We all want to see the finished product of a successful renovation project, or the shiny exterior and fine edges of a new structure. Ah, if only we could bottle that “new building” scent and put it into one of those hanging tree thingies.
But the path to these construction achievements is fraught with danger. Ladders… scaffolds… heavy equipment…. Oh my! The list of potential pitfalls is practically endless. It helps to have a contractor that takes the right steps to prevent disaster.
Thinking of undertaking a new construction project? Consider a few tips from other companies and federal safety regulators on how to achieve a safe construction site:
Secure your scaffolding.
Commercial projects can often require workers to weld, paint and do other activities at greater heights. In those cases, scaffolding is an important part of the job. Unsafe scaffolding is often a top safety hazard reported by investigators for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Last year in Arizona, it was part of OSHA’s largest category for fines ($44,779 – fall protection). Make sure scaffolding is on solid footing; can handle its own weight plus four times the maximum proscribed load without buckling or moving; and has all of the rails from head to toe. Frequent inspections of scaffolding equipment and braces are a must. Similar precautions apply for ladders.
Lift, push and pull properly.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But ask any tradesman how his back feels. Be prepared to hang around for awhile until the story is finished. Construction work is hard work, and sometimes obvious steps of preventing strained muscles and backs can be lost in the shuffle of the job site. Remember to bend at the knees and lift by using your legs for help. Don’t turn or twist to the side; shift your feet and turn with your whole body. Pretend you are a robot (and last time we checked, robots did not report having any back problems). In addition, use the right tool for the job: An underpowered power tool can cause its user to push or pull to add extra force to the task. This can also create back and shoulder injuries.
Communication is key.
Have you ever seen a bunch of workers standing around a hole as its being filled in by a backhoe? Ever seen the backhoe driver’s face in that moment? It’s not pretty. The fascination of watching earth being moved is like when we first discovered fire; maybe it’s human nature. But it can create problems at a job site if workers don’t listen to the operators of heavy machinery. Listen up or ask if you’re too close in these cases, and while you’re at it, take note of the safety manuals for hazardous materials. These manuals — dubbed Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) — cover the ins and outs of each chemical at the construction site. They are on site at all times, and they are available in different languages. Hazard communication plans were the No. 1 most-cited problem at construction sites in Arizona last year, according to OSHA statistics. Proper signage for access areas and hazards are important, too.
Finally, it never hurts to designate a “safety manager” for a construction site. Depending on the size of the project, you may need a few of them. But it’s better to have a proactive advocate for safety than to be reactive when a crisis occurs.