The residential construction industry can be hazardous. According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration 90 percent of the injuries and fatalities on construction jobsite involve falls, electrocution, contact with falling or moving objects and trench collapses.
Whether you subcontract all of your field work or you handle most construction with in-house staff, it is the responsibility of the general contractor to keep jobsites safe. In recent years, OSHA has been more vigilant about issuing citations in the wake of injuries and accidents. And the fines can be costly. Other costs include lost time on the job and higher workman’s compensation premiums after claims are made. But at its core, the issue of jobsite safety is about caring for employees and those of trade contractors who work on your jobsites.
After a decision has been made to make safety a top priority, a comprehensive employee training program should be implemented, including weekly 15-minute tailgate or toolbox lessons that require attendance by staff and trades. For OSHA and insurance purposes, it is also important that these meetings be documented. Sign-in sheets should be filed. Lastly, an employee safety manual should be compiled and distributed.
Out of hundreds of construction safety lessons on the shelf at Safety Services Company, we selected the 10 that stand to have the greatest safety improvement impact, based on the prevalence of certain common injuries and accidents.
1. Fall Prevention: Ladder and Scaffold Practices
Ladders: Always inspect any ladder for damage or defect prior to use. Inspect for broken or missing rungs or steps, broken or split side rails, defective or missing safety feet, corrosion, securely fitting components between steps and side rails, rungs that are free of grease and oil, and no splinters or sharp points that may snag clothing. Never use metal ladders near electrical lines, equipment, or switch gear. Electric Arc welding must not be done from a metal ladder. Always set up a ladder on stable, solid surfaces. Never place ladders on boxes, blocks, or crates to extend reach. Never stand on the four top rungs of a straight or extension ladder, or on the top two steps of a step ladder. Hoist tools and other material up after reaching the top of the ladder. Use of tool belts helps to manage tools while working from a ladder. Ladder side rails must extend 3-ft. above the top landing. If this is not feasible due to the ladder’s length, then the ladder must be securely tied off at the top to a non-moveable support and grab rails must be provided for access. Extension ladders must be set at a four to one angle, with the base one foot out from the wall for every four feet of height. Extension Ladders must not be shifted, repositioned or extended while being used.
Scaffolds: Components can break, collapse, or give way. Planks, boards, decks, or handrails can fail. In some cases, entire structures have collapsed. Even on sound scaffolds, workers can slip or lose their balance, and without appropriate protection, they don’t have to fall far to get hurt. More often than not, scaffold accidents can be traced to untrained or improperly trained workers. Too often, untrained workers use makeshift staging, overload platforms, fail to inspect supports, or use scaffolds for the wrong tasks.
Ladder jack scaffolds, as well as step, platform, and trestle ladder scaffolds, though generally used as temporary elevated work platforms, must meet the general requirements for scaffolds. Employees using ladder jack scaffolds also must follow the requirements for employee fall protection which apply to all scaffolding. The ladder jack must be so designed and constructed that it will bear on the side rails and ladder rungs or on the ladder rungs alone. If the ladder jack bears on the rungs only, the bearing area must include a width of at least 10 in. (25.4 cm) on each rung. Ladders used to support ladder jacks must be placed, fastened, or equipped with devices to prevent slipping. Scaffold platforms may not be bridged to each other.
2. Preventing Electrical Hazards
The most common electrical hazard on today’s construction sites is from the ground fault electrical shock. Electrical accidents are usually caused by unsafe equipment and/or installation, unsafe workplaces caused by environmental factors, and unsafe work practices. Electrical shock is often only the beginning in a chain of accidents. The final injury may be a fall, cut, burn or broken bone. The most common electrical shock-related injury is a burn. Burns suffered may be electrical burns, arc burns, and thermal contact burns. In order to reduce electrical shock-related injuries, the OSHA electrical standard requires employers to provide either ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) for receptacle outlets, or an assured equipment grounding conductor program. Either method can eliminate ground fault electric shock hazards. Appropriate training ensures that workers recognize electrical hazards and use safe work practices to control or eliminate those hazards. Only “qualified” persons can work directly with exposed energized parts and should be familiar with the inherent hazards of electricity such as high voltages, electric current, arcing, grounding and the lack of guarding.
Safe work practices include: Always using appropriate personal protective equipment. De-energize electric power circuits and/or equipment before working near, inspecting or making repairs. Exercise good judgment when working near energized lines (including underground and overhead lines).
3. Handling Pneumatic Nailers and Staplers
Commonly referred to as “nail-guns” or “staple-guns,” you can find an “air gun” for any fastening application imaginable. Pneumatic nailers and staplers are used by carpenters and roofers on virtually any jobsite. These “air guns” are very popular because they increase job production dramatically and are much preferred to swinging a hammer. However, it is important to note that the equipment is expensive and can be dangerous if used carelessly or foolishly.
Tips: Never allow anyone to operate these tools without first being properly instructed in their safe use. Avoid horseplay when using “air guns”. Accidentally discharged fasteners can easily penetrate flesh and bone. Safety features should be left intact or you could nail your foot to the deck — it does happen. Always wear appropriate eye protection when using any air gun. Hearing protection is often required depending on the noise level. Never exceed manufacturer’s recommended working pressures and never use more pressure than necessary (seldom more than 90 to 95 psi). Excessive pressure exerts more force, causing harder cycles. It is hard on tools and generates more flying debris. Always keep the nose of the tool pointed toward the work-piece or downward when air charged. During use, hold the nose of the gun firmly against the work-piece. Always disconnect tool from air supply when clearing a jam or when not in use. Keep hoses and fittings in good condition. Never carry an air-gun with your finger on the trigger. Accidental discharge and injury may result. Never use volatile bottled gas to operate pneumatic fasteners or operate air guns around flammables; sparks may cause a fire.
