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Best Practices for Keeping Today’s Construction Workers Safe

The construction site can be a risky place, with the threat of injury, fire, theft, auto exposures and cyber risks. And with the struggle to find skilled labor and a shortage of qualified candidates, many risks may be heightened.

In fact, more than a third of construction businesses surveyed in the 2017 Travelers Business Risk Index believe their environment is becoming more risky. Construction Executive recently spoke with Bob Kreuzer, Vice President of Risk Control Construction at Travelers, to learn more about best practices for keeping today’s construction workers safe.

What can construction companies include in their onboarding process to ensure workers’ safety?

Kreuzer: The workers you hire and how they are trained can impact the success of safety results. Travelers data from 2012‒2016 shows that 52 percent of workplace injuries occurred within the first year of employment, regardless of a worker’s tenure, making onboarding especially important.

A safety program should include skill-based and awareness-based training. Skill-based training deals with the hands-on procedures that are necessary to perform tasks, such as managing equipment and operating vehicles. Awareness-based training is more of an overview of topics that can include general policies, severe weather procedures, hazard recognition and employee roles and responsibilities. Onboarding isn’t the only time these issues can be discussed — communicating them regularly helps employees retain the information.

The importance of orientation and training doesn’t apply only to new workers, but also to those moving to different projects or new positions within a company. Unfamiliar surroundings containing new risks need to be communicated with appropriate project safety controls, including the use of personal protective equipment, to help avoid injuries.

What should be considered in every construction company’s driving policy?

Kreuzer: Contractors are so focused on finding skilled workers that sometimes an employee’s driving history is not vetted adequately. For those workers who need to drive as a part of their job, driver safety can be as important as worksite safety. Having a driver safety program can help establish effective policies when onboarding workers as well as a culture that supports safer driving going forward. For example, whether running an errand from a project location or from the corporate office, distracted driving is becoming more and more prominent in general. However, a survey of Travelers’ customers found that only 27 percent of businesses have a formal distracted-driving policy. Here are some issues to consider:

  • texting and the use of mobile phone apps and cameras as well as GPS devices;
  • use of telematics; and
  • use of in-car technology.

Other issues to consider for a driver safety program:

  • a policy outlining personal use of a company-owned vehicle; and
  • best practices for operating a personal vehicle for work-related use.
Buildings under construction have a high risk of fire. What are some best practices for mitigating fire hazards?

Kreuzer: We see a lot of fires on the job from hot work such as welding and cutting, but also from things like temporary heaters, employee smoking and cooking, which is surprisingly common on work sites. Arson can also be a threat.

While there are codes and standards designed to help ensure that fire protection systems are available and plans developed to provide protection throughout the duration of the project, a recent pattern of construction fires in multi-story frame construction buildings suggests an even higher level of diligence is required. Project plans and logistics should be shared with local fire authorities and a diligent organized discipline regarding hot work permit programs by the general contractor is a must. This includes fire extinguishers where the hot work occurs, fire watch and a minimum cool-down period after the work is completed. Other policies to enforce include a strict no-smoking policy, no cooking equipment and not allowing workers to bring temporary heaters onto the site without approval. These things may sound basic, but they are often overlooked.

Effective site security is the best defense against arson. Having a layered protection plan that includes perimeter fencing, electronic intrusion detection systems and onsite security guards can help reduce the risk of unauthorized entry to the site.

Finally, insurance coverage can help protect the business’s insurable interest in materials, fixtures and equipment used in the construction or renovation phase of a building or structure. For risks unique to the work site, businesses should work with their agent or broker to create a tailored policy to address specific and unique circumstances.

How can a construction company and its leadership build a long-term, sustainable safety culture within their organization?

Kreuzer: A safety culture should begin at the highest level, with the company owners setting effective safety policies and holding employees accountable consistently. Employees frequently take their cues from their project supervisors and therefore it is important for managers to lead by example as well as hold workers accountable to established safety programs.

Positively reinforcing safe behaviors can also motivate employees to stay safe on the job. Recognizing employees for being safe can help encourage others to do the same. If an employee prevents an accident by following safety protocol or reports a safety hazard that prevents an incident, reward his actions.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, the most effective approach we see is when safety is on equal footing along with quality and production, and when safety efforts are proactive and ongoing, rather than a one-time occurrence. There is no single solution that will ensure site safety. It’s a myriad of factors that, when done well, contribute to a safety-oriented culture.

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