In a borderline economy, it's all too easy to get caught up in the bottom line. However, that same bottom line is directly connected to your employees' safety and well-being. One serious accident can set off a chain reaction, resulting in the invaluable loss of life or limb, not to mention litigation that can put your company out of business entirely.
Don't ignore the following 7 safety steps on your job sites.
- A safety manual. While OSHA doesn't require construction companies to have a written safety manual in place, safety manuals are a sure way to send a powerful message from the top down - SAFETY MATTERS HERE. Produce an easy-to-read manual that outlines the company's commitment to safety. It should include a clear safety plan, identify workplace hazards, and explain emergency policies and procedures. Make sure it is in compliance with current OSHA regulations and that you update it immediately as these regulations change. Employees should be familiar with the manual and it should be available in the languages spoken by your employees.
- Regular tailgate safety meetings. Foremen, superintendents, and/or project managers should hold weekly tailgate safety meetings that slowly make their way through the safety manual. The meetings will keep the importance of workplace safety fresh in the minds of your employees, and should be made as relevant as possible. For example, topics surrounding heat exhaustion and hydration should be covered in the summer months, while slip and fall hazards are ideal for wet/freezing winter conditions. Topics should be written up beforehand, signed off by attending employees and kept in the company's safety manual or office files. These meetings only need to be about 15 minutes or so to cover the basics and answer any questions that may come up.
Take your attention to safety one step further by encouraging foremen to do a quick rundown of the tasks being performed each day, complete with brief, relevant safety reminders.
- Host safety orientations. Go beyond the tailgate safety meeting by hosting quarterly, in-depth safety orientation sessions focusing on some of the most common OSHA violations, including ladder, fall protection, scaffolding, and electrical violations. Insist that employees attend and sign-off on these orientations before they are back in the field. This level of attention, combined with your written records, will help to cover your back in case of an accident. Employees should be paid for their time. Providing breakfast or lunch can be an added bonus to keep grumbling to a minimum while simultaneously boosting attendance.
- Heat protection. Heat can be a nearly silent offender. Heat exhaustion begins with a few cramps or a headache and can quickly become fatal heat stroke without proper attention. Once temperatures soar, make sure employees understand the signs of heat exhaustion (headache, muscle cramps, profuse sweating, dark colored urine, etc.). They should be provided with adequate shade as well as ample water, drinking 6 to 12 ounces of water every 15 minutes or so. Advise them to wear long-sleeved, light colored clothing and hats. If heat is excessive, rent large, heavy-duty work tents and umbrellas so employees are protected from direct sunlight when working outside.
- Invest in protective equipment. The more your employees are protected on the job, the less likely they are to experience a serious injury. Consider investing in protective equipment such as hard hats, safety goggles, insulated tools, ear plugs, masks, and other industry-related gear. Going the extra mile to provide ergonomic equipment, such as seat cushions, power tools and ladder caddies will also help to prevent work-related injuries that cost your company time and money.
- Fall prevention. Falls are the single leading cause of construction-related fatalities. The more you pay attention to fall prevention, the less susceptible your employees are to becoming a statistic. Ladders are the most common culprit so inspect them regularly and make sure they are always used correctly and on level ground. Remember the 1-4 rule - the base of the ladder should extend at least one-foot for every four-feet it extends up. Employees should always ascend and descend ladders facing forward and holding on with both hands.
- Electricity safely. After falls, electrocution is the second leading cause of fatalities on construction sites. All electrical equipment, wires, and connections should be inspected on a daily basis. Any questionable issues need to be addressed before the equipment is used. Power tools with worn cords should be replaced, rather than patched with electrical tape. Use appropriate grounding systems and never work with electrical tools in the immediate presence of water.
These seven steps can help you run a more safe and sound construction site. Contact your local OSHA representative or visit the OSHA website for assistance developing your company's written safety plan or to learn more about preventing injuries on your job sites.* Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net