Safety Innovation: Tools and Actions
New Technologies and Greater Awareness and Training Are Lowering EMRs
Ulf Wolf / February 2017
We all know how much jobsite safety contributes to your company’s bottom line, especially since an accident uniformly results in a higher workers’ compensation experience modification rate and a subsequent, often significant, premium increase per accident for the next four years.
We also know that a safe work environment also impacts employee satisfaction, productivity and morale since any company that takes care to ensure employee safety will, as a rule, gain employee loyalty and trust in return.
That said, jobsite safety is also a moving target—mostly toward the better, one hopes—with new regulations and requirements as well as new tools and approaches to safety, and it is this aspect we explore in this article.
To test these waters, we asked those responsible for jobsite safety—safety directors, company owners or other managers—two questions:
Regarding tools: What is the most significant jobsite safety innovation you’ve encountered in the last year?
Regarding actions: What is the most significant safety improvement action you’ve taken in the last year?
Ed Finley, safety director at Gibson-Lewis, LLC, in Indiana, reports, “Safety goggles with several layers of tear-away lenses. This is a great solution for those who remove their safety glasses because the lenses are scratched.”
Timothy Rogan, vice president of Houston Lath & Plaster in Texas, observes that “most commercial projects now require full Personal Protective Equipment. Not just hats and safety glasses but high visibility vests for all personnel and gloves when using high RPM cutting tools.”
Says Dale Keller, safety director at Mader Construction Company, Inc. in New Jersey, “Daily pre-task-planning cards/forms. These are safety checklists the employees fill out every day before starting work, or starting a new task during the day, or when moving to a new area of the project. By contract, we have been required to use them on some jobs, and we have found that they help employees identify hazards associated with the work task/processes they are performing in addition to identifying noncompliance and unsafe conditions in their work area. The employee fills out the form identifying any hazards associated with the task and what steps they are taking to eliminate or minimize the hazard. We’ve seen significantly lower incident rates on projects where this was implemented and are looking at implementing something similar on all future projects.”
Jorge Vazquez, safety director at Marek Brothers Systems, Inc. in Texas, has come across several items that Marek is now considering, including motorized platforms, a safety database and BIM technology for safety (a construction hard hat that incorporates BIM technology to help with risk management).
Offers Dan VandenBurg, safety manager at Heartland Acoustics & Interiors in Colorado, “The greatest ‘tool’ I encountered this year was a training session that enlightened me on the risks that we, as subcontractors, are exposed to when general contractors ask us to perform unsafe tasks for them. As subcontractors, we want to perform and say ‘Yes, we can do that,’ but we need to make sure we can do the job safely.”
According to Robert Aird, president of Robert A. Aird, Inc. in Maryland, “What really caught my eye was OSHA’s new respirable silica ruling that, come July 2017, will require more stringent protections for workers exposed to silica dust. I received an announcement that they are offering a Web-based presentation providing an overview of what respirable crystalline silica is, where it is found or used, an explanation of OSHA’s new final rule, how to achieve regulatory compliance and an overview of OSHA’s enforcement program on job sites.”
Chuck Taylor, director of operations at Englewood Construction, an Illinois general contractor, agrees with Aird. He says that while the new silica standard is not necessarily innovative, “it is no less important.”
Shares David Smith, division manager – special projects at Marek in Dallas, says he found two products that we now use when possible. The first, from CEMCO, are safety edged drywall tracks, studs, flat-strap and angles. “This is manufactured with a rolled edge as opposed to a slit edge,” he says. “The obvious benefits are safer handling in yards and on jobs, reduced worker’s comp mods and insurance rates.
“Also of significance are lightweight gypsum boards—roughly 25 percent lighter than regular gypsum board. The benefits of less weight are reduced back strains and stresses—the most common causes of injury in our trade.”
Offers John Kirk, owner of Kirk Builders in California, “The state of California will soon require all journeymen working on public works projects to have graduated from an apprenticeship program. As a rule, apprenticeship programs stress safe working, instruct in first aid and CPR, and ground the new tradesmen in a level of professionalism that encourages safety.”
Pat Arrington, principal at Commercial Enterprises, Inc. in New Mexico, likes the benefits of the new battery powered hand tools, screw guns and impact guns. “Power cords can become a shock hazard through wear, damage and overload, and they are also a tripping hazard on floor and can roll when stepped on, especially when the workman wear wedge-type boots (no heel),” he says. “Also, there’s no need to pull power cords up on scaffolding, and they do not obstruct rolling scaffold platforms across the floor.”
Suggests Teresa Murphy, loss control coordinator at F.L. Crane & Sons, Inc. in Mississippi, “Perhaps not appearing in the last 12 months but certainly ahead of the curve is automated braking in vehicles. Recent accident reports show that collisions at intersections (our fault or theirs) was the significant standout. Some 20 carmakers have now committed to making automatic emergency braking systems a standard feature on virtually all new cars sold in the United States by 2022.”
Several people are impressed with safety inspection software, apps and other technologies that have had a positive impact on jobsite safety.
