Construction Safety - 13 Steps to a Program


There are many reasons for establishing an effective safety management program, but the most important is the prevention of injuries and illnesses. Pure and simple, this is by far the overriding reason for effective safety management. The physical pain, mental stress, and eventual financial hardship that injured, ill, or disabled employees and their families experience are reason enough. Additional reasons for managing safety are to avoid direct and indirect costs incurred by work-related injuries, illnesses, and property damages.

Direct costs are expenses directly associated with a work-related injury or illness. They include medical costs and medications, workers’ compensation benefits and rehabilitation.

Indirect costs are all other expenses resulting from work-related incidents or illnesses. They include property losses or job delays, property or product damage, training, supervisory time, and administrative time.

How many ways can a safety incident disrupt normal operations and lead to additional costs? Plenty. What about time taken in getting or giving medical help? Or the work interruption at the time of the incident? It’s only natural that everything but care-for-the-injured stops. There’s time spent on the necessary investigation, searching for immediate and basic causes, plus developing corrective and preventive measures to prevent similar incidences from occurring in the future. And, further down the road, there’s time and effort spent processing paperwork and payments. Meanwhile, someone’s got to work in the injured employee’s spot. That means time spent training or retraining replacement workers.

No matter how quickly less-experienced replacement workers learn their duties, the loss of some productivity is likely. According to reliable studies, if the direct cost of an injury totals, for example, $1,500, then the estimated dollar amount required for additional expenses for the same incident will fall somewhere between $6,000 and $13,500, or four to nine times higher.

Overall, an unsafe operation yields a high cost in physical and mental suffering, inconvenience, and dollars. It’s a cost that’s ultimately wrung out of the company’s profits, taken directly from the bottom line. It’s a cost that makes it more difficult for your company to compete with other builders in the open market. 

There’s another reason for managing safety: to prevent injuries or illnesses which may result in regulatory investigations, citations, and criminal penalties – including fines and incarceration. That doesn’t even include the unflattering and embarrassing publicity that comes along with those activities. This type of publicity can tarnish your reputation and keep your company from winning bids or being considered for jobs in the future.

Some employers, despite their awareness of the responsibility and sound business sense of maintaining a safe operation, focus entirely on compliance with the rules. They’re determined to let regulations dictate their every move. These members of management do only what they believe the regulations require. Unfortunately, a company can still have high injury rates even if every safety regulation is followed to the letter. Regulations alone cannot bolster the human factors of safety, especially attitudes and behaviors. Moreover, even the most comprehensive and current regulations won’t address all the situations you’ll encounter in the worksite.

There are publications in which OSHA and other regulatory requirements are translated and interpreted line by line into simple English. Sometimes as the ink is still drying on their pages, the rules are changing. So, supplements are required to keep subscribers current. Similar updates are often available through OSHA offices and local and state builders’ associations.

Setting up a Plan
There are a lot of ready-made safety programs available. Most of them embellish what OSHA has prescribed. Any program has to be customized for your needs and reviewed and updated frequently. The main components of a safety management plan are:

1. A written safety plan. OSHA’s 1926.20 (b)(1), under Accident prevention states that: “It shall be the responsibility of the employer to initiate and maintain such programs as may be necessary to comply with this part.” OSHA’s interpretation of this is that the company’s safety management plan – including all of its mandatory components – must be prepared in a written form, and that (b) (2): “Such programs shall provide for frequent and regular inspections of the job sites, materials, and material to be made by competent persons designated by the employers.” This means that the written plan must include provisions for competent persons to frequently get out there and inspect the worksite. The written plan does not belong behind a company owner’s desk, accumulating dust. It’s got to be an actual working plan.

2. A comprehensive safety policy. The company safety policy should be simple enough to read in less than a minute. It should be a statement of policy that says, in a nutshell, nothing is worth being unsafe about. It must address training procedures and management support.

3. Management support and direction. This often tells the tale of whether a safety program will sink or swim. Management, starting with the owner, president, or other recognized leader, must lead by example and treat the subject of safety with as much attention and enthusiasm as he or she would treat any other component of the business, such as quality, budgeting, or marketing.

4. Safety responsibilities and accountability.  Safety isn’t going to “just happen”. Individuals have to know what they’re responsible for, and what roles they play. Then they’ve got to be held responsible for their behavior. The key individual at the jobsite is the foreman, or supervisor or crew leader – whoever is in immediate charge.

5. Safe behavior development. Traditionally, OSHA and other regulatory agencies look for unsafe equipment and conditions and cite those deficiencies. Unfortunately, as we discussed in the previous section, much of that attention fails to address the cause of up to 95% of safety incidents – unsafe behavior.

6. Job site audits. These are best done at least weekly (formal) and daily (informal) on certain aspects of the job, perhaps just by taking notes, not necessarily a formal checklist. Particular tasks can be looked at – such as framing, excavating, or equipment operation.

7. Incident investigations. Incident investigations should be completed on every safety case from “near accidents” on up. A good safety management system will learn from incident investigations, not just mechanically do them. Don’t merely gather information. Find out why an incident occurred, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

8. Employee training. When hiring new employees, the company’s policy toward safety should be conveyed clearly and often. Review the safety policy, discuss everyone’s roles, and reflect how important safety is. Safety procedures shouldn’t be just kept in a video or a thick binder you ask an employee to read on their own. Real people, from top management to the foreman or supervisors, should be actively involved. Avoid passing out lists of rules and regulations, or mechanically reading them. Instead, employ specific job training with equipment and methods. Use supervisory safety training. Schedule safety meetings and training and tool box sessions. Don’t take it for granted that people know how to do things safely. Refresh yearly or as often as needed. Keep your supervisors trained. Are enough competent individuals available to inspect all your company’s worksites, with individual emphasis on fire protection, sling and wire rope inspections, cranes and hoists, assured electrical equipment grounding programs, scaffolding, fall protection, aerial lift operations, and excavations?

9. First-aid and health planning. Have a plan for first-aid procedures, and make arrangements for emergency services. Some builders elect to invite members of emergency responder groups to safety meetings for discussions on how to contact the responders and what response times and services can be expected. Communication should be tested and tried in advance of an actual incident. A trial demonstration is also a good idea.

10. Site security plan. Limit access of unauthorized individuals. Secure tools and materials on the site. Make the site fire-resistant.

11. Mobile equipment safety plan. Are only those employees who have been trained to operate specific pieces of equipment allowed to operate them? Are there use procedures for vehicles? A seatbelt policy? Do individuals know how to report a vehicular accident?

12. Material safety plan. Is there preplanning of equipment moves and material deliveries? A housekeeping policy?

13. Program measurement and review. How do you know whether your safety program is working? Are you seeing injury or near-miss reductions? Are your employees displaying safe behaviors? Are your safety costs being reduced? If you’re not getting tangible results, you’ve got to go back and see what’s missing or what’s not working. You’ve got to tweak the program from time to time. Pull your records, the audits, the training sheets and see whether things are actually happening as planned.

This article excerpted from the book “Construction Safety Manual” by Dave Herbele. The book provides step-by-step instructions on how to develop, install, and maintain an effective safety management system customized to meet your own company’s requirements. With a safety plan in place, you can prevent injuries and illnesses on site and avoid needless direct and indirect costs associated with accidents and regulatory infractions. Find out how this book can save you time and money by going to:

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