Any seasoned contractor or construction manager is aware of the employer’s responsibilities under OSHA. However, new hires, younger employees and less experienced workers may have only a basic understanding of safety as it relates to their own protection.
Successful construction projects require a significant amount of teamwork, both with the actual work as well as with safety matters. OSHA violations, unsafe conditions, injuries or death can cause lengthy delays, resulting in lost profits, fines and litigation. Contractors can reduce the chances of such delays and problems by educating their workers, especially their less experienced team members (hereinafter referred to as “new workers”). It is important to note that new workers can be employees or temporary workers.
OSHA Safety Basics
The OSHA law states that all workers have the right to a safe workplace and mandates that employers provide their employees with working conditions that are free of unreasonably dangerous conditions. This means that contractors must regularly examine and inspect jobsites to make sure there are no unreasonable dangers or other conditions that breach OSHA standards. The law also requires employers to communicate safety protocols and procedures to all employees through proper signage and safety training. Separately, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who raise health or safety concerns or report an injury.
New Hires and Less Experienced Workers Require Special Attention
New workers need special training and attention. Generally, new workers pose the greatest liability risk on a jobsite. Contractors can reduce this risk by following a few simple guidelines. While every contractor has a different style and every project is unique, the following suggestions should be part of every contractor’s safety protocols for new workers.
One of the best ways to comply with OSHA and to prevent injuries or unnecessary delays is to be aware of the experience level or new workers and to properly communicate safety protocols and procedures to them during regular safety meetings and while on the job. Contractors and managers should know their team and be aware of the experience level of their team members. If a new worker joins the team, the contractor should take extra time to get to know that employee’s level of experience and provide safety information accordingly.
In order to effectively communicate safety issues with new workers, contractors should be aware of some of the most common OSHA-cited concerns on jobsites. According to OSHA, as of January 2016, the most frequently cited concerns are:
- fall protection;
- hazard communication;
- respiratory protection;
- powered industrial trucks;
- electrical, wiring methods;
- machine guarding; and
- electrical, general requirements.
Contractors should focus on educating new workers on these top concerns and should frequently review protocols with them. Safety training should occur continuously during the day, not just during scheduled meetings. One of the greatest mistakes a contractor can make is to expect a new worker to absorb all safety procedures at a safety meeting without daily on-the-job reminders. It only takes a few moments to explain why a safety procedure was followed or utilized during the course of the day’s work and can be invaluable to prevent future liability.
Another way to limit liability with new workers is to assign a safety mentor to the employee. Contractors should pair an experienced team member with a new worker until such time as the new worker demonstrates a solid understanding and practical knowledge and usage of safety protocols. Assigning a safety mentor allows the contractor to keep an eye on the new worker and can allow for honest and effective new worker evaluations.
Authorize the Use of Stop-Work Procedures
Contractors, supervisors and team leaders should create procedures permitting new workers to issue stop-work orders if they identify a potential safety issue. Workers should not be penalized in any way for using the stop-work procedure. It is the contractor’s responsibility to educate new workers as to the proper use of the procedure.
Provide Adequate Safety Signage and Safety Documents
OSHA requires safety signage on all jobsites. However, it would be prudent for contractors to provide appropriate warning signs even if the amount of signage exceeds the OSHA requirements. Warning signs should be posted near known hazards and throughout the site and break areas.
Safety materials, including training documents, written policies and related information should be available in as many languages as are spoken on the jobsite, not just in English. Many new workers may not speak English as their first language or may not be proficient in reading English. It is important that all workers can read and understand all safety materials.
Adding “new blood” to the workforce is generally a good thing and can increase performance and morale. However, there are inherent risks associated with new or less experienced workers who can quickly create safety concerns and ultimately lead to liability. While these risks can’t be eliminated, they can be managed and reduced through the proper training and supervision of new workers.