Construction work is inherently dangerous. Construction consistently leads all industries in total worker deaths each year and has one of the highest fatality rates for worker deaths. The top priority of every construction company should be to protect their workers from injuries and ensure everyone makes it home safe at the end of each shift.
There are several reasons why construction work is so dangerous. Each jobsite is unique and presents its own sets of challenges and potential safety hazards. Unlike in a controlled environment, like a manufacturing plant or an office, jobsite conditions are constantly changing every day.
New hazards and safety concerns pop up as construction progresses. New crews of subcontractors come and go to complete for various trades. Due to labor shortages still being felt from the last recession, there is a larger number of less experienced workers on jobsites that don’t have the years of safety training as the veterans they’ve replaced.
Providing a safe working environment for your workers doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. With the proper planning and preparation, creating a safer jobsite is something that can be easily incorporated into your preconstruction planning process and duplicated on all your future projects. Taking these steps can bolster your company’s safety culture and promote your commitment to providing a safe jobsite on every project.
Craft a Plan
Because each jobsite is different, it’s important to build a site-specific safety plan for each project. As you work through building out your construction schedule, you should also be plotting out your safety plan. Be sure to rely on historical data from previous projects that are similar to your current one to craft your safety plan.
Identify the potential safety hazards and risks that each phase of the project will present. Determine the best way to mitigate the risks and eliminate the hazards with engineering controls, training, and personal protective equipment (PPE). These will change as work progresses, so be sure to focus on each stage or phase of the project and the individual tasks that workers will be required to complete.
For example, early in the project, your safety focus will probably be on potential hazards during site work like trenching accidents, cave-ins, equipment rollover, and workers potentially being struck by heavy equipment. As the project moves along you might have more workers working at height, so your focus will shift to fall protection and ladder and scaffold safety.
If you are the general contractor on the project, be sure to include your subcontractors in your planning process. Lean on their expertise for knowing what safety concerns are most prevalent in the work they do and how best to protect their workers. Trade contractors working as subs should work with the GC to provide input to ensure that their workers are properly protected from injuries.
Stage for Safety
You already stage your construction site for things like material delivery and equipment storage. Why not take it a step further and stage your jobsite for safety. Designate areas for specific trades or tasks near where the work is taking place. Be sure to include space for storing materials, tools, first aid supplies, and PPE so workers don’t have to traipse all over the jobsite to get the things they need to perform their work safely and efficiently.
Set up zones and limit access to areas where hazards are a major concern. Cordon off areas and establish barricades as a visual reminder to workers of where they should and shouldn’t be on the jobsite. Limiting access to certain areas of the jobsite can help to eliminate several hazards including falls, being struck by objects, electrocutions, or getting caught in or between objects. It will also reduce traffic in areas where distractions by workers wandering through certain areas could create a potential hazard.
Safety Meetings & Toolbox Talks
Before you allow your workers, or subcontractors, on the jobsite you want to make sure they have received comprehensive safety training and have retained the knowledge to properly work safely. One way to help reinforce the safety training and make sure they are mindful of the risks and hazards on the jobsite is to hold safety meetings and toolbox talks.
Hold a safety kickoff meeting before the start of each project or the beginning of each major phase. Set expectations for what is required of each worker in terms of safe working practices, proper use of PPE, and how to report accidents or unsafe working conditions.
Toolbox talks can be held weekly or even daily. Focus on the tasks being performed each day and known or possible hazards and the engineering controls in place to protect workers. Engage workers by asking questions regarding safe working methods and answering any questions or concerns. This is also a great time to have each worker inspect their tools and PPE to ensure everything fits properly and is free of damage.
Safety is everyone’s responsibility on the jobsite, but you still need someone in charge to make sure the safety plan is being executed, work is being performed safely, and that all hazards are properly addressed.
Whoever is in charge of jobsite safety, whether it’s a safety manager, site superintendent, foreman, or some other supervisor, needs to keep an eye on workers throughout the day but they can’t be everywhere all the time. Technology like jobsite cameras, drones, and wearables are another great way to monitor workers.
Consider using a buddy system and pair less experienced workers with veterans with strong safety records. Not only will this allow you to have workers looking out for each other, but it can be a great way to implement a mentoring program for younger workers.
Empower all workers with the ability to stop work for safety violations or hazards until they can be addressed and corrected. Encourage workers to speak up when they see unsafe conditions or observe workers not following safe working practices.
Taking a proactive approach to jobsite safety through early planning and preparation is a surefire way to help reduce the number of accident-injuries on a project and prevent fatalities.