Redefine Safety as the Elimination of Hazards
By Michael Barnes, Construction Executive
When it comes to safety on a construction site, everyone has a role and responsibility to prepare for, prevent and proactively resolve hazards. Planning is the key to minimizing accidents and ensuring a project is as safe as possible for every individual onsite.
Companies can create strategies to put safety first by identifying four common risks on a construction site: fall, struck-by, electrical and fire hazards. Doing so helps redefine the word safety as the elimination of hazards—giving the term a clearer call to action.
On top of planning for these common hazards, workers should look out for each other and “be your brother’s or sister’s keeper.” This means speaking up when someone else is working in an unsafe condition, whether it’s directly to that person or to his or her supervisor. Onsite workers are the first defense against safety hazards.
Minimizing fall hazards starts long before workers step foot on the jobsite. Companies should put together detailed plans to first identify potential fall hazards and then find the proper strategy to deal with each one individually. Think about what the specific job will entail, what kind of equipment will be used at various stages of the project and what kinds of situations workers will be put in to complete their tasks. This includes examining risks that are often overlooked, such as navigating uneven ground and falling short distances that may be below the standard threshold for fall protection.
Once these questions have been answered, a company can determine exactly what kind of protective equipment will be necessary to ensure workers’ safety – whether that means using guardrails, fall harnesses and lanyards or simply delineating ditches and small holes with a visual indicator. In addition to providing workers with the proper protection, companies must train employees to use it properly and efficiently.
Construction workers can be struck by heavy equipment and vehicles, falling or flying objects and materials from walls under construction. Every person must stay alert, avoid working underneath suspended loads and wear personal protective equipment at all times.
Wearing hard hats and appropriate eye and face protection is important, but keeping everyone safe goes well beyond that. Tool tethering is a best practice companies can utilize to prevent accidents and injuries. Even dropping a small tool could cause a serious or even fatal injury. All it takes is one misstep to create a major incident.
Electrical hazards are possibly some of the most overlooked risks on a jobsite. People plug things into outlets every day of their lives and don’t always think about the dangers of the cords, outlets and tools themselves.
Damaged cords and tools are not always easy to spot, so it is essential to train workers to understand the risks associated with electrical equipment. Keep an eye on new employees to ensure they are following proper safety and handling procedures with high-voltage equipment.
Consider building in extra safety measures around the site to protect from electrical risks. Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are crucial tools to minimize injuries resulting from a shock or electrocution. It is also important to be aware of any buried lines on the construction site. Reach out to local utility companies before the job begins to identify and plan ways to work around these lines and ensure workers are aware well in advance.
Any time small engines or flammable materials are used, there is a risk of fire. Fires can be devastating to a construction site not only by damaging property and causing delays to the overall job, but also by injuring workers. Employees need to keep this in mind any time they are working with these hazardous materials and tools.
Storing flammable materials in the proper containers is crucial to avoid spills and ruptures. Workers also should ensure containers are vented and stored in areas away from heat and direct sunlight.
Another key to minimizing fire hazards is being cognizant of the best practices in using these machines. Workers often are focused on working quickly, rather than safely. For example, workers may use an engine until it runs out of gas, and then quickly refill it without waiting for the machine to cool down. Something this seemingly insignificant could cause a fire and have a major impact on the site.