In recent decades, safety in the construction industry has risen to the forefront as a high priority for contractors, labor unions and project owners. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), construction fatalities still make up nearly 1 in 5 worker deaths for private sector workers, mostly attributed to falls, being struck by an object, electrocution and caught-in/between incidents. While worker injuries and illnesses are down significantly in the last 50 years, the industry still has work to do to eliminate injuries and deaths on jobsites.
Here at Perlo, we have developed a series of practices – known as the Perlo Practices – that we strive to represent each and every day. If we work in ways that are consistent with these practices as they relate to safety, we will continue to see rates of injuries decline. It is our goal that all our people go home each day as healthy as they came, without strains, sprains, abrasions or worse. Here we explore just how each of these practices relate to construction safety.
The right thing to do, every day, is to operate in a safe manner. This means empowering every person onsite to speak up and take action if they see unsafe work practices. It means operating safely even when you’re alone and no one is looking over your shoulder. It means taking the long way to complete a task if the short way cannot be accomplished without risking injury, or worse. The right thing to do is whatever it takes to ensure worker safety, for the smallest and the largest of tasks.
During his preconstruction review, a project Superintendent recognizes a large skylight opening presents a significant fall risk. Permanent fall protection anchors were not included in the original scope. The superintendent takes it upon himself to champion the installation of permanent fall protection anchors for not only the safety of his crewmembers, but for the safety of the client post-construction.
Prior to any task being completed, the aspect of safety must be considered. Ideally, solutions to any problems are found prior to beginning any assignment. If a problem is encountered while working, stop the work and take the time to find a solution that does not compromise the health and well-being of the workers onsite. Pre-task planning and consultations with competent persons and/or safety professionals are both ways to find reasonable solutions. Once solutions are identified, it is also important to share these with your co-workers, the company and the industry at large.
A worker is using a lift to install siding on a building. Suddenly the worker finds that they can’t reach the edge of the board and is tempted to reach beyond the limits of the lift. Instead of risking a fall, stop the work, take the time to move the lift. While this may add a few minutes to the task, the time taken is nothing compared to the worker sustaining a severe injury or death.
Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Every person on a jobsite is empowered to take action by either correcting it yourself or reporting to a competent person who can correct the unsafe practice. Safety applies to Perlo employees as well as the subcontractors we work with. Everyone plays a role in keeping jobsites safe, so that each individual can make it home safely.
While climbing a stair tower, an employee encounters a discarded water bottle on the landing that could pose as a trip/fall hazard. Instead of walking past, the worker picks up the water bottle, thus removing the hazard, and disposes of it in the garbage.
Quite simply, if you see something, say something. Always. Everyone has a responsibility to speak up when you see a hazard, a near miss, etc. Speak up immediately so the unsafe practice can be remedied. If you wait, you might be too late to prevent injury or death of one of your coworkers. There is no shame in reporting unsafe circumstances.
A Perlo employee sees a subcontractor utilizing a ladder that is too short. The stretch to reach could lead to a fall. Point out to that worker that they need to find an appropriately sized ladder for that task. A simple, ‘hey, I care about your safety. Please use a taller ladder’ is all you might need to make sure that worker goes home safely that day.
Safety is ever evolving and is not always black and white. The ways we operated ten years ago may be quite different than the ways we operate today. Sometimes there are situations that don’t fall within a standard or the standard doesn’t accurately depict the scenario, which forces us to get creative with solutions. Regardless, even if the path isn’t straight, we must seek the answer that does not endanger workers. Our path should always lead to the safe return of our people at the end of each workday.
While working on an elevated surface, an employee recognizes the fall protection available to her won’t allow continuous 100% fall protection to access the work area. Instead of disconnecting her fall protection system, the worker contacts her supervisor to devise a plan which will allow for continuous protection.
Always be looking for new, better ways to complete projects. If efficiencies can be found or safer ways to complete a task are discovered, report your findings. As a group, we can also investigate or create tools that can make work tasks safer. If we are always looking for ways to enhance how we operate, we will find improved solutions for operating safely and efficiently.
While testing a padded shoulder device during a panel tilt, an employee recommended that this device be offered to employees during brace placement activities, as well. He felt the extra padding would greatly reduce the stress from packing wall braces.
Many generations and companies have come before us that have established safe work practices. In addition, many organizations are working to inform workers about safe work practices, such as OSHA. Subcontracting partners have best practices specific to their areas of work that we can apply on our jobsites, as well. If we allow our ears to be open, the simple act of listening can teach us most of what we need to know.
Utilize resources such as the OSHA 30 class, the Perlo safety manual, and our safety professionals to raise awareness and solve problems. When ideas are shared, listen to them and think through each suggestion to determine whether it can improve the safety of our sites.
Prior to beginning an unfamiliar task, rally the crew and ask for their input. Perhaps someone has had past experience with the task and can be a resource, or collectively, a safe work plan can be established.
With any problem, there is rarely one solution. When identifying ways to complete tasks, identify all of the ways it can be done, consider the pros and cons of each, and then find the common ground to complete the task. If one worker has a faster but less safe way to complete an item, and another worker has a slower but safer way to complete the item, the safer option is the correct route. Settle on that strategy and move forward. We should always be looking for the optimal way to complete each task safely. Determining the right route will often involve sharing ideas and melding them together to find the optimal path forward.
While constructing a six-story self-storage building, it was identified the overhead powerlines would pose a significant hazard to employees. While working with OSHA Consultation, PGE, the building owner, the neighboring business, our effected subcontractors and the management, a safe work plan was developed. First, where possible, the power lines were moved away from the building. Second, a narrow swing stage scaffold was utilized instead of a standard boom or scissor lift. Next, the length of metal siding material was shortened to reduce the likelihood of it touching the charged overhead lines. All parties were given the opportunity to contribute to the solution and the task was accomplished without incident.
It can be easy to become complacent about safety, particularly when monotonous tasks are involved. It is imperative, however, that the same focus remain from start to finish. As projects near the end, during punch list repairs, for instance, it can be tempting to ‘cut corners’. Say there is a 6’ ladder nearby but a 10’ ladder is more appropriate to complete a task safely. Even though it will take time to grab the correct ladder, it is not worth risking the health and wellness of the worker. Remain diligent, all the way through the finish line.
If we embed safety as a top priority into our everyday culture, then actions to optimize the health and wellness of all workers will be the priority from start to finish, even if the safe route is not necessarily the fastest route to completion.
Safety should be just as much a focus on day one as on the last day of a project; it takes consistency and discipline. Our two-story, 127,000 SF Eugene VA Healthcare Center project ended with zero recordable incidents; this was largely due to the fact that safety was a daily conversation and everyone onsite took responsibility for it.
Safety and the efforts required to keep workers safe is often not seen as a ‘fun’ topic. But change the perspective here: a worker who goes home to his or her family each day is capable of maximizing the fun in their life and enjoying time with their family. A person who is severely injured or worse, is unlikely to have the same opportunities.
We want to make sure that we are recognizing those who are working safely, changing the narrative so that safe work practices are the admired and praised thing to do. With consistent, positive reinforcement for the safe behaviors we want to see, we can make sure the priority on our sites is for all workers to go home safely each day.
Did you know?
Did you know your safety team carries spot reward items? When they encounter someone going “above and beyond” with safe work practices, employees can be rewarded with anything from ball caps and camo framed safety glasses to flashlights and head lamps. Have you been caught doing something good lately?