Safety has always been an important topic in our industry. However, with the onset of larger-scale jobs, increasingly stringent requirements from insurance agencies and tighter schedules, many contractors have had to revisit their long-standing safety practices. Taking a fresh look at safety can pay huge dividends by keeping all team members healthy and, in turn, by improving productivity.
From Complacent to Consistent
In some ways, we are victims of our own success. Our widespread focus on safety has resulted in many firms having long-standing programs, both in the field and in the office. Most companies today do a thorough job of keeping up with daily tasks such as reviewing jobsite emergency evacuation plans, conducting safety audits, updating accident investigation documentation and holding weekly safety meetings. However, there is danger in not revisiting even the most solid of programs.
One of the most common safety mistakes employees make in the area of complacency is succumbing to denial that something bad could happen to them. John Jakimowicz, safety director at Madison Concrete Construction, notes the importance of addressing such a mind-set. “Whether you are a young employee starting out or you have been on the jobsite for years, you are not invincible,” he says. Jakimowicz adds that safety “has to start at the top and be communicated throughout the organization.”
In the last few years, Madison has witnessed the insurance industry pushing for increasingly stringent safety programs. In response, Madison has developed a program that not only uses safe equipment but trains on such equipment as well. Further, the superintendent and foreman are responsible for conducting daily inspections, and workers are required to inspect their equipment before use.
Training Starts in the Office
Safety should be emphasized throughout all facets of the organization. Companies can begin by adopting or developing a comprehensive safety policy and in-house production of employee safety orientation programs. In addition, upper management should meet at jobsites on a weekly basis to review site safety. A specified safety committee should be established, too. Meeting on a monthly basis, the committee should take responsibility to review and discuss recent injuries from all jobs to make recommendations accordingly.
Finally, the field management team, along with project managers and estimators, should meet several times a year for additional education. Madison hosts such meetings and incorporates guest speakers to discuss safety trends.
As Madison’s president, Jim Dolente Jr., puts it, “We don’t see safety as a goal, but as a way of conducting business and protecting our greatest resource—our employees.”
Moving to the Field
Hands-on training is important. Companies should establish routines that reinforce safe practices, and in the field, weekly talks should be scheduled to review safety issues. According to Jakimowicz, it is important for these talks to focus specifically on a topic related to what is happening on the job at that time. For example, to prepare for the summer’s excessive heat, you can cover heat stress and heat-related injuries to prevent dehydration or similar accidents.
Additionally, the superintendent and foreman should conduct daily task plans to share any potential challenges or important project details. One example is to use this time to warn workers of scheduled deliveries that involve large vehicles arriving on the jobsite. This information is crucial so that everyone can be aware of their surroundings at all times.
The Role of Equipment
In addition to having well-trained employees, it is important to use protective equipment that will help keep all crews safe. One key to success when choosing the right equipment is to have a good relationship with your supplier, as they can provide guidance.
Daily inspection of equipment is crucial. These inspections may seem tedious, but failure to conduct them can lead to serious injuries. Another aspect of equipment safety involves the proper operation of all tools, such as making sure all electrical currents are grounded.
Not only is the safety of your workers important, but the safety of nearby residents and pedestrians should be taken into consideration as well. Using safety equipment such as sidewalk canopies for projects alongside walkways or major intersections, construction companies can ensure that everyone stays protected. Likewise, project deliveries involving large trucks require a trained flagger to ensure that pedestrians and drivers are cautious and aware of what is going on.
As Jakimowicz says, “No one wants to see anyone get hurt.” Revisit your company’s safety plan to make sure you are proactively engaged in minimizing the potential for injury.