Construction accidents have wide-ranging effects on a contractor’s business. They cause pain and suffering for employees, hurt the morale of other employees, deprive the business of the injured employee’s talent and skill, hurt productivity, require paperwork, increase Workers Compensation costs, and possibly subject the business to penalties from regulators. It makes both moral and good business sense for a contractor to implement safety measures. When choosing the specific protections to put in place, the contractor should consider a number of factors to ensure the effectiveness of the program.
The contractor should examine the reasons why an unsafe condition exists. If the contractor integrates safety considerations into all procedures, injuries will become less likely and less severe. Therefore, it is important to look into the reasons why, for example, a scaffold was improperly guarded, why workers using cutting tools were not wearing eye protection, why a crane operator left the engine running while he was out of the cab, or why workers used power drills with frayed electrical cords. These are symptoms of a workplace culture that overlooks safety concerns. Sending the right messages and incentives about safety will gradually change the culture and reduce accidents.
With a new system and culture in place, the contractor can focus on specific hazards, such as:
- Power lines overhead. Cranes, cherry pickers and even ladders can contact live power lines, possibly resulting in fatal injuries. Workers will always feel pressure to complete a job as quickly as possible, but if they rush too much, they might ignore dangerous conditions overhead.
- Power and gas lines underground. The consequences of striking these are potentially as catastrophic as those of striking overhead lines. Ruptured gas lines, combined with a heat source, can lead to explosions. Workers should never dig in an area until they have verified that it is safe to do so.
- Fire hazards. Many fire prevention measures are simple to implement. Regularly cleaning up jobsite debris, keeping combustible material away from the structure, and enforcing no-smoking rules near combustibles will all help prevent fires. Equally important is to have effective procedures for informing workers of a fire and evacuating them. The HVAC contractor with men working on the 10th floor of a building must have a plan for notifying them and getting them out of there if a fire breaks out on the 7th.
- Lifting hazards. Inexperienced, incompetent or pressured work crews might use a crane to move something that outweighs its lifting capacity. They might also operate the crane on uneven ground or with inadequate supports. The result can be a crane collapse that causes extensive property damage and can cause serious injuries or deaths.
- Falling hazards. Falls from heights as low as 10 feet can seriously injure or kill workers. Contractors must pay attention to the condition and stability of ladders, the adequacy of safety rails on scaffolds, the consistent use of safety harnesses, and the weight of materials placed on scaffolds.
- Confined spaces. Crawl spaces, underground tanks, sewers and similar areas can expose workers to lack of oxygen and toxic or explosive gases, all of which can kill them quickly. Contractors must enforce rules for testing the atmosphere of confined spaces, closure of lines supplying the space, providing ventilation, and usage of safety harnesses and lifelines.
Construction is dangerous work, but contractors can control the dangers with planning and effort. Those that do reap the benefits of loyal workers, increased productivity, good reputations and lower insurance costs. With focus, safety can become a regular part of the business and a profit driver.