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The Basics of a Safe Construction Worksite

Jason Townsell, a student working toward a bachelor’s of science in occupational health and safety at Columbia Southern University, was recently named the first Future Leader in EHS. He received a $5,000 scholarship and access to PureSafety's safety and health software and information solutions. The judges selected Townsell based on his work and life experience, community outreach efforts, academic performance, his interest in teaching and mentoring EHS students and more.

In this blog entry, Townsell outlines his approach to establishing a safety-conscious worksite.

The Basics of a Safe Construction Worksite

by Jason Townsell

An active construction site can be compared to a minefield, with many unforeseen potential tragedies laced throughout the terrain. I’ve observed construction workers doing things that make me ask myself, “What are they thinking?” or “Are they thinking about safety at all?” Unfortunately, many are not thinking about safety on the job, but rather production and production only.

While production is a vital consideration, the project’s safety consciousness must be intertwined with production. This is the essence of managing risk – accepting that risk is a part of our work, as well as taking the necessary steps to manage the exposure.

By its nature, construction work is dangerous. Rather than navigating a minefield, however, contractors and construction managers would be better served by taking comprehensive, proactive steps to neutralize the battleground by diffusing the mines.

Here is my approach to establishing a safety-conscious worksite:

1. Creating and promulgating a comprehensive site-specific health and safety plan: A project’s safety plan is the cornerstone of all things related to environmental health and safety at the worksite. Far too many companies have what I call a “canned” safety program that is either purchased readymade or downloaded from the Internet. Such a program is not specific to the functions or activities of the purchaser.

Another common concern with canned programs is that the purchaser rarely has any concept of what is in the program, thus leaving an under prepared and overexposed work force. Having a program that has been created by an individual or group of individuals intimately familiar with your company and projects will allow for a personalized program that is specific to your purpose and function. This also allows for an easier transfer of information from those who have created the program to those who will live out the program – your work force.

2. Conducting exhaustive worksite safety assessments: These intensive assessments act as the risk manager’s minesweeper by detecting, removing or neutralizing worksite hazards. These assessments not only eliminate hazards but also allow the assessor to become familiar with the habits and trends of the workers at the site; this vital information will further alleviate common missteps and mistakes that your work force is likely to make. These assessments will identify weak areas in the safety programs so proactive corrective action can be taken.

3. Pre-planning for safety: Any good construction estimator has mastered the art of preparing for unexpected construction costs including, but not limited to, specification changes, material availability changes and unforeseen conditions. However, some fail to plan for safety at the job. Basic tasks such as performing job hazard/safety analyses and performing routine worksite safety inspections is a foreign concept to many. Pre-planning for safety can head off many potential problems before they manifest themselves into actual problems; this allows for engineering controls (reducing or eliminating workplace hazards by engineering them out of the process) and work practice controls (minimizing and/or eliminating hazards through proactive safety minded actions) to be introduced to the worksite.

4. Mandating jobsite safety orientation training for all employees: Many studies have placed worker behavior as a significant contributor to worksite health and safety exposures and incidents; the value of safety training in employee behavior modification cannot be overstated. Jobsite safety orientations are an underused asset that risk managers keep hidden in their toolbox. Mandating safety orientations eliminates the ignorance defense among employees and heightens the overall safety awareness of your work force. Safety orientations also allow for two-way exchanges of information; this verbal communication encourages question and answer sessions and assures safety expectations are clearly communicated.

While these recommendations are basic and should not replace a thorough safety program at your worksite, implementing them can be the first step to establishing a safer work environment.

To learn more about Townsell and the Future Leaders in EHS program, please see the December 2010 feature, Future Leader in EHS: Jason Townsell.

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