Your workers can't give a good excuse to ignore job safety.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and never got hurt.” Does that sound familiar? Our employees have dozens of those excuses for not working safely, but that is by far the No. 1 excuse. Unfortunately, the result is, “Call 911.”

OSHA has all kinds of laws, citations and fines for contractors who diligently try to protect their employees, but too many of those employees resist and even resent having to protect themselves. I have been enforcing jobsite safety since long before OSHA was organized in 1970, and those excuses never change.

Let’s share some of the everyday dangers where excuses can lead to injuries.

Nos. 2 and 3 on the list of excuses are, “It takes too much time,” and, “It costs too much money” to work safely. When you hear either of them, you need to ask, “Can you save enough time or money to justify a funeral, a long hospital stay, being crippled or blind for life, etc.?” These are usually your company-minded, qualified craftsmen and foremen with good intentions.

If you’ve ever used a cutting torch, surely you are appalled when you see an employee blowing white-hot melted steel into his face without eye protection. Likewise use of a grinder or chipping hammer. His excuse is, “I only have one more to cut.” Can you even imagine being blind, let alone knowing your own neglect caused it?

Apparently some of our employees have hard heads and believe they do not need to wear their hard hats when they are walking or working under overhead danger. A small bolt, nut, fitting tool or piece of material dropped 15 to 30 feet on their bare heads could easily be a catastrophe for them, as well as for you. This excuse is, “I’m only going to be here for a couple of minutes.”

Added to this scenario are the welders who think their welding hood is also a hard hat. You should supply the hard hats with a hinge to allow them to lift the face protection without losing their head safety.

An employee working on a roof deck with an unguarded open hole or leading edge will tell you, “I am watching where I walk and I won’t be up here very long.” Every craftsman knows that you are actually watching what you are doing rather than where you are walking. There is always a possibility that he won’t be up there very long…

Today’s snorkel man-lifts provide a convenient work platform for high and hard-to-reach tasks. All employees are required to wear a harness with a lanyard attached to the railing:
  • When the worker is wearing the harness but the lanyard is only double-hooked onto the harness, that excuse is, “I forgot after lunch.”

  • When the worker is wearing the harness but does not even have a lanyard, he will say, “I left it in my other car” or some other weak excuse.
I always tell them that it is called an undertaker’s harness, because it makes it convenient to pick up their stinking, sweaty, dead body. I also explain how the catapult of that boom will throw them if one of the wheels goes over a bump or into a hole.

Scissor lifts do not require a harness, but workers must close the chain or gate to provide a safe railing. The most frequent violation is climbing up on the railing to hang or cover ductwork. If they leave the scissor-lift floor, workers are above the top safety rail and must use a harness and tie-off lanyard. Those who don’t have this excuse: “I can’t raise the lift because of the sprinkler pipe and they didn’t give me a harness.” I always tell them, “When you get it, you can finish that task.”

Our plumbing and mechanical tradesmen rarely build scaffolds but often climb on the mason’s scaffold. Although a competent scaffold builderl erected it, the scaffold does not have enough planks and railings are missing. When I point this out to the craftsmen, their excuse is, “This is not our scaffold; I’m only using it.” Unfortunately, he is the one who could fall and be injured, as well as being cited by OSHA.

That same scenario applies when your employee is working in clutter, especially protruding nails. It is not your responsibility to clean it up, but you could be injured or cited for working on it. Again, no excuse!

There are hundreds of these excuses for not following safety practices, but you have already heard most of them on your own jobsites. You also must wonder why so many people will not fasten their seat belts in their car or truck. They rely on these excuses: “I’m only going a short distance”; “I’ve been driving for 22 years and never had an accident”; and “That seat belt irritates my shoulder.”

Minimizing Jobsite Injuries

The horrendous costs and suffering due to employees using excuses rather than good judgment can be eliminated or minimized with these practices:

1. Your employees need to know and fully understand OSHA’s guidelines for personal protection equipment, fall protection, working in excavations, ladder safety, hand and power tool safety, welding and cutting safety, scaffolding, material handling and hazard communication.

An employee’s number of years in our trade does not mean that he or she has received proper safety training. You need to document and monitor each employee’s training to assure compliance.

Your foreman on each jobsite must also have a current first-aid certificate to assist anyone injured on that site.

2. You need to post hard-hat signs and install warning tape around excavations or dangerous conditions.

3. You need to show your employees where you keep your first-aid kit and MSDA sheets.

4. Forklift operators must have a certificate of training, which must be renewed every three years.

With all this in place, our employees and foremen become so involved in getting their jobs done that still they overlook safety. For many years, we in the construction industry have held toolbox talks or weekly tailgate safety meetings. Our employees stopped work and the foreman would read a short safety reminder that was sent from the office. Sadly, these topics were generic and did not relate to the actual tasks or conditions on that particular job.

Ten years ago, we adopted weekly Safe Plan of Action reports, which require our foremen to discuss, with each individual employee, what dangers exist on the particular project and how workers could become injured. In addition to making them aware of the specific dangers, we received valuable feedback along with their signatures. This team effort eliminates those dangerous excuses.

Throughout the construction industry, many companies have offered safety incentives to encourage their supervisors to patrol and enforce jobsite safety. Most of these were based on the number of lost-time accidents compared to total hours on a project.

Some foremen would maintain an injured employee on the payroll just to earn their safety incentive. We firmly believe a foreman’s personal pride and paycheck are ample incentives to assure that no one is killed or injured on his or her project.

You can embarrass an employee who gives you one of those foolish excuses by keeping score. My fourth grade teacher used this little game for students who came late, were absent or didn’t do their homework: She would listen to their excuse, look in her book and say, “That’s No. 13 on the list of excuses and that’s the third time you’ve tried to use it.”

You need to preach and practice safety to eliminate any employee’s reason for an excuse. There is absolutely no good excuse for exposure to an injury.