For construction professionals and managers, creating and maintaining a safe workplace is the top priority. But making a construction site safe can be complicated. A strong strategy is key to achieving the best safety standards possible.
“In every industry, all decision makers should have safety as their first priority,” says Jeff Buczkiewicz, President and CEO of Mason Contractors Association of America. He explains, “Safety is a company culture.” By company culture, Buczkiewicz is referring to everyday actions and attitudes, not just policy. If safety is not reflected as a culture, “it will not be taken seriously by those who are responsible to implement company wide,” he says. Establishing that culture is where education comes in.
“A worker has to know what’s expected of them as far as safety,” explains Bev Garnant, Executive Director at the American Society of Concrete Contractors. “So, whatever the safety culture is, it has to be explained and taught. That’s critical.”
Adaptation and reflection
Like technology, adequate safety standards change and evolve with time and therefore consistently require re-evaluation. “Sometimes safety means doing something differently as we evolve and implement new safety procedures and policies,” says Buczkiewicz.
Self-awareness and evaluation is not just for the managers. When workers are encouraged to contribute to the larger culture of safety, they are also better equipped to protect each other. “If they see something unsafe, like someone rushing or someone skipping a step, they are empowered to say something,” explains Garnant. “Safety comes before productivity, and you are doing what management has empowered you to do by putting that first.” In this way, collective self-awareness can lead to effective team work.
“I think many people often times feel we have a safety guy who handles that, but the reality is everyone needs to be conscious of safety all day,” says Buczkiewicz. “If they see something that is not correct, they need to take the initiative to fix it. Their employer would not train them in safety concerns if they did not want them to be a part of the team to identify potential issues.” For these managers, the most important part of the day is ensuring everyone gets home to their friends and family safely.
Changes on the horizon
But workers and managers are not the only people working to make job sites safer for employees.
Recently, The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), imposed new regulations from workplace silica exposure. With crystalline silica found in materials prevalent on construction sites such as sand, stone, concrete and mortar, it is crucial that workers are equipped with top of the line tools and equipment to keep them safe from exposure.
By limiting workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica, they are better protected from lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. The new standards went into full effect in September of 2017 and industry leaders are responding in full force.
Construction site safety standards have become increasingly personal. “It’s the first thing on our minds,” says Garnant. “People are just working harder to make their sites safer.”