May was National Building Safety Month, sponsored by the International Code Council. Focused on the general public, each week had a theme: fire safety, weather and storm safety, building safety and energy efficiency.
Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with the backing of CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, held itsannual National Safety Stand-Down to raise awareness of fall hazards in construction, their severity for construction trade workers and how to prevent them. You can read more about the event, as well as additional resources to help avoid falls on your company’s jobsites, at www.stopconstructionfalls.com/.
Falls are the top cause of construction injuries and fatalities in this country. The most recent fatality data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is from 2012 — 715 construction workers lost their lives on jobsites, almost 60% from falling, slipping or tripping 6 ft. to more than 30 ft. in a structure (http://stats.bls.gov/iif). Most were wage and salary employees, with only 18% classified as self-employed. And 84% of these workers were between 25 years old and 64 years old.
About 17% of workers were killed from being struck by an object or equipment. Only four workers were killed while working on or around heating, cooling and humidifying machinery and appliances. CPWR estimates at least 10,000 construction workers each year are injured on the job by falling.
CPWR has its own count of fatal falls with its Fatality Map Project. The maps include information from ongoing OSHA investigations and online media sources. They do not represent all construction fatalities but a significant proportion of the deaths that occur each year. CPWR’s estimates for 2013 are 605 total fatalities, with 34% occurring from falls. Through March 2014, the construction industry has seen 120 fatalities, 42 of which occurred from falls.
The CPWR safety campaign is called “Safety Pays. Falls Cost.” It refers to the amount of time injured workers spend off the job while waiting for injuries to heal, as well as the cost of replacing a worker who has died on the job.
The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) presents annual awards to member companies that post safety statistics surpassing nationwide industry averages and use innovative initiatives to achieve safety excellence. MCAA members have access to online safety guidance, too. The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC) also has safety-related information on its website just for members, including guidance on slips and falls on the jobsite.
As summer begins, contractors need to consider and plan for any employees who may be working outdoors in excessive heat. The BLS reports that 31 workers died of heat-related causes in 2012 and 4,120 workers complained of heat-related ailments such as heat rash and heat cramps, as well as the more serious illnesses of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. To learn more about preventing heat-related illnesses, read here.
How much time and attention do you put into teaching safe work practices to your employees? We’ve written about progressive plumbing and heating contracting companies over the years that have made safety a key priority in the company’s growth and productivity. Many of these companies have a safety director or manager whose sole responsibility is making sure each worker knows how to behave safely on the job.
If you’re unable to hire a safety director, make sure your management staff understands the importance of safety to the company and give them the responsibility of training your workers on safety issues — whether on a jobsite, in the warehouse or on a truck. Safety should be a concern for everyone in the organization.
The organizations I mentioned all have excellent materials you can use to craft a unique safety plan for your company — toolbox talks, safety videos, dual-language tip sheets, mobile apps, digital safety manuals, checklists and stickers. Look at how your employees access information to determine the best way to convey this important information.
Don’t stop after one or two sessions. Most human beings need repetition of information before it finally clicks in our brains — or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, safety should be an ongoing strategy at your company. Once your staff has excelled in one area, move on to the next, but keep going back to reinforce the lessons.
And remember to reward victories. It may be a small one, such as no falls in a month, or a big one, such as 10,000 hours with no injuries, but everyone appreciates acknowledgement of the triumphs we accomplish each day.