Construction's changing work climate

March 9, 2010
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Since 2005, the OSHA top ten violations list has included almost identical violations from year to year. Many of these violations, such as fall protection, scaffolding, and electrical incidents, directly affect construction industry workers. Although incident rates for construction have declined in the last few years, construction is still one of the most hazardous industries and has one of the highest rates of worker accidents and injuries. And, it would seem, the incidents and injuries repeat themselves. The unique factors of day-to-day operations in the construction industry may contribute in part to the consistency of violations; however there are preventative and proactive steps that construction professionals can take to prevent accidents and ensure that they don’t reoccur.

An ever-changing environment
Construction worksites pose an obstacle for OSHA inspectors. The majority of construction projects fly under the radar unless there is an incident. Large construction projects are easier to keep record of, but many smaller projects or renovations do not undergo a safety inspection. OSHA is working to improve the tracking of all construction projects so that worker safety is a priority no matter the job size; however, there are hundreds if not thousands of small commercial and residential construction and renovation projects that are completed annually. It’s possible that the smaller construction projects do not receive the attention from a safety and compliance standpoint that the high profile projects receive.

The nature of construction work also poses a fertile landscape for incidents. One could argue that of all professions, construction workers have more change on a day-to-day basis than any other industry. Locations change, people change, and job tasks change. This ever-changing work climate is the perfect storm for worker accidents and incidents. It is difficult to implement long-lasting changes when the day to day can be drastically different. Proper planning and advance planning are critical to construction worksite safety.

Make education ongoing
Paul Rozich, safety director at Rockford Construction Company (www.rockfordconstruction. com) comments, “Contractors may fail to prepare and implement meaningful safety programs and plans that focus on jobsite-specific hazards and the managing of those hazards accordingly, which in many cases involve further education, training and communication with employees.”

“Training and educating your employees is a critical component to reducing accidents and incidents,” explains Rozich. “It not only gives employees the opportunity to understand safety and health regulations applicable to their work, but also provides the skills necessary to identify and manage hazards in the field.”

Effectively training and educating a construction workforce can pose issues. As mentioned, workers in a construction environment are not stationary, and the job area is in constant flux. Therefore, safety and compliance training must be flexible, able to reach the workers where they are, and be relevant to the hazards of the present job. Training a construction workforce should be a constant, daily task for a safety manager or site manager.

“We are seeing many of our construction clients who traditionally use video or DVD moving to the streaming video format,” comments Teela Brown, sales manager for Summit Training Source. “Many managers have Internet capabilities on their laptops; they can pull up a training video via the web and address a specific topic on the spot. The large majority also use the Online OSHA 10 or 30 Hour training for new employees and supervisors. The Online OSHA 10 & 30 Hour training prepares workers, and the streaming video provides an easy and effective way to deliver training on the jobsite.”

Identify patterns and repeat offenders
Accident investigation plays a critical role in preventing future accidents. As a construction safety professional, it is important to track when the same employee or employees are repeat offenders. Creating a case history through accident investigation is important for all safety supervisors in the construction industry. It helps to identify patterns and implement engineering controls and training where necessary. This information should be kept in a central location allowing repetitions to be accounted for across different worksites, work groups, departments and individual employees. Safety managers get proactive The fact is that construction is a highly hazardous industry to work in. You can Google “construction accidents” and find tons of information and statistics (not surprisingly a number of law firms) that back this statement. Safety managers in the construction field need to be proactive.

“To accept or take the attitude it is the ‘nature of the job’ would, in my opinion, be cutting ourselves short. I strongly feel as long as safety and risk management continues to be a ‘team effort’ at all levels, from conception of the job to completion of the final punch list and turnover of the project, incidents will decrease,” says Rozich.

Time will tell if the lowered incident rates we’ve seen in the past few years are a condition of the economic downturn in the construction industry or if we are really making progress in lowering these incidents for good.

Rozich is positive about the future safety of construction. He comments, “Most construction managers in today’s market understand an effective safety program cannot be profitable just by decreasing accident rates and insurance premiums. Most owners looking for a construction manager to build their projects are also looking at safety performance as part of the process of selection. I firmly believe safety driven by construction managers has had a positive effect on declining rates, as well as increased voluntary safety initiatives, state and federal training and outreach programs, and other safety resources that are readily available for workers.”

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