment should happen to be parked on a hill or sloped ground, be sure no one can release the brake to allow it to roll. You may need to place a block under the wheels if you have no other assurance.
2. Possibly the next danger a child could confront at your jobsite is open trenches, excavation and open manholes, or catch basins. Any of these would cause serious injury if a child fell into them. Plus, a child could even drown if there was water at the bottom. Always be sure you have barricades, guardrails or warning tape clearly marking any potential hazard. Keep in mind it may be dark when someone is there after working hours, but naturally these dangers should be well defined to prevent any accident during working hours.
3. When an after-hours visitor enters the building, these very same dangers exist with rough edges and unguarded openings through floors or decks. OSHA requires all of these openings to be covered, marked or protected by guardrails. As we all know, some areas are not guarded, and some railings are removed by workmen who fail to replace them at the end of their shift. You can understand how a child or grown-up could fall and be seriously injured, especially after dark. A couple of minutes spent checking this before you leave a site could save someone's life.
4. Kids love to climb. Look around your jobsite for ladders that lead to danger. Some lead up to open bar joists or scaffolding, and some are tied off as required by OSHA. If you cannot take down the ladder, you can tie a half sheet of plywood or a couple of boards over the bottom rungs to prevent anyone from climbing.
5. Cut off the power or pull the plug. Any kind of power tool is inviting and exciting for children to use. Typically, every craftsman will pick up all of his portable power tools and extension cords, but the larger table saws and power vises will remain where they are being used during the day. You should always pull the breaker or do whatever it takes to be certain no one could cut off a finger or limb.
6. Our next hazard with kids is sheer recklessness. They love to knock over any big piles of material or roll over anything that will make a big bang. Unfortunately, there may be another child where that bar joist, beam, large pipe or fitting falls. As you walk your site before leaving, you should secure anything easy to roll.
7. Do not leave open containers of volatile or harmful liquids on your site. These should be locked away in your trailer to prevent harm to any individual and damage to your site.
8. OSHA requires us to have fire extinguishers on every site within 100 feet of any workplace. You need these locked in your trailer at the end of each day to prevent theft, as well as possible injury.
9. When you have concrete floors or smooth, hard surface areas at your site, you should provide containers for any short pieces of pipe, hanger rod, etc. We call these "roller skates," which wait for an unwary victim to skid and fall and be injured. Here again, this is extremely important for the safety of your workers and accident prevention after hours.
10. Maintaining a clean site without clutter and debris not only is required by OSHA but also very cost effective and efficient. Tripping over debris, day or night, is dangerous and can cause serious injury. You must be especially cautious with nails protruding from used lumber removed by careless workmen. I'm quite sure most of you, like myself, have tramped on more than one of those "rattlesnakes." We at least go to the doctor to have the wound cleaned and treated, along with getting those dreaded tetanus shots. But what would happen to a child who thinks the wound will heal itself since it stopped bleeding immediately?
I always call this last-look hazard evaluation "buttoning-up-your-job." Our bosses felt good going home from work knowing they took every precaution to prevent any after-hour injury or fatality from happening on their site.
Unfortunately, there is another downside facet of night visitors. Some are destructive vandals, with no other purpose but to create costly damage and destruction. Some are outright thieves who come to steal materials, tools and equipment. As you do your last look, you also should keep this in mind to prevent as much loss as possible. Chaining larger ladders and equipment to a column and locking up all the smaller items will not stop these thieves, but it certainly helps to deter them.
I'd like to quote one of my older foremen who said, "When you button up the job before you leave, you don't have to look back or stay awake all night worrying about it!"