Master Jugglers

Given the constantly changing conditions and hazards on these job sites, education must also be constant and consistent.

NOISY, dusty, confusing traffic patterns, flaring tempers, constantly changing weather conditions, temporary workers and/or bilingual workers, subcontractors milling around like worker bees, traffic--did I mention stress? There are few worksites as continuously challenging as a construction site.

No real comfort zone exists due to the progressing work that is being done and the movement of manpower and supplies or equipment to get that job done as quickly as possible. It is like a big puzzle with each section of the project as an independent job site, yet all interconnected and dependent on each to do its job correctly and according to the plan and required codes, without shortcuts along the way. Materials arrive as needed along with unknown subcontractors and (sometimes) poorly trained and screened employees. The work site may be within public reach, so extra security may be needed to prevent intrusion.

It is confusing when everything works as planned, and things can really go wrong fast when all the elements of a functional safety program are not in place or maintained by competent, reliable management.

Hazards are ever present on any construction site: inappropriate walking/working surfaces, poor PPE selection and use (or none used at all), ineffective housekeeping, shoddy material storage and haphazard exit paths, hit-and-miss training elements, poor security, and light and weather extremes.

Then, there are other hazards that are likely to cause an employee's death: electrocution, being run/backed over by heavy equipment or struck by traffic, road construction toxic material exposure, confined space and excavation failures, falls from a higher elevation, head injuries, and lacerations. Workplace violence has also become an issue on construction job sites, ranging from domestic situations that spill over to the workplace to employee/employer violence and contractor disputes that turn ugly.

Hidden safety/health hazards abound, too, in the form of long-term health hazards; inappropriate use of PPE, such as the wrong respirator or no respiratory protection; ingestion of toxins from lack of hand washing or eating/drinking near toxic materials; poor hazard assessment prior to the job start; confined space dangers; and the constant noise on site.

As safety professionals, we have seen many different types of construction sites: those with interest in occupational safety and those lacking woefully. Management's interest in safety and health and a keen eye on the project will maintain a neat, clean site and a well-trained and managed workforce.

During an accident investigation or fatality investigation, reality strikes hard in tracing responsibility. After the finger-pointing and accusations subside, failures in the safety on site rise to be seen. There are a lot of bases to cover with safety; training, PPE, task assessment, medical surveillance, tool selection and upkeep, and scheduling of the subcontractors' movement on site.

Often what seemed like a reasonable safety plan of action on paper fails miserably in the chaos of a fast moving project. On this job site, all safety plans have to remain flexible to meet the swiftly changing needs of employees.

Personal Protective Equipment
All PPE on site is important. What employees need depends on the task and dangers involved: head/face protection, hearing protection, fall protection, safety footwear, confined space and IH monitoring, respiratory protection--if you can imagine it, chances are it is needed at some construction site to provide basic safety and health for employees.

A lot of planning has to take place in order to have the right PPE on site when needed in the correct sizes for employees and to ensure those employees are trained on use and misuse of each item. Education has to be constant and consistent to reach every worker affected.

At your next tailgate meeting or training session, review PPE needs with employees. Take one item at a time (hand protection, for example). Look at your employees' hands. Are they decently clean and injury free? Or are they battered, cracked, and grimy? Review PPE (gloves) and sanitation methods used, as well as any skin care offered such as barrier creams, hand sanitizers and gloves if needed. Are the right gloves used by employees for each task? Are gloves readily available and in the right size to be an asset, not a hazard?

Do employees know the use, care, and limitations of the PPE? Do they inspect gloves and trade them in when the gloves are damaged?

The Site Survey
Is someone on the site walking and looking for safety items? Daily (and more often as work progresses) safety walk surveys can save big time on injuries and lost work time.

If you as a safety professional cannot be on all sites daily, assign someone else to assist. Some sites utilize section supervisors in order to share workload and keep safety awareness high at the supervisory level. If your company utilizes "light duty," pull one of these individuals to help.

Develop a consistent survey checklist or use several for specialty areas. Include training, first aid, PPE, general awareness of the site, and specific hazard areas such as fall protection. Maintain these daily inspection sheets and note all comments on them to determine needed items and which training topics should be updated.

Continuous Safety on Construction Sites
One potential problem that has to be addressed is maintaining safety at all times on the construction job site. All too often, when the "big bosses" leave at 5 p.m., shortcuts occur in order to make up time on a project. Such shortcuts may include omitting required steps or programs (such as fall protection, lockout/tagout, or confined space) in order to catch up.

A competent person is clearly required on site for specific operations such as excavation, so make sure full-service safety is available to all employees. Having clearly stated and available procedures and contact numbers can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. But go farther: Clearly list the site address or location so that in the event of a catastrophic occurrence, any worker using a personal cellphone to call 911 can easily identify the location to the operator.

In today's workforce, many construction workers are not locals and are unfamiliar with the city landmarks. Valuable time can be lost searching for an address during an emergency or if gunfire breaks out. Make safety a constant presence and easy for employees to use and understand.

The Safety Pro on Site
The construction safety professional has nerves of steel in order to keep all the priorities moving forward without being overwhelmed--and this person usually operates on scraps of a budget. Rarely welcomed, often complained about for slowing the job down or taking too much time for training or inspection, and always thick skinned, he or she has to keep a critical balance of management objectives and employee safety in mind. More than one manager rates his safety staff by the number of grumbles and complaints, believing that "if everyone is happy, safety is not doing their job right."

It is unfortunate but true that many still see occupational safety as an "add on" or necessary evil instead of the true benefit it is to the corporate bottom line, improving insurance liability as well as the physical well-being of the employees. However, let there be a serious accident, fatality, or OSHA compliance personnel or EPA showing up on the site, and the construction safety professional is suddenly in high demand and out in front to showcase his program.

General project managers welcome safety at that moment with open arms and are thrilled with all the documentation the seasoned safety pro has stashed ready for view.

Construction Safety Checklist
How do you know what to include? Evaluate your specific work site for the operations being performed and the activities that are affected. All sites are unique and ever changing, yet all sites have some common areas that need to be assessed on a regular basis. Some basics of construction site safety may include:
* Are essential safety program elements in place for all employees, including:
--General safety/health policies
--Medical surveillance
--Hearing conservation
--Respiratory protection
--PPE, depending on needs of tasks being done
--Task assessment (including crossover duties)
--Fire safety
--Confined spaces
--Lockout/tagout
--Fall protection
--Emergency action plans
--Bloodborne pathogens program/first aid
--HazCom
--Forklift program and inspections
--Ergonomics
--Job site security
* Is employee training up to date and documented?
* Is housekeeping maintained on site?
* Do employees know how to report a safety violation or how to get additional information or have their questions answered?
* Are emergency numbers and the site address posted?
* Are provisions made for workers who do not speak or read English proficiently?
* Are exits and aisles kept clear and free of storage, trash, and equipment?
* Is lighting adequate for the work being done? How about nighttime activities?
* Are fire extinguishers available and the correct type and size for the job?
* Have employees been adequately trained in using fire extinguishers?
* Are firewatches used when/where needed for hot operations?
* Are paint, lacquer, flammable solvents, thinners, and other flammables stored appropriately for the site location? Is this area clearly labeled as to its purpose?
* Are employees trained in use and safety precautions?
* Are explosives secured and used appropriately?
* Are MSDS sheets available to employees on site?
* Are all elements of HazCom in place and documented?
* Are flammable liquids protected and used a safe distance from possible sources of ignition?

This article appeared in the February 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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