Everybody involved on the project -– from senior management to the newest employee -– has responsibilities in the safety program. (Medcor Inc. photo)

Construct a Safety Plan with a Solid Foundation

Conduct research, assess and plan, and hold people accountable. It's never too late (or too early!) to integrate a safety plan or policies into a project.

Amid another busy construction season, safety is once again on the forefront of the minds of many industry professionals. While every safety professional's goal is to send workers home each night in the same condition they arrived, unfortunately, there's no magic bullet to achieve zero injuries or prevent lost time. However, there are fundamental things that can be implemented at any construction site to reduce injuries.

Improve Planning and Organization
Safety planning must begin at the earliest point in the project lifecycle. Evidence has shown that companies have the best opportunity to influence safety performance when safety is integrated into the design phase. This concept, known as "Designing for Safety," allows for initial identification of potential hazards and effective cost planning up front; it also prevents unanticipated expenses during the construction phase. OSHA also recognizes this as a best practice. The agency is currently developing a proposal that will require companies to establish a written injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) for all work sites.

"An initial safety plan should outline how safety will be managed during the project and include roles and responsibilities, resources, anticipated hazards and controls, training requirements, and safety equipment needs," said Tim McGuire, president of McGuire Management Consulting. McGuire has more than 30 years experience as a safety professional. His firm provides safety, workers' compensation, and risk management services to organizations in a variety of industries.

"Reviewing safety and injury data from previous projects will facilitate a clearer assessment of what safety materials or training will be necessary for the current project," he explained. Once this is established, safety costs can be estimated for inclusion in the project's bid. Doing so will alleviate many unanticipated safety costs during construction. For example, if fall prevention training is required for workers, the time and materials necessary to accomplish it should be included in the proposal.

The next step in the planning process is governed by OSHA's established hierarchy of safety controls. First, once assessments have been made, consider whether the hazard can be engineered to a safe state (for example, using guardrails on wall openings, using trench boxes to prevent cave-ins, or using machine guards on saws and other power tools, etc.). Next, create administrative controls such as policies, procedures, rules, and training sessions that do not present a physical barrier to a hazard but instead rely on good decision-making. Finally, enforce the use of personal protective equipment.

Establish Accountability on All Levels
Everybody involved on the project –- from senior management to the newest employee -– has responsibilities in the safety program. Senior management personnel are responsible for establishing safety policies and providing resources. Mid-level managers implement and enforce those policies and procedures, as well as conduct hazard analysis, employee training sessions, accident investigations, safety inspections, and other safety activities on the job site. Employees are responsible for following established safety procedures, reporting safety hazards, and participating in safety training and meetings.

Responsibilities should be assigned accordingly in the early stages of the project and accountability systems should be planned. Accountability systems must be designed to encourage every employee to take ownership of safety. Traditional models focus on loss-based financial accountability at upper levels and counseling/disciplinary action at lower levels. Other techniques include "stop work" authority for all employees and shared accountability for team/crew safety performance.

Incentive programs also can help to drive compliance and accountability. These programs should focus on recognizing employees for safety, not for reducing injuries, because it may result in under-reporting.

"Recognition should be focused on encouraging safe behavior such as consistently using PPE and other safety controls and taking action to resolve hazards," McGuire said. He suggests implementing a "spot reward" program, where employees are rewarded instantly for promoting or complying with safety. "An urban construction client handed out a $1 gift certificate to a popular coffee chain for complying with the safety program –- reporting hazards, wearing PPE, etc. The program was very successful -– the workers received instant gratification for following the rules, which was great for employee morale, and the client had very few accidents over the course of the project."

Use Hazard Analysis as a Basis for Safety Planning
Many site safety plans focus on regulatory compliance and ignore unregulated hazards. Clearly, compliance is a critical part of the program, but in itself it does not address all issues on the site.

McGuire said strictly following OSHA regulations doesn't always prevent injuries, either. "OSHA regulates physical conditions on a job site but doesn't address that the behavior of employees and poor decision-making is what causes many accidents," he said. Site safety plans should be oriented on the hazards present, as well as regulatory requirements. For example, OSHA has no regulations governing ergonomics in the construction industry, and musculoskeletal injuries are among the most frequent and expensive in the industry. A site safety plan that focuses only on OSHA compliance misses a big part of the problem.

Therefore, in addition to taking the appropriate OSHA regulations into consideration, look over previous accident records for similar sites during the design phase of the project, assess what safety measures are necessary, and anticipate the hazards at the new site. This aspect of safety planning needs to be continuously managed. Once work begins, perform job hazard analysis to identify control measures and procedures that will keep employees safe. These policies should be presented to employees in a formal training session before work begins.

Plan to hold specialized training sessions for employees working at heights or with hazardous materials, etc., as well as additional classes for new employees or contractors that come on site throughout the duration of the project. There is great value in conducting daily "toolbox or tailgate talks" to reinforce policies and to keep safety fresh in the minds of all the workers on site. These daily meetings should be more than just a "let's be safe today" pep talk.

"Daily safety meetings are a great time to inform workers of any new hazards on site," McGuire said. "A daily 10- or 15-minute meeting can prevent thousands of dollars spent on claims costs down the line."

Don't Worry, Call a Professional
Let's face it, implementing a safety program can be challenging. Many companies have had success in hiring safety consultants or on-site safety or medical firms to assist at their worksites. Each brings a different perspective to the table. Safety consultants can bring years of experience to companies when safety planning. On-site safety and medical personnel can help companies identify and analyze hazards, monitor the implementation of safety plans, and assess compliance.

Several construction firms have found that having medical companies on site can provide a great deal of support for safety initiatives. Medcor, Inc. Executive Vice President Curtis Smith said this relationship results in early recognition of serious injuries and quick treatment of minor injuries so those employees can get back to productive work. In addition, injury trend reports assist safety personnel in developing better policies.

"Most of our construction medical personnel have extensive industry experience and training up to OSHA 300- and 500-level certified, so they can provide safety training and support, as well as facilitate return to work and modified duty programs," Smith said, explaining that this allows clients to focus on their core competencies while reducing injuries, lost time, and claims costs.

No matter the scope of the project, a safety plan is only going to be as successful as the foundation it's built upon. So start early, conduct research, assess and plan, and hold people accountable. It's never too late (or too early!) to integrate a safety plan or policies into a project or to call in safety professionals to help if they're not already employed at your site.

About the Author

Kate Woldhuis is a business development analyst at Medcor, Inc. She received a bachelor's degree in journalism and minored in environmental studies at Northern Illinois University and has written articles regarding occupational health and safety for various publications. She works with companies in a wide variety of industries to promote on-site health, wellness, and safety initiatives and helps potential clients devise on-site development opportunities. Medcor provides telemedicine services to nearly 90,000 work sites in all 50 states and operates 174 on-site workplace clinics. It also provides safety services at construction sites, wind farms, utility and power companies, and government agencies through its subsidiary, Brown Services, LLC.

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