by Tom Ludorf
May 7 to May 11 was Construction Safety Week.
The largest source of injury on any active worksite is absent-mindedness, inattentiveness, and ignorance of surroundings — also known as complacency. A momentary lapse in attention is all it takes to turn a routine trip across the worksite into a hospital visit for you and stop work order for your organization. While we’re all guilty of letting our minds wander in the day-to-day routine, there are few other industries where the consequences for inattention are as potentially dire. Every construction vet has a horror story to tell around the coffee truck, and I’ve been on enough construction sites to know that won’t change overnight. What can be done, however, is “apprentice” steps to get every worker engaged in making and promoting safer choices.
Every contractor knows the importance of hole covers, rebar caps, toe boards, and PPE — the larger items that help ensure a safe work environment. A truly successful safety culture, however, happens when contractors sweat the small stuff, holding themselves and their own employees as accountable as each subcontractor’s subcontractor. Good housekeeping — clear paths of travel, removing trash — not only ensures basic cleanliness, but it can also prevent fires or expose hidden safety hazards. Stretch-and-flex programs, as another example, offer more than a bit of yoga and are great for safety compliance with the added effect of keeping workers mindful of daily ergonomics and safe lifting practices. $20 water coolers around the site can prevent hours of lost work and dehydration-related injuries, and strict gatekeeping (often seen only as “waiting in line”) can prevent unforeseen operating losses and slash material shrinkage.
The moral of this story isn’t to shove safety down your workforce’s throats with unrealistic, sweeping safety initiatives. Lofty goals and long-term safety ambitions are important, yes, but the real moral of this story is to focus on promoting the mundane, daily safety choices that can lead up to big safety changes. Every marginal increase in safety is a step towards something larger — and is well worth the potential upfront headache of implementing it. Hardhats took nearly 50 years to catch on — and it certainly wasn’t as a result of being so comfortable and stylish — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a worker today who didn’t know someone whose life was saved by their helmet on site.
Jumpstarting your safety program, like jumpstarting your workout routine, won’t happen overnight. Like someone training for a 10K, you start with daily runs. You may not feel the benefit overnight, and there will certainly be a few cramps and kinks along the way, but when you have run 5 miles for the first time without looking back, the smaller steps and choices that got you there will be well worth it. This Safety Week, I pledge to focus on the small safety decisions — checking the webbing of my harness, wearing my Spot-r Clip, getting proper rest — that will ensure I return home safely at the end of the day. When we take a bite out of complacency, and when we focus on the variables we can control, we are stronger and safer together.
Tom Ludorf is director of field engineering at Triax Technologies.