Compliance with your construction company's safety policy should be an expectation, not an option, for employees.

It seems like a no-brainer: When working hundreds of feet in the air, employees should wear equipment that will help prevent falls and protect them from a serious injury in case of a fall. Many employees will follow safety regulations to the letter, but others ignore the rules. Even the most experienced workers may become complacent and ignore proper safety precautions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to develop a safety compliance initiative. However, several important benchmarks can be used as a starting point to encourage fall protection compliance.

Achieving 100 percent compliance in fall protection is a challenge because it requires specialized training and is more complicated than other safety precautions, such as requiring employees to wear a hard hat, safety glasses or gloves.

Although fall protection compliance rates vary by sector, the estimated average industry rate is only about 60 percent. This means that approximately one out of every three workers is either not properly protected or not protected at all in the event of a fall.

Again, there is no single all-encompassing fall protection policy that will apply to the diverse landscape of industries, but in general, companies with extremely high compliance rates and exceptional safety records exhibit common characteristics. Use the following five tips to encourage and enforce compliance with fall protection regulations.

1. Create a culture of "safety for safety's sake." Safety should be embedded into a company's culture from the top down. If the CEO does not care about safety or model the appropriate behavior, it is unlikely that workers will make safety a priority. Fall protection equipment should not be enforced just because OSHA requires it, but because the company's top priority is the safety and well being of its employees. This attitude will send a message to employees.  This is the first step to encourage compliance with fall protection regulations.

2. Provide hands-on training for all employees. All employees should receive thorough training on the company's safety policies, and that training should be a combination of a classroom setting and hands-on exercises. All employees have unique concerns relevant to their day-to-day duties, and employees learn in different ways. Without hands-on training, workers may not apply all of the course material, and they also will not get the feel of properly fitted fall protection equipment.

3. Appeal to the motivations of each worker. Each worker will have different reasons for complying or not complying with fall protection regulations. The fear of death or severe injury and being unable to work should be enough motivation for anyone to comply, yet some employees still believe they will never have an accident. Emphasize that non-compliance could lead to lost wages, permanent injuries or even death. Also share frightening facts and personal stories. Your employees will take safety more seriously when they realize that accidents can impact their family or quality of life.

4. Provide comfortable, easy-to-use safety equipment. One of the easiest ways to encourage compliance is by supplying workers with comfortable, high-performing equipment. Full-body harnesses, for example, should be constructed with strategically placed padding and soft, moisture-wicking materials that will not rub or chafe. Look for lightweight components and points of adjustment that lock into place to eliminate the need for readjustment throughout the day. Equipment should be easy to use and comfortable to wear. When workers are happy with their equipment, they are more likely to comply with standards.

5. Penalize non-compliance. Fall protection is an area in which non-compliance is penalized more frequently than compliance is rewarded. Companies should take an uncompromising line on non-compliance, given the monetary and reputational consequences of a fall. Develop a policy that states how employees will be disciplined if they do not abide by the company and industry fall protection regulations. Company policies range from no-tolerance- in which an employee faces immediate dismissal if caught working near a fall hazard without fall protection equipment- to a "three strikes and you are out" type of policy. Another option is to send the non-complying worker home without pay for the rest of the day.

Again, the details in developing and implementing a compliance enforcement initiative will vary from company to company, but all construction business owners should create a safety plan. Make sure your compliance policy is well-defined and consistently enforced. Compliance should be viewed as an expectation, not an option.

Construction Business Owner, June 2011