General contractors manage a variety of considerations as they oversee a building’s construction. One of the most important concerns a general contractor must control, particularly in the construction industry, is safety.
This article explains how planning, training and inspection play a critical role in the implementation of a superior safety program.
Eight Steps to a Superior Safety Program
Do it For the Right Reason – If the goal of your program is to stay compliant, you will always be reacting. If your goal is to operate safe jobsites, compliance will come naturally and you will be more proactive. Rather than viewing regulations as rules you must follow, use them as steps to help you be safe. Don’t be afraid to make your standards more stringent than OSHA standards.
Acceptance Comes From the Top Down – The vision of a safe jobsite begins with your company’s leadership. They set the tone, agree to and enforce standards, pay for the training and equipment and establish the concept that safety is the ONLY way of doing business.
Plan Ahead – Every jobsite has its own unique risks. Devote time before construction starts to identify those risks and establish a plan to address them. Communicate this safety analysis every day to workers so they know what hazards to expect and how to work around them.
Use Industry Organizations – Groups like QUOIN, TCA, etc. can help you establish your program, give you tools to make it more successful, offer training to your employees, keep you informed of trends and upcoming changes, and more. Save time and money by leveraging these organizations’ existing programs rather than recreating your own.
Safety is Part of the Deal – Your safety program should be part of the contract between you and your subcontractors. Make sure your subs have your safety program in writing so they know exactly what is expected of them.
Train Relentlessly – Complete all required training and then get additional training. Set your standards above those of OSHA and train people above the minimum standards. Every time your people are trained, they become more capable and more focused on safety.
Know the Rules – Subscribe to industry publications and be involved with organizations to stay current on the ever-changing world of OSHA regulations.
Inspect Regularly – Inspections are the most effective means of catching and countering bad habits. Get superintendents, project managers, even company leadership involved with inspections to emphasize their importance. Use a program like DBO2 to document and communicate inspection results.
General contractors manage a variety of considerations as they oversee a building’s construction, including budget, materials and schedule. They also must ensure compliance with a wide range of regulatory requirements, from environmental standards to legal employment practices. One of the most important concerns a general contractor must control, particularly in the construction industry, is safety.
Clearly, the federal government considers construction safety a significant concern. In 2006, more than 59% of all federal inspections performed by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) nationwide, 22,891 inspections in all, took place in the construction sector. OSHA conducted an additional 27,672 state inspections at construction jobsites.
Over the past few years, incidents involving vehicles or equipment have been the primary source of construction workplace injuries in Texas. Fall hazards also account for a high percentage of the mishaps that take place. Other hazards that result in jobsite injuries include electrical shock and caught-betweens and falling objects.
The approach to maintaining a safe jobsite and minimizing the risk from these and many other hazards is a three-pronged strategy of planning, training and inspections.
Planning: Stopping Mishaps Before They Occur
Planning ahead allows workers to see and avoid mishaps before they occur. “Our work crews do a pre-task planning every day,” said Dino Sideris, Safety Director for Bob Moore Construction. “Before work starts, we assess the tasks to be performed and identify hazards, then eliminate them or engineer them out. This process takes place before the project starts and repeats every morning until it’s done. The planning varies by location because each jobsite presents its own unique hazards, but the general process of ongoing planning remains the same.
“On a more strategic level, we have a formal safety plan,” Sideris said. “The plan is thoroughly documented and made available to everyone involved in our projects. This ensures our operations stay within OSHA standards and formalizes our policies so everyone, from our employees to our subcontractors to our clients, knows our standards and procedures ahead of time.”
Training is the second essential component of the successful safety plan. “We do extensive training for our people,” said Sideris. “All of our people in the field has completed the OSHA 30-hour course, has been trained in first aid and emergency response, and has earned CPR certification. Even our administrative employees, from our receptionist to our CEO, have been trained in first aid and CPR.”
Training is available through a wide range of sources. For companies that are appropriately staffed, much of the training is done in-house. Consultants are available to address more specialized educational needs, like stormwater management and environmental training. Industry associations, like the AGC, ACI and TCA, also provide training programs and guidance. In particular, QUOIN (the north and east Texas chapter of AGC) performs and coordinates training programs and helps companies develop and implement safety programs. QUOIN has led initiatives for safety training to include periodic safety stand-downs around the state and regional training marathons that provide OSHA 10-hour training to hundreds of workers at a time.
