Safety is always the number one priority in any construction project. Anyone that tells you differently hasn’t been in the business long enough. In construction, a safe site is a happy and productive one. At the end of the day, ensuring everyone’s safety will keep employee morale up, costs down, and ensure deadlines are met efficiently. It’s best to think of safety as the umbrella that every other component of a job falls under. The principles of safety can be complex when you break them down, but there are ways to simplify the goal of a safe and friendly job site.
Create a Pervasive Culture of Safety
Safety isn’t just a checkbox to tick off of a checklist tucked away in a Manager’s office. It should be an ingrained component to your construction company’s culture and ethos. The first step to ensuring safe working conditions is to create a company culture that puts safety first at all times and never forgets that goal no matter what is happening out in the field.
Creating a culture of safety can be as simple as holding regular safety seminars. Many companies hold these types of meeting twice a month. And while it’s tough to get the team together in one room all on the same morning before the workday starts, it’s best if everyone attends in person. OSHA has many resources for putting together presentations on safety and will even provide small quizzes to go with each topic. Having your team listen to your presentation, take a quiz, and sign off on that quiz forces them to stay engaged and gives you a document to file away to show potential clients that you’re serious about safety. Before you know it, you’ll see how quickly everyone remembers their training and applies it in the field. And soon enough, you should see fewer accidents, large or small.
Provide the Proper Attire
As a company, it’s your responsibility to provide the correct attire for your crew. With roadway projects, it’s most important to outfit your team with high visibility gear. That includes vests, jackets, coveralls, rainwear, and harnesses. If you’re unsure of what to invest in, you can enlist the help of the American National Standard for High-Visibility Apparel (ANSI 107-1999), a federal agency founded in 1999 that focuses on preserving best practices and high standards for high-vis apparel. The program was founded due to the high rate of construction fatalities from car accidents. Since its creation, the number of workers killed on the roads has plummeted.
Not all high-vis gear is created equal. High visibility applications are diverse and contingent upon weather conditions, time-of-day, and many other factors. Do your research and outfit your team with the appropriate attire based on where they’re working and the time of day. There is attire for daylight visibility as well as three separate classes of nighttime attire. Choose wisely and don’t leave your time exposed.
Make Your Team Accountable
The biggest mistake you can make as a team is to cultivate an atmosphere where your team members are afraid to speak up or speak out. Culpability is one of the greatest assets to safety. If everyone knows their actions have clear and decisive consequences, then everyone will begin to think longer about every chance they take, or any corner they cut.
Let your team know that they’re accountable for everything they do. Show them that every safety precaution they ignore will eventually come back to them and they’ll need to answer to it. This might be a challenging way to manage your workforce but once you’ve established that you take a hard line on safety and accountability then everything else will fall into its place. You want to instill in your team that they need to do the right thing especially when no one’s watching.
Practice UV Safety
Working as part of a road crew means having very little reprieve from the hot sun. And a cloudless sky will do everything it can to deplete your energy, burn your skin, and severely dehydrate you. It’s no secret that there’s a culture of “manning up” in the construction industry. All that translates to is systematic neglect of one’s health. Heatstroke is no joke, and it’s only one danger caused by the sun.
Instill UV safety into your team. Provide them with breathable attire that is naturally UV-blocking. Most of all, provide them with plenty of high SPF sunscreen and encourage them to use it and reapply it periodically throughout the day. At best, the sun will give you a wicked sunburn. At its worst, high doses of UV radiation from the sun is a well-known cause of melanoma, which is a vicious and lethal form of cancer that no one wants.
Every job site should also have a constant supply of fresh, cold water. Because your team is out in the sun all day, they run a much higher risk of suffering from dehydration, which is something not even regular consumption of water can prevent on the hottest days. With that in mind, encourage your team to bring with them, or even provide for them, packets of electrolyte mix that they can mix into their water. Electrolytes will hydrate you much faster and much more efficiently than just plain water.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Robots are far away from replacing the manpower and human intuition that your team provides on a day-to-day basis. But there is plenty that a machine can do to streamline your projects and give your workers a reprieve from hard labor.
For instance, LiDAR is coming into wide use as a supplement to a conventional survey crew. Today, you can use vehicle-mounted 3D scanning technology to survey terrain from the comfort of a truck. This keeps your crew off the roads, out of the sun, and gives them more time to work on the finer details of a job. Many companies are even investing in drone technology, which can survey land, provide extremely detailed aerial mapping, and geospatial measurement all on its own. Investing in technology comes with a learning curve and it’s not cheap, but it’s one of those long-term investments that pays for itself in the long run.
Make Safety Part of Everything You Do
Every decision you make on a job site, especially on the roadway, should ask the question “does this increase or lessen the integrity of our safety?” If you’re constantly asking this question, then you’re already well on the way to sustaining a safe work environment. In the case of roadway construction, it’s that much more important to do everything you can to ensure the safety of your team because there are so many other factors you can’t easily control.
But most of all, don’t shy away from making long-term investments that will take some of the load off your crew. Working smarter is never a bad thing—it frees you up for more challenging tasks. And every decision that takes your team off the side of the road and lets them recharge should be seen as an achievement in your efforts to run a safe and thoughtful construction company.
Chris Galloway is the owner of US Hammer Jackhammers and Postdrivers. He’s been a contractor his whole life, owns a rental equipment company and runs it all out of Woodland, California.