Says Erik Golobic, director of safety at Daley’s Drywall & Taping in California, “The most significant jobsite safety innovations I’ve seen recently are the new wearable devices. By now, we’ve all seen air sniffers (air-quality monitors) hanging off workers in confined spaces, and coming along soon will be wearables that provide tracking and geofencing capabilities. These new devices allow us to do things like set up boundaries on job sites and receive alerts when someone is in proximity. Other new wearables measure sound levels and vibration, helping us better design PPE policies.”
Says Travis Winsor, CEO of The Raymond Group Southern California, Inc., “The most significant construction safety innovation we have encountered recently is the use of Web-based safety auditing programs. These help identify areas of risk that could lead to an incident or injury.”
Mike Haller, safety director at The Gallegos Corporation in Colorado, concurs: “We’ve now used iAuditor (by SafetyCulture) for over a year to perform safety inspections and field reports. All our foremen have either iPhones or iPads and use them to write their daily reports. This app walks you through inspections and lets you take photos of hazardous situations and then suggests ways to correct them. “Not only do we conduct safety audits with this app, but we also do vehicle inspections, field reports, etc. Great tool.”
Luis Figueroa, safety director at Triangle Plastering, Ltd. in Texas, does the same. “The most significant safety innovation we have adopted here at Baker Triangle is the use of a Web-based software called ‘Safety Reports,’” he says. “It allows us to document due diligence regarding safety measures and safety inspections.
“This software helps with hazard detection and preventive measures. Trend analysis of the collected information can then be performed, allowing us to focus preventative efforts on areas of concern, identify trouble spots and reduce claims, as well as develop safety management strategies that positively impact the bottom line.”
Shares Richard Wagner, owner of Richard Wagner Enterprises, LLC in North Carolina, “Last year we made it mandatory for all our field workers to pass the OSHA 10-hour safety class and then any of our job foremen to pass the 30-hour class. We pay for the class, they take it in their off-time, and if they complete it within 30 days, we pay them a bonus equal to the 10 or 30 hours’ class time. “It’s a win-win for all involved, and we’ve had 100 percent participation. We also empower all our employees to stop working if an unsafe or hazardous condition arises anywhere on the job site.”
VandenBurg makes sure everyone receives the safety messages. “We are growing our safety culture by implementing safety training programs for all employees from apprentices to superintendents, as well as office personnel,” he says. “This initiative has sparked new interest in safety throughout our company, and I only see that growing in the future.”
Rogan knows that his company’s location may require safety lessons not considered in other states. “Having had one of the hottest summers on record in Texas,” he says, “I cautioned my men on heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I told them that only they know when they are becoming over-heated and not to be macho and keep working if that happens.”
Keller covers all the bases. “My most significant action this year,” he says, “was to train all employees not only on the revised hazard-communication standard, but on the GHS (Global Harmonized System), pictograms, signal word, hazard statements and format of the SDS (Safety Data Sheet) versus the old MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).
“Also, I implemented a biweekly memo to all foremen that I have found helps them to stay on top of their game. The memo deals with a wide variety of subjects, whether safety, productivity, leadership skills, people skills, governmental regulatory changes, filling out time sheets, I-9s and W-4s, or any other possible pertinent information that they may need in running a successful job.”
Vazquez says that Marek “just deployed a safety database … that will help us better visualize our field safety performance and also track reporting, inspections, training, compliance and evaluations within our organization.”
Offers Aird, “Not entirely new to us, but still important to worker safety is what we call the ‘buddy system.’ We don’t ever want an employee—at least in risky work situations—to be alone. A second worker present is a second pair of eyes and hands to ensure mutual safety and quick help in case of accident or injury to his buddy.
“There is the story of a young man moving drywall sheets into apartments from the hallway where it was stocked leaning against the wall. The stack fell over on him. Though it didn’t really hurt him, it cut off his airway and he suffocated. A second person present could have saved him.”
Shares Haller, “Each day before starting work, we do a daily huddle and a stretch-and-flex. We discuss the day ahead, including safety concerns, and we set daily goals. A key issue is to make sure your employees know that they are free to communicate, that they are free to say something if there is a safety hazard or a quality control issue. We call it ‘Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ This is especially important for us with a large Hispanic workforce that does not feel it’s their place to point something out. Our aim is to make everybody feel at ease communicating.”
Says Murphy, “This year, we implemented stretch and flex and 100 percent gloves. We started our stretch-and-flex program at the beginning of August and have seen our incidents from strains reduced by 50 percent since then. We implemented the 100 percent gloves at the beginning of the year and it has brought us down from eight to 10 hand cuts per year to none [in 2016] so far. Our main goal is to make sure our employees return home safely to their families every day.”
True! That’s the goal of anyone responsible for someone else’s safety and well being. Daley’s Drywall’s Golobic sums it up: “Safety is everyone’s job. There will always be conflicts with production and with the old guard who’ve always done things a certain way. The best answer to those struggles is to find a way to work together to achieve safety goals while improving the way things are done. The answer should never be ‘No.’ It should be ‘Let’s find a better way to do this.’”
California-based Ulf Wolf is the senior writer at Words & Images.