|Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/KLSbear|
The three critical and costly items where contractors ask for help more than any others are Occupational Safety and Health Administration citations, personal injury and safety. Because of the enormous amount of information on these subjects, we will break up the discussion into two parts and show you where to find the balance.
I am going to reverse the order and say the most critical issue is safety, the second-most critical is personal injury and the last is OSHA citations. This column will address safety; we’ll address personal injury and OSHA in my next column.
Webster defines safety as: “being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury or loss.”
Increasing insurance costs have had one positive effect — contractors are finally becoming much more safety-conscious in their work. They cannot afford to have accidents. But it is not just the dollars lost. Eliminating needless suffering, permanent and crippling injuries, lost time and loss of personal income are reasons enough to work safely.
In most cases, your foreman intends to run a safe job but he gets busy and overlooks safety. Monthly safety meetings, with assistance from your insurance company, are a good way to teach safety skills and instill positive attitudes about working safely.
This is a good time and place to inform your employees, verbally and on paper, of any possible exposure to hazardous materials. These monthly meetings also will accomplish many other positive communications functions.
The best method, by far, to instill a constant awareness of jobsite dangers in your foremen and workers is weekly safety meetings at each site. Some companies call them toolbox talks or tailgate meetings. The most critical thing to remember about these get-togethers is documentation, or taking minutes to review everything that was covered.
My advice to clients is to hold them at 12:30 p.m., after lunch. Assemble your crew before they start back to work. This saves stopping in the middle of the day and is less confusing than at starting time in the morning. Most safety meetings will last only five to 10 minutes and are well worth the time.
Many insurance companies and contractor associations will provide safety topics for weekly meetings and outlines for the minutes. I also recommend discussing situations pertinent to your current work.
It is very important to ask all your employees for their input regarding any jobsite safety hazards. These items should always be documented and resolved immediately to prevent future liability.
Another important factor in keeping workers aware of jobsite dangers is their morale. When your employees are motivated, they are sharp and alert. As morale diminishes, the accident rate goes up.
It’s difficult for your foreman to make his crew wear hard hats when they see you or your project manager visit the site without one. Management must be the first to shape up.
If your employees realize you are totally committed to safety, the discipline for them comes easy. Your employees are proud to work for a company that worries about their personal safety. They will brag about it to their friends.
Let’s cover some of the basic safety requirements for jobsite foremen. Some are legal, some moral and some just plain common sense.
- Each jobsite must have at least one person trained to administer first aid. The minimum credential is a one-day, multimedia Red Cross certificate, which must be renewed every three years. All foremen should have this training.
- Emergency phone numbers must be posted on every jobsite. You cannot waste valuable time looking through the Yellow Pages when someone is injured. Company safety posters, bulletins, accident records and all required OSHA information also should be maintained in full view.
- Jobsite first-aid kits must be checked and replenished weekly. A basket stretcher must be available on jobs where an employee could be injured high above the ground.
- Foremen should keep a charged and dated fire extinguisher available. Most companies install them in their pickups to prevent theft.
- Treat every cut and injury regardless of how minor it may seem. Always complete an accident report and send to the office. Any employee with doubtful or questionable injuries should be sent to a doctor, even if it is after the work day. When an employee leaves the jobsite to get medical treatment, the foreman needs to immediately notify the office to provide ample explanation to his family.
- Workers exposed to the elements should be instructed to take precautions against sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat strokes, colds, flu and frostbite.
- Every employee should be instructed in proper lifting techniques. He needs to be taught to do stress lifting with the knees instead of the back and to get help when something is too heavy.
- Keep your jobsite clean. A cluttered jobsite is an accident waiting for its victim. Short pieces of pipe on a concrete floor become roller skates. Provide a box or bucket near your vise for these dangerous scraps.
- Hard hats are required any time there is overhead danger on your site. If an overhang or other dangerous area is only on part of the site, you can rope it off and limit the use of hard hats to that area.
- All trenches more than 4 ft. deep must be shored or have the proper angle of repose (slope). Workers in these trenches must wear hard hats and have a ladder every 25 ft. for safe egress.
- Eye protection must be worn around flying dust or particles. Eye injuries top the dollar list of compensation claims in most companies. Workers get careless while chipping or grinding, but the worst abuse is using a cutting torch without goggles. Workers exposed to the flash from welding need dark glasses to prevent headaches and eye damage.
These 11 basic requirements, if enforced by the foreman and adopted by the employees, will give workers a constant awareness and safety will become a top priority on each jobsite.
Other dangers that need attention include ladders and scaffolding. A safe ladder, with good footing and the proper angle, will save someone’s life. Rolling scaffolds should have railings and should not be ridden. Get off when you move it!
Naturally, railings also need to be installed and maintained around the perimeter and any openings or elevated work area.
In addition, too many accidents are related to unsafe tools and improper use of tools and equipment. Emphasize proper maintenance, sharpening and training. Motors should be shut off or unplugged before any repairs or maintenance is attempted. Unsafe tools should always be tagged and returned to your shop for repairs or disposal.
Electrical tools must be properly grounded. Utilize the group fault receptacles and contact the site electrician when you cannot get adequate power. Another danger on your job is delivery trucks without backup alarms. Always provide a signal man to help the driver in blind areas.
Remember, safety is no accident!