The most surprising source for safety training is – the competition. “If another general contractor is doing training that one of my guys needs, I’ll get him into that class,” said Sideris. “I’ve done the same for other companies as well. In safety there is no competitor. The work crew on another company’s site today could easily be on ours next month. By elevating safety knowledge on other companies’ jobsites we ultimately improve our own as well.”
One reason constant training is important is due to the ever-evolving nature of personal protective equipment (PPE). Manufacturers constantly produce new or improved PPE in response to identified needs in the marketplace or as a result of evolving OSHA standards, and contractors must stay current on what is available.
“PPE changes all the time,” said Sideris. “OSHA’s requirements change frequently and equipment makers constantly innovate to meet those revisions. The PPE that was fully compliant last year may not be today. For example, a few years ago there was no such thing as retractable lanyards for fall protection. Given all the different positions workers needed to be to get the job done, in many situations the standard harness didn’t suffice. So they come up with the retractable lanyard, one that creates an instant stop within two inches of the start of the fall, to respond to that need. OSHA changes a requirement, manufacturers respond with new PPE and contractors are expected to stay on top of this.”
Training also allows workers to identify upcoming trends in compliance. Sideris believes that in the coming months OSHA will focus on enforcing the health portion of their regulations, like how long people are exposed to chemicals such as chromium or lead. He anticipates that OSHA will regulate the proper use of PPE more stringently as well. By training regularly, a contractor can address these changes proactively.
Following on the heels of planning and training, the third component of the successful safety program is to self-inspect. Superintendents and safety representatives walk the jobsite several times a week, observing work processes, documenting procedural violations and potential hazards, and implementing corrective actions. Often, these inspections result in procedural changes that are incorporated into the daily pre-task planning.
In the past few years QUOIN spearheaded the development of a program called DBO2 to dramatically improve the inspection process. With DBO2 superintendents can document their observations on a Personal Data Assistant (PDA) and transmit their results immediately to all levels of the company. This provides the formal documentation of inspections as required by OSHA, and communicates potential issues to the general contractor’s representatives who can address them.
Because the DBO2 program allows immediate, simple documentation of inspections, the number of observations that can be recorded is far greater than what would occur otherwise. For example, in 2007 Bob Moore Construction documented 97,000 observations at its various jobsites using DBO2, with a 98% safe rate on those observations. The remaining 2% of the observations were corrected immediately and without incident, because the superintendents identified the issues while they were in progress, but before any mishap occurred.
Benefits of a Superior Construction Safety Program
Clearly, implementing the successful safety program requires a great deal of work at all levels of the project. The results are well worth the effort.
“Our safety program gives us a big advantage in the marketplace,” said Ed McGuire, Vice President of Construction for Bob Moore Construction. “Our A+ rating with the insurance carriers reduces premiums considerably, allowing us to be more competitive in our bids. We’re finding that developers are becoming more interested in our safety program as well. They recognize that a safety-conscious general contractor reduces their potential liability for law suits and bad publicity. Our safety program is a legitimate marketing advantage that allows us to separate ourselves from our competition.
“Our safety program is a benefit from an operational standpoint as well,” McGuire added. “We haven’t suffered a time-lost incident in more than five years. Workers come to our jobsites, trusting that we operate a safe work environment, and that improves morale. We have a track record for safety, which establishes an expectation in our workers’ minds that we won’t tolerate anything less than safe work procedures. In that sense the program is self-perpetuating. Most importantly, on a moral level we want our workers to be safe. We want them going home in the same condition they came to work in. Our safety program provides cost benefits, marketing advantages, operating and efficiencies, and it is fundamentally the right thing to do.”
According to Sideris, the greatest challenge to maintaining a safe jobsite is attitude. “Getting people to recognize the inherent risk of working on a construction site is a big part of what I have to do every day,” he said. “It’s easy to cut corners on safety. It’s easy not to put on the reflector vest or harness, not put up the railing on the scaffolding. For the safety program to be a success we have to overcome that complacency.
“I take safety very personally, and I make safety personal to our people in the field,” he added. “I talk directly to the workers, and try to make them think of their family and their responsibilities beyond work. I try to touch the person’s heart first. I believe that’s how you start and finish the attitude change. If you can win the battle over attitude, the planning, training and inspecting all falls into place.”