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9 ways to improve your construction safety culture

Rick Zellen, AVP, Principal Risk Engineer, April 30, 2019

Contractors can take positive, proactive steps to enhance worker safety and prevent jobsite injuries.

construction safety

To understand the pressing need for effective workplace safety practices, you don’t need to look any further than government statistics covering worker fatalities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 5,147 Americans lost their lives in workplace accidents across all business segments in 2017. Looking at construction alone, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) noted that 971 workers died as a result of accidents in 2017. That number accounts for 20 percent of fatalities across all industries.

Sixty percent of construction-related fatalities were caused by the “Fatal Four” – falls, being struck by objects, electrocutions, and being caught in-between building materials and/or equipment. Many of those fatalities could be prevented by building a culture of safety on a foundation of vigilant risk engineering, effective management training and heightened employee safety awareness.

Below are some recommendations that can help enhance jobsite and worker safety:

Increase worker engagement

Building a culture of safety awareness takes the engagement of the people who will benefit most – your workers. Insightful companies ask employees to participate in jobsite safety walks, lead safety meetings and assist in pre-task plan and task hazard analysis. Employees should also be asked to join in near-miss accident investigations as teachable moments. And seasoned employees should mentor inexperienced workers new to the construction trades.

Share best practices

Thanks to the internet, accessing safety information and sharing best practices can be as close as your keyboard. Webinars featuring online lessons learned and communication with colleagues facing similar challenges can make sharing best practices more convenient than ever. Additionally, industry associations such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) offer opportunities to access and share safety best practices.

Address language barriers

In years past, most safety information was available in “English-only” formats. Workers who didn’t speak or understand English had to rely on bilingual workers for help or simply pretended they understood the training. Provide safety training in languages all employees can understand and absorb.

Reduce soft tissue injuries

Soft tissue injuries are a persistent problem in construction. Consider developing formal training covering material handling, the use of equipment or mechanical advantage to move materials, and restrictions on the amount of weight employees can lift and carry. Also, implement stretching regimes at the start of every shift, perhaps including after breaks and lunch.

Leverage new technologies

Industry journals and magazines feature information about a growing surge in new technology products intended to help enhance worker safety, including wearables. Some devices monitor the jobsite environment, while others track the health and safety of individual workers. Sensors can sound an alert when a worker enters a restricted area, while other devices notify safety personnel or supervisors in the event of a slip, trip or fall. Still other technologies can be placed in a building under construction to allow rapid evacuation in the event of an accident, fire, chemical spill or a natural disaster. Explore some of the many other technologies available to help improve worker safety efforts.

Leverage modular and prefab construction

An increasing number of building components can be constructed off-site and then brought to the job for installation. Constructing parts off-site under controlled conditions helps to improve safety, since workers aren’t required to work on elevated work platforms or outside exposed to weather. It can also improve the quality of the final product.

Monitor worker readiness

Construction workers need to be prepared, both physically and mentally, to do the job. Substance abuse, opioid use or fatigue can impair a worker’s ability to stay alert and make safe decisions on and off the site. This is also an important consideration for fleet drivers, who should be informed of the company’s policy on distracted driving and substance use. Drivers should also be regularly monitored for fatigue.

Evaluate and improve fall protection

Of the nearly 60 percent of fatalities related to the “Fatal Four” discussed earlier, 39 percent were due to falls alone. Companies must better plan for their fall protection needs, ensuring anchorages, bodywear and connecting devices engineered and/or evaluated by qualified personnel.

Act on your plans

Making safety a habit is crucial in all industries, but especially in construction. Having a formal worker safety plan is an important first step, but it must be implemented to deliver a positive impact. Workers should start each workday with a full understanding of the jobs to be performed, the potential hazards and the best practices they need to follow to prevent accidents, injuries and, worst of all, fatalities.

For more valuable tips that can help develop an effective worker safety culture, visit our special Construction Safety Week page.

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