Make sure your foremen understand their role in ensuring jobsite safety.

Three of my Plumbing & Mechanical columns published earlier this year were dedicated to jobsite safety. Naturally I couldn’t cover every item in the OSHA manual but I did cover many specific situations and gave proper procedures to insure the safety of all your employees.

With my nearly 70 years of jobsite experience, including a dozen years as a full-time safety director, these colmns provided a thorough background of what can go wrong on a jobsite, along with positive steps you can take to ensure a safe and profitable workplace.

I would like to share my follow-up to these columns:

  • Only a small percentage of the plumbing and mechanical foremen I talked with on our jobsites had read the articles. The few that did thanked me for the help.

  • About one-third of the foremen had never seen or heard anything about Plumbing & Mechanical magazine.

  • The balance of the foremen said that PM comes to their office, but only the big shots in the office get to read them. They said you might find them on the boss’s commode!

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any possible solution for getting these articles to the foremen who desperately need this information. But you certainly do!

  • Unsafe jobsite examples

    I now have specific on-site safety situations to relate to you, which make the previous resolutions much more effective than talking about generalities.

    The most common comment was about a foreman’s responsibility for the safety of his entire crew. “How could I possibly take care of having the right material, the proper tools, a quality installation, cost control, etc., and watch every step my employees make?”

    I had approached this foreman because his plumber was climbing a ladder with wrenches in one hand and a couple fittings in the other. The plumber was sliding his filled hands up the side rails of the ladder and leaning forward to keep his balance. I called the foreman over to the ladder and told him workers must have a tool pouch or bucket and rope to handle material, and both hands must be free to climb a ladder. The foreman said he knew that but he was busy at the other side of the room.

    He added this was mentioned in one of the company’s weekly tailgate safety talks, but that plumber may not have been there.

    I showed him a Safe Plan of Action that appeared in the February issue of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine (“Changing attitudes”). He quickly agreed it was a good idea and said they would initiate doing this on their jobs. He also said they company received PM magazine and he would ask for all three issues to help him and to share with his crew.

    I asked a plumber foreman at another site if he had a competent soils person check and approve the 6-ft.-deep trench his crew was working in. He didn’t know what a competent soils person was, but he personally thought the ditch was safe. I showed him our safety manual covering these items for excavation and trench safety:
    • A 1 1/2 to 1 slope must be maintained. His banks were plumb.

    • The spoil must be piled at least 2 ft. back from the edge of the trench. His was piled at the edge.

    • A ladder must be less than 25 ft. in each direction for entering or leaving the trench. He had no ladders.

    • All employees must wear hard hats. Neither the workers on this site nor the foreman were wearing hard hats.

    •  Barricades must be provided to prevent someone falling into a trench. He had no fall protection set up.

    The foreman apologized and remarked that his superintendent covered that topic during one of their tool box talks but that was more than a year ago. I asked him if his company was receiving PM magazine;  he recalled seeing a couple copies in the office waiting room.

    When his superintendent came to the site, we discussed the situation. The super expressed concern and agreed to pass that information on to all their foremen.

    A plumbing foreman on another jobsite was backing his truck up to the building to unload his pipe and fittings. A mason tender pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with brick was moving into the same space. The plumber’s truck ran into the wheelbarrow. Luckily the tender jumped away and was not injured.

    Naturally the plumbing foreman was upset and apologized to the tender. When I arrived at the site, they told me the story. When asked if the truck had a backup alarm, they said it did not. I showed the plumbing foreman our safety manual which states that a vehicle backing up on a jobsite must have a laudable backup alarm or a signalman to prevent such an accident from happening.

    The plumbing foreman said he knew that rule but assumed it was only for big dump trucks or heavy equipment. He didn’t know if his company received PM magazine, but if so, it wasn’t passed on to the foremen.

    No foreman, no safety oversight

    This last story is the worst one of all. It involves a licensed, one-man plumbing contractor who applied for and got a job with a big, local plumbing contractor when his work was drying up.

    He was about 50 years old and very knowledgeable and experienced in the trade, which he learned from his father. He was put in charge on our project with one plumber and two helpers. When I came to the jobsite, he had the two helpers tearing out a wood partition and the existing piping in that wall. They dropped all the material on the floor and were working on top of debris with protruding nails, bent pipe and broken fittings.

    I called the plumber over to look at the debris and to tell him it was his responsibility to protect his employees from injury.

    He quickly answered, “That’s their responsibility, not mine. They should know better!”

    I asked him if he knew that OSHA clearly holds the foreman responsible for the safety of his crew.

    “That may be true,” he replied, “but I’m not their foreman - they are simply working with me.”

    He explained that he knew about OSHA but it never affected him because he didn’t have any employees. He said he was now an employee and OSHA should make this company responsible forhissafety.

    Next I telephoned the plumbing contractor and explained the situation. The contractor’s super came to the jobsite and appointed the other plumber to be foreman.

    Several weeks later, the superintendent thanked me and said they spent one whole day apologizing and explaining to the seasoned plumber about the responsibilities of a foreman, including a review of my safety columns and the company’s safety program. He said the man then clearly understood what was required of him and was proudly running another job for the company.

    I hope you will pass on this article to each of your foremen and ask for their input. You might be very surprised!