We are just getting started in the basketball season, so when we started looking at safety questions pending in the coming year, we found five common issues that everybody has to keep in front of their team—the starting five if you will.

The implementation of a safety and health management system is much more challenging in the construction industry. These challenges include transient workforces, environmental conditions because of outdoor working conditions, multi-employer worksites, and an always-changing job site. You can add your issues to the list at your leisure.

While many elements go into creating a positive safety culture in construction, here are five essential issues for safety professionals and contractors to consider when addressing worker safety.

 

Educate the Workforce

For workers to perform safely, they must understand the hazards and risks they face on the job site. Given the transient workforce in the construction industry, individual workers may not always be as familiar with the work nor the hazards involved.

That’s why the workers participating in a project must have the right skill set and knowledge to complete their tasks safely. At a minimum they shouldn’t get on a job site without an understanding of common hazards in construction. OSHA calls them the “Focus Four”—fall hazards, caught-in-or-between hazards, struck-by hazards, and electrocution hazards— and how to prevent those types of incidents.

They must also recognize that conditions change throughout the day, leading to new hazards that may not have been present when the work started.

Ongoing education through “Toolbox Talks” provide workers 10- to-15-minute informational sessions before a shift that addresses the hazards associated with the tasks they will be performing and how those hazards can be mitigated to help workers do their jobs safely.

 

Look Out for Worker Well-Being

Here’s a sobering thought. A 2015 study from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control found that the construction and excavation industries had the highest suicide rate among males of all major occupational groups. A 2018 study from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute found that nearly 15 percent of construction workers suffer from substance abuse. Measures such as employee assistance programs provide a confidential forum for workers to discuss issues such

as substance abuse or depression so they can get the help they need.

 

Understand the Project

When undertaking any project, all involved need a comprehensive understanding of the work to be performed, any requirements that work must meet and who is responsible for what tasks. Many sites have contractors from multiple employers working side-by-side, and often dozens of workers performing different functions for various periods.

Given these circumstances, contractors, project managers and safety professionals need to be aware of any regulatory requirements governing the work performed. They also must understand the range of different groups on their job site at any given time (e.g., electricians, ironworkers, plumbers, painters) and expectations of them in terms of project safety.

 

Remember the “hierarchy of controls”

In some cases on construction sites, personal protective equipment (PPE) is often used as the first line of defense in protecting workers from hazards. While important (and required by regulations in many cases), everybody on the project needs to remember that the hierarchy of controls begins with elimination or substitution of hazards. These methods provide the highest mitigation of dangers to protect workers and used before moving further down the hierarchy to PPE.

 

Employ Effective Safety Management

Many businesses have a safety management system in place, whether they refer to it that way or not. It reflects how executives think about safety, the level of training provided to workers and the actions of those workers as they complete their tasks. To truly foster continuous improvement in occupational safety and health, organizations need to understand what leads to safety and health success.

Not a bad starting five. Soon we’ll look at the bench players.