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Construction has the highest number of fatalities and is the most dangerous form of regular employment in the US. Some seasonal industries, such as fishing and logging, also have high fatality rates. However, since construction employment makes up such a large percentage of the occupational workforce, the overall number of people affected is higher.

We hear of these fatalities and injuries every day. Recently, a construction worker plummeted 40 stories to his death at a Manhattan-based hotel-condominium tower that was under construction. Three other people were injured. In another instance, a man died in Perth Amboy, NJ from a 30-foot fall at a construction site, and a construction worker fell 30 feet from a scaffolding in downtown Jersey City.

What can we do to prevent events like these from happening again? What are construction companies and clients doing to prevent such incidents from occurring? The bottom line is that it is imperative for all workers involved in any construction project to go home in the same condition in which they came to work. Employers must find a way to make safety applicable everyday.

However, many employers are simply telling employees, “just don’t get hurt,” and to “think safe,” but this has no real impact. The only way to make sure safety is commonplace on a project is to educate workers. Education should be first and foremost the most important approach taken by employers when dealing with employees. Since the employer is ultimately responsible, they should actively ensure that safety is always a main component in any project.

One of the major issues facing employers is that many construction workers are transient employees. This makes it difficult to gauge which workers have been trained and at what level. Many times, employers assume that employees have already been trained; however, this is not often the case. Other times, the training is not at the level required for a particular project. Therefore, it is best for everyone to receive regular training so they are quickly brought up to date with information consistent with the law, which frequently changes.

It is also imperative to never take for granted the educational experience of a worker, whether it be a union or non-union employee. Employers cannot assume “common sense” when it comes to safety, especially because of the simple fact that many are not being instructed properly.

There are also many communication barriers that exist, as there is great cultural diversity in the construction industry. In this instance, employers should ensure that training is offered in each language necessary.

Our company feels that the best way to ensure that employees and subcontractors are being consistently trained is to implement a more comprehensive safety program. Since implementing this program, we have seen a 90% reduction rate in injuries. Also, clients have been taking notice, realizing the importance of this as far as the impact it has on the overall schedule, quality and budget of a project.

Most importantly, we educate workers on the foundations behind the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1971. We help employees and subcontractors understand the legal requirement behind this act and its importance. Secondly, we offer supervisory training. Thirdly, we conduct the OSHA 30-Hour and OSHA 10-Hour courses.

The OSHA 30-Hour course is an industry recognized “best management practice” regarding safety standards for construction. The OSHA 10-Hour Course is basically a condensed version focusing on very specific topics. We highly encourage our staff to become outreach instructors to have a more comprehensive understanding of the process.

Additionally, we engage our insurance brokers and insurance carriers to provide topical training. One example of this is “high-impact hazards.” We educate the staff on the most common hazards in the industry as well as what to look out for, how to identify conditions that are unsafe and how to correct them. The most common types of high-impact hazards are falls, electrocutions, struck-bys and being caught-in-between.

We also give workers a general introduction to other standards that exist. Sometimes there is special emphasis on items that impact particular projects such as silica hazards, concrete dust, hazardous materials, site-specific chemicals, asbestos, materials or chemicals, and benzene.

Additionally, each job site requires different lessons. For example, there will be a class regarding doing work on research laboratories.

We also keep a comprehensive and standardized safety manual that functions as the safety “bible” for the construction project. This safety manual contains all safety policies and procedures as well as all safety checklists and forms. It establishes a diary of the project, containing safety meeting reports, inspection reports, rare accident reports, job safety analyses, etc.

The safety manual is required to be available at all times on the job site for audit by Safety Management. The manual receives a full revision annually so that it is up-to-date with new laws. Semi-annually, there is a review and change depending on specific requirements for new projects. Also, the manual is always modified as clients require or when business conditions change.

This program, we find, is proving quite successful, and the feedback from workers and clients has been positive. If every construction firm implemented an adequate safety program, the industry fatality and injury rate would be significantly less. In the long run, this is important for everyone involved: the firms, the clients, the workers and their families.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of Real Estate Media or its publications.

Patrick Moore is director of environment, health and safety for Sweetwater Construction Corp., Cranbury, NJ. He can be reached at [email protected].

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