When it Comes to Jobsite Safety, It’s All or Nothing
By Ellen Rogers
Shortcuts are great when they reduce your drive time by 15 minutes. Shortcuts aren’t great on a jobsite. They still happen, though—even with all the safety training, meetings, readily available personal protective equipment (PPE) and employee incentives.
Contract glazing company officials agree it’s essential to convey to employees that shortcuts and jobsites don’t mix.
“We’re not always focused on production. We want a good work pace, but we [don’t want employees] rushed and hurried,” says Jeff Montgomery, corporate safety director with IWR North America based in St. Louis. “It’s continual communication from the top down.”
Falls, being caught in between, or struck by an object and electrocution are the four most common Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hazards. Though these could injure contract glaziers on a jobsite, they aren’t necessarily the biggest safety concerns.
“Most incidents we’ve had or seen are related to some form of rushing, which comes from different sources,” says Montgomery. “Sometimes it’s us [management], and we have to watch that we aren’t pushing scheduling and production so much that we cause someone to take those shortcuts. It may come from outside sources like the weather. Accidents have happened because the workers are trying to avoid a storm hazard, but then make a mistake because they are rushing. It might also come from the general contractor (GC) rushing them to get out of the area.”
Rob Dahl, director of global environmental health and safety for Portland, Ore.-based Benson, a MiTek brand, agrees.
“Most problems are due to complacency; it’s those who don’t follow the rules and take shortcuts. There has to be direct accountability from the top down. I have to be accountable as much as the laborers,” he says. “OSHA requires some form of discipline; people need to know they will be caught and held accountable if they do something wrong. There has to be discipline.”
As an example, Dahl cites violating fall protection rules as a significant concern that leads to immediate termination.
“We are that serious,” he says.
“People getting too comfortable is the biggest mistake,” says Chris Shin, vice president of operations at Eastern Glass & Aluminum in Norcross, Ga. “It’s those moments where someone forgets to tie-off. We have to plan the site work, ensuring, for example, the employees have the lift they need so they aren’t over-expanding. You have to plan the equipment properly.”
Jobsite preparation is also a critical safety component. “Every site is different, so you must analyze what you’re doing before doing it,” says Shin. “We call it an installation procedure analysis [which ensures] we have the right equipment in the right place.” Part of that preparation also includes maintaining controlled access or danger zones to ensure other trades stay out of these spaces.
“You’re counting on the barricades you set up to [keep people out],” Shin says. “It’s hard to have someone there 100% of the time, and then you’ll have those who come into the area, ignoring the barrier or tape or even taking it down.”
Shin says it’s standard procedure that anyone going to the jobsite from his company must undergo safety orientation.
“We give the installers stickers for their hard hats that show we’ve trained them,” he adds.
No matter how many jobsite safety meetings and discussions occur, those efforts are moot unless the entire company is on-board—particularly management and other leaders. Dahl says ensuring a safe jobsite starts with a commitment from the top down.
“If the bosses aren’t supporting it with a commitment and funding, none of it works,” he says. “Our company is safety-committed—whatever it costs or takes, we’ll do it. There is no question about what the emphasis is for us.”
Montgomery says that field leadership is also critical.
“When you’re a GC with 400-1,000 workers on a site, you could have four or more full-time safety people onsite. When you’re a specialty contractor, depending on your scope, you may only have eight to 20 workers there. Companies with an eight-person crew don’t typically have a full-time safety person onsite,” he says. “I’m not on every site daily or weekly, so my eyes and ears are our field leadership. Having a good relationship with them and supporting them is hands down the most critical aspect.”
Montgomery says his first line of communication is always his field leadership.
“They know if they call to tell me something is wrong, my focus is fixing the problem and keeping it from happening again. That’s somewhat uncommon. Some in the industry will sweep it under the rug or not communicate the little things to their safety department’s attention. But little things can be an indicator of bigger problems. Not making us aware of little things, even a near miss, can be a problem. It’s important to keep us aware, so we can track the trends and identify issues before they happen.”
Incentivizing workers to be mindful and focused on safety has helped some companies avoid accidents and injuries, from minor cuts to those caused by major hazards. This isn’t always a simple task, however. Due to OSHA requirements, Dahl says incentive programs can be challenging to establish.
“OSHA is strict on incentivizing safety and what you have to have in place first,” he says. “But it has to happen. It’s all part of the collective support. We had one job with a two-year injury-free record, and we spent a lot to reward them, but we also had to show OSHA we had a strict reporting policy before rewarding them.”
“The big thing is to invest in your people–in training and the time it takes,” says Montgomery. “If you have people who need training, that means you have to take them out of the field, and you’re losing productivity, but you need to take that time to do that and invest in training your people,” he says. “It’s more than just checking a box that someone was trained. It sends the message to the employees, ‘this company values me enough to invest in me to get this done.’”
“Over the past ten years, one of the biggest safety evolutions has been adopting a pre-task safety analysis or pre-start planning, where we meet with the crew before the work begins,” says Montgomery. “You talk about what you’re doing, the hazards, how to avoid them and the other trades in the area. There’s also a pre-task form to fill in, but that’s secondary to having a conversation with the crew. Anyone can fill in a form; I’m more concerned about having the conversation—and taking the time to do it again if the tasks change throughout the day. For example, if the wind shuts down the crane and the team has to switch to another task, they need another pre-task meeting for what they are about to start.”
Workplace safety evolves continuously.
“Today we have ergonomically fitted [PPE] that is comfortable, and just as protective if not more so,” Dahl says. “But all the technology in the world doesn’t matter if they won’t wear it,” he says. “Nine out of ten times, an injury happens because someone didn’t put on gloves and got cut, or a worker lifted something heavy without help and threw his back out. It’s the mundane ways they got complacent. You can’t do that in construction. You must pay attention, be committed and follow up good performance with accountability.”
This Tech’s Not Allowed
Distracted workers are a problem. Using a cell phones or listening to music, for example, can be concerning.
“It’s like any other safety-critical operation. You’re there for the job. It’s not something we allow; we aren’t paying employees to take a phone call,” says Jeff Montgomery, corporate safety director with IWR North America based in St. Louis. “It’s not just their safety, but also the safety of others. Most of our team gets that. Our culture is one of a worker who’s not afraid to say something to another if what they’re doing is unsafe.”
Rob Dahl, director of global environmental health and safety for Portland, Ore.-based Benson, a MiTek brand, says his company does not allow personal phones at the site, “not in their pocket nor their person.” There is one exception, though. He says the company uses a digital safety recording system, which requires the supervisor to have a phone. However, there is a strict policy about the phone’s use.
“Phones are limited to the supervisor, who has to be in a safe place when using it. We have terminated people over this in the past.”
Music can also create jobsite problems.
“There are no earbuds [on our jobsites] because you can’t hear what’s going on. It is distracting and keeps employees not focused on the job,” says Dahl.
Likewise, Chris Shin, vice president of operations at Eastern Glass & Aluminum in Norcross, Ga., says his company’s workers are not allowed to have music on the jobsite.
“You’re at risk at all times on the jobsite [and music] can be a distraction,” he says. “Everybody is working to provide for their families, and we need to think about not just the workers but also their families.