Small actions can prevent big accidents—remind your employees of safety training basics with this checklist.
A number-one priority for construction businesses, on-site safety can include everything from establishing a company-wide safety plan to purchasing the proper equipment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 150,000 construction site injuries occur each year, and the construction industry accounts for almost 19 percent of all workplace fatalities—more than any other industry.
Whether your business is in the process of establishing safety policies or your employees have company safety procedures memorized to the letter, you must regularly examine your current safety initiatives and identify areas for improvement. With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help ensure a safer workplace, minimize workers’ compensation claims and complete projects more efficiently.
1. Create a Safety Plan
Make safety a part of your company’s culture by creating and implementing a comprehensive safety plan. Most commonly compiled as a written manual, a safety plan should highlight emergency procedures and policies, identify potential workplace hazards, outline training programs and record incidents. All employees should be familiar with the safety plan and make an effort to follow its guidelines.
2. Prevent Falls
Falls contribute to more construction-related fatalities than any other jobsite accident, particularly when it concerns ladder use. Inspect large extension ladders or step ladders for broken rungs, missing bolts or other damaged parts, and make sure they are placed on level ground. If needed, a ladder wedge can keep the ladder steady. Use the “1-4 rule”—the base of the ladder should extend approximately one foot for every four feet that the ladder is extended. When climbing up and down, workers should face the ladder while holding onto the sides.
3. Lift and Carry with Care
Frequent manual labor on construction jobs often requires more precautions when lifting and carrying heavy equipment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that one in five workers will have a lower back injury at some point in their lives. To prevent injury, have employees strengthen their back muscles with regular exercise and stretching. When they are lifting a heavy object, have them bend from the knees with feet shoulder-width apart. Also, require them to shift feet to change direction while carrying objects close to waist level.
4. Invest in Ergonomic Equipment
Ergonomic equipment is designed to help workers reduce fatigue, avoid injuries and strains and increase productivity. Such equipment, including ladder caddies, seat cushions and power tools with rubber handles, work with the body’s natural movements and minimize the risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders, especially back pain.
5. Recognize the Dangers of Confined Space
A confined space is any tight-quartered area that is not intended for continuous occupancy, such as manholes, wells, silos and ditches. Apart from engulfment, the greatest hazards of confined spaces, especially manholes, are usually not visible to the human eye. Before workers remove a manhole cover, they should test the area for toxic or combustible gases, as well as depleted or enriched oxygen. Practice the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) “test, purge and ventilate” routine to carry out jobs safely in and around manholes.
6. Beat the Heat
Heat stress can occur when the human body fails to self-regulate its internal temperature in hot environments. In addition to understanding the three stages of heat stress (heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke) and their accompanying symptoms, always have employees take preventive measures when working in the heat. They should properly hydrate before and during work by drinking 6 to 12 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes, and wear light clothing. When workers are outside in extreme heat, be sure to set up heavy-duty work tents and umbrellas to block the sun’s rays.
7. Practice Electrical Safety
Electrocutions cause the second-highest number of construction fatalities, after falls. Before working with electrical equipment and tools, have employees check wires for missing or worn insulation, and stay clear of water when in contact with the equipment. Replace power tool cords that have bare spots instead of splicing or taping them, and use extension cords only when necessary. If a tool is not double-insulated, make sure workers have an intact grounding system.
8. Maintain Visibility
Whether repairing a cable line on the side of a highway or directing traffic around a construction site, an employee who wears high-visibility clothing and equipment can prevent devastating struck-by accidents. Bright yellow or orange reflective clothing and gear should be a staple in any construction company’s equipment arsenal.
9. Drive Defensively
Whether employees are driving a heavy duty work truck or the company van, adhering to traffic laws is crucial. A good rule of thumb is to always keep a two-second following distance (four seconds if operating a larger vehicle), and check blind spots. Remind drivers that their mirrors aren’t always good enough; they should be sure to make a 90-degree head turn before changing lanes, turning or pulling in to traffic. And, of course, all drivers should stay off handheld cell phones while driving.
10. Beware of Natural Hazards
When you think of construction safety, a bug bite is most likely not the first thought that comes to mind. Insect bites and stings are common in construction zones, especially those from imported fire ants. These reddish-brown or black ants are attracted to low voltage electricity, which is found in electrical equipment and utility housings such as power pedestals and even traffic signals. Not only can ants infiltrate these structures and short out the equipment, but their bites are painful and may cause allergic reactions. When employees are working on a jobsite with a fire ant hazard, have them cover exposed areas of skin. If someone is bitten, make sure he or she washes the area as soon as possible and refrains from scratching.