In the construction industry, the importance of safety cannot be overstated. Making sure that every employee goes home safely at the end of his or her shift should be a company's paramount consideration. Safety is a tool and its implementation starts during the work-planning phase. Creating a safety culture that enables positive interaction between worker and safety maximizes process efficiency and encourages an incident and injury-free (IIF) environment.
Our company, Total Facility Solutions (TFS), and our employees set the bar high when it comes to site safety. The company provides turnkey facilities contracting services, including high purity piping, gas and chemical systems, ultra-high purity water systems, tool and equipment installation, clean utilities and electrical services to the semiconductor, electronics, nanotechnology, photovoltaic, life sciences, data centers and renewable energy industries.
TFS relies on the ability of both safety professionals and its work force to adapt to ever-changing environments using a team approach. Spending time with the crews and building relationships with all workers on site helps all of us look out for one another and provide a safe workplace. Taking a proactive approach to safety is a key factor in reducing and eliminating unsafe behaviors and conditions in the workplace or on any job site. Safety is not something that can be put on the backburner.
The foundation of a strong commitment to safety is the communication of a clear goal and commitment to workers' well being. We encourage an open policy when it comes to safety by developing working relationships with other trades and encouraging our employees and others to take responsibility for their actions while having the courage to speak up when unsafe acts arise. This philosophy has led to creating and sustaining an IIF environment.
Employees must believe that an incident- and injury-free worksite is attainable and be willing to accept the responsibility needed to reach the stated goals. Through training updates and innovative ways of continuously getting the message to our work force, we have improved safety and environmental awareness at all levels. Employees are encouraged to speak up on behalf of themselves and those around them without fear of repercussion and with solid backing from the management team. We celebrate those who identify hazards and report them or fix them as they arise.
Setting specific safety rules and goals, and providing specialized equipment, knowledge and training, are the tools necessary for any company to operate in a responsible way. The industry can be a dangerous one, but doesn't have to be a fatal one.
Electrical Construction Safety
While safety is a critical requirement in any jobsite or workplace, it is even more so when it comes to electrical construction. Working with electricity can be dangerous. Those who directly work with electricity are exposed to the threat of overhead lines, cable harnesses and circuit assemblies. Overhead and buried power lines especially are hazardous because they carry extremely high voltage.
Then, there is the normal wear-and-tear of electrical equipment that often results in insulation breaks, short-circuits and exposed wires. If there is no ground-fault protection, it can cause a ground-fault that sends current through the worker's body.
Due to these hazardous and unforgiving conditions that potentially exist, many steps must be taken before electrical work can be performed. Before TFS approaches any electrical install, we complete a job hazard analysis (JHA) and pre-task plan (PTP). We also develop a contingency plan and communicate our plans to all key stakeholders. In electrical installations, the use of a lockout/tagout (LOTO) program particularly is important to eliminate any potential energy that may exist.
Lockout/tagout is used in industrial and research settings to ensure that dangerous machines are properly de-energized and cannot start up prior to the completion of maintenance work. Hazardous power sources are required to be isolated and rendered inoperative before any repair procedure is started. LOTO works by ensuring that a piece of equipment is placed in a condition that no hazardous power sources can be turned on. The procedure requires that a tag be affixed to the locked device indicating that it should not be turned on. Removal of a tag before maintenance is completed can create a serious risk for injury.
The presence of potential energy always is a major concern that must be addressed, to ensure that all potential energy sources are isolated before work commences. Disconnecting, or making the equipment safe through the removal of all energy sources, is known as isolation. The steps necessary to isolate equipment often are documented in an isolation procedure or a lockout/tagout procedure, and generally include the following tasks:
- Identify the energy source(s).
- Isolate the energy source(s).
- Lock and tag the energy source(s).
- Prove that the equipment isolation is effective.
The locking and tagging of the isolation point lets others know not to de-isolate the device. The National Electric Code states that a safety disconnect must be installed within sight of serviceable equipment. The safety disconnect ensures that the equipment can be isolated and, with multiple places for locks, more than one person is able to safely work on any equipment.
Use of PPE
Electrical work also requires planning and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) in certain applications. Some examples of precautions and PPE used in the field include arc-rated suits; Class G, E and C hard hats with arc-rated face shields; voltage-tested gloves; LOTO systems; barricades; and non-conductive work surfaces. All electrical work poses different hazards and challenges, so it is important that safety is a part of the planning process to provide the appropriate solution specific to the task.
Some issues that are common in electrical installs are working with cumbersome PPE and working in tight working spaces. Insolated electrical gloves can make it hard to do work in congested panels or with small parts or wires, but it is necessary when working with electricity. Without clear attention to these potential hazards and taking the necessary precautions to eliminate harm, serious injury or possibly death can happen.
Safety as a Value
To date, TFS Electrical has not suffered a recordable or lost-time incident in 2012. This is part in due to the IIF program initiated earlier this year. The program is embraced throughout the company, and employees recognize their responsibilities to themselves, fellow workers and their families to do their work safely. Creating an IIF environment is about taking action, caring for one another and demonstrating that care on a daily basis. It isn't about policies, procedures, goals or even zero incidents. At our company, IIF is a culture that believes:
- All injuries are preventable.
- Every individual is responsible to work towards the elimination of all injuries.
- Injuries are not accepted as part of doing business.
- Free and open safety communications are essential.
- Employees care about one another and demonstrate they care on a daily basis.
- Employees take action when they see potentially unsafe behaviors or conditions.
- We choose to follow the rules and procedures (versus having to follow them).
Safety is a value and the company supports this commitment with action. Some of the primary issues we encounter in this line of work are a result of miscommunication or misinterpretation of standards or policies. Sometimes, it is a challenge for the safety staff to keep up with all implemented changes. Having weekly safety meetings to discuss the changes and answer all questions is a good way to avoid these issues. It also is important to have a safety presence in the field, someone the workers can turn to for consultation or technical support.
Daily site inspections and routine site safety audits are a good way to keep track of what is trending in the field. Keeping a daily log also helps to track behaviors and habits of the work force. Use of safe behavior observations and safety management by walking around gives our supervisors and management firsthand knowledge of the status on any particular site. We also monitor lagging indicators, such as recordable rates, lost-time rates and incident severity rates.
While it seems extremely difficult to conduct our daily business without one incident such as dropping a tool from a ladder, breaking a valve, drilling into a gas line or striking electrical conduit with a scissor lift – or to perform work in our industry without one injury such as cutting a hand, straining a back, slipping and falling or being exposed to an arc flash – we cannot and should not accept these types of incidents as part of doing business in construction.
Controlling other trades and contractors working around you is one of the toughest variables in construction, which is why it is necessary to remain vigilant. With proper communication and teamwork and the correct safety measures in place, we as a company can make sure we are doing the best thing for our employees and our bottom line.