4. Handling Power Tools and Saws
Power Tools are widely used essential components found in the tool collections of plumbers, electricians, HVAC mechanics, and general construction workers. Most injuries involve the hands, fingers, eyes, and face; prolonged use without hearing protection can cause long-term hearing impairment. Follow these safety guidelines and procedures prior to putting any Power Tool into operation: Wear clothing appropriate for Power Tool use; avoid long, loose shirtsleeves, neckwear or untied long hair. Check that the electrical circuit to be used is of the proper rating and that cords, plugs, and fittings are intact and secure. All Power Tools must be grounded unless they are double insulated. Use only extension cords that are free of splices, taps, bare wires, or frayed and deteriorated insulation. Use 3-prong adaptors. Ensure all Power Tools are equipped with proper shields and guards, as recommended by the manufacturer. Remove chuck-keys or arbor wrenches before using the tool. Unsafe practices and inadequate housekeeping create potentially dangerous work-zones; keep the work area free of trip hazards such as tangled power cords, cluttered material, scraps, stones, bricks or other obstacles and obstructions. Always use the proper tool for the job. When not in use, store tools in a dry, secure location.
5. Analyzing Jobsites for Hazards
A job-site hazard poses potential for harm. In practical terms, hazards are a condition or activity that, if left uncontrolled, can result in an injury or illness. A hazard assessment or job hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on identifying hazards before they occur. Hazard assessment focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment. Ideally, after hazards are identified, steps will be taken to eliminate or reduce the hazard to an acceptable risk level.
A job hazard analysis can be conducted on virtually any area of the workplace with priority going to the following types of jobs: 1. Operations with the highest injury or illness rates, 2. Tasks with the potential to cause severe or disabling injuries or illness, 3. Procedures complex enough to require written instructions, 4. Situations in which one simple human error could lead to a severe accident or injury, 5. Jobs that are new to the operation or have undergone changes in processes and procedures.
Involve all employees — It is very important to involve employees in the hazard analysis process. Workers have a unique understanding of their job, and this knowledge is invaluable for finding hazards. Involving employees will help minimize oversights, ensure a quality analysis, and get all personnel to “buy in” to the solutions.
6. Drugs and Alcohol
Workers must know that jobsites must be alcohol and drug free. Upwards of 10 percent of all employees have problems with chemical dependency. Substance abuse and/or addiction in the workplace is extensive at all employee levels, and is a situation that will not solve itself. Any person who is impaired while on the job is a clear threat to themselves or to any coworker in the near vicinity. Customers and vendors are also affected when product quality and delivery schedules are not maintained due to worker impairment. For the typical employer, that means unhealthy employees, unsafe working conditions, loss of productivity, smaller profits, more accidents, higher medical claims expenses and a host of other negative effects. Some companies offer employee assistance programs to workers as way to help them kick these habits.
7. Use of Personal Protective Equipment
Hazards exist in every workplace in many different forms: sharp edges, falling objects, flying sparks, chemicals, noise and a myriad of other potentially dangerous situations. OSHA requires that employers protect their employees from workplace hazards that can cause injury. Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE”, is equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. Examples of PPE include such items as gloves, foot and eye protection, protective hearing devices (earplugs, muffs), hard hats, respirators, and full body suits.
8. Back Injury Prevention
Proper lifting techniques are crucial to preventing back injuries in the workplace. Reports indicate that every year thousands of employees needlessly injure themselves due to improper back injury prevention. Back injury is one of the most common injuries on the job-site. Ironically, back injuries are also one of the most preventable types of workplace injury,
Tips: Have a supervisor or a competent worker demonstrate the proper method of bending and lifting. Size up the load before you lift. Bend your knees, keeping your back as straight as possible when raising or lowering the object. Lift smoothly and straight up. Keep your feet at shoulder width close to the object, and center your body over the object when lifting all objects. Do not twist your body when lifting an object. Turn your whole body by changing foot position. Do not lift heavy objects above or away from your body. Use back supports or braces whenever doing repetitive heavy lifts. Always inspect your belts for defects and proper fit. Remember that a back brace does not make you stronger. Always push a load on a cart or dolly, do not pull it.
9. Respiratory Protection
When toxic airborne substances taint your workplace atmosphere, the proper respirator will prevent the entry of harmful substances into your lungs. Breathing hazards are not always easy to detect and identify. The most common perils are the lack of oxygen, and the presence of harmful dusts, smoke, gaseous fumes, vapors and sprays. Failure to guard against these respiratory threats can cause long-term or permanent impairment and disability, lung diseases, or maybe even death. The government thought it was important enough to spend 16 years compiling the standards. The regulations require construction employers to establish or maintain a Respiratory Protection Program for their workers.
10. Hazard Communication: The Right to Know
The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is based on a simple concept — that employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. They also need to know what protective measures are available to prevent adverse effects from occurring. OSHA designed the HCS to provide employees with the information they need to know. The HCS addresses the issues of evaluating and communicating hazards to workers including issues such as chemical labeling, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), a written program and employee training requirements. Frequently overlooked items usually covered by HCS requirements on a construction site include: adhesives, gasoline, paint thinner, grease, cleaners, solvents, and sealers. MSDSs are usually very easy to obtain. Retail stores (including hardware and home improvement stores) selling hazardous chemicals to employers having a commercial account are required to provide MSDSs upon request.
Editors Note: John Shelman is a representative of Safety Services Company, a Yuma, Ariz. based training company that also provides a weekly toolbox lesson service for remodelers and builders around the United States. For further information call (866) 204-4786.