How to Plan for Safety

Sept. 1, 2009

Planning for safety is not just a good idea-it works. Creating safety plans, following them, changing them if needed, and reviewing them for successes and failures all can make your company a safe place to work and drive down your experience modification ratio.

Preplanning for safety has worked well for Sundt Construction, a highway and heavy contractor based in Tempe, AZ. “Since we started preplanning safety into our jobs, we have gotten a safety record that’s 10 times better than it was 10 years ago,” says Brian Murphy, Sundt’s vice president and director of safety.

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Sundt holds meetings prior to bidding a job. Company managers walk through the project and plan the safety measures needed. Then after the project is bid and won, the project team holds more meetings at which safety measures are planned. And Sundt holds daily and weekly safety meetings on the job.

Safety planning saves time, money, resources, and, most importantly, it saves lives, says Carmen Shafer, president of Shafer Safety Solutions, a safety-consulting firm based in Marietta, OH. Shafer has 11 years of experience as a safety professional in the construction industry and holds three safety-related certifications: Certified Safety Professional, Construction Health and Safety Technician, and Construction Risk and Insurance Specialist.

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Safety planning begins at the corporate level, says Shafer. Upper management should have a safety strategy. Management will look at the overview of safety plans, goals, exposures, and safety programs. Questions to be answered include, “What work do we self-perform? What work do we subcontract? If we work in multiple states, what are the various regulations of those states? What are our goals? Are they zero injuries? Do we want to reduce our experience modification ratio? By how much? How will we do that?

From there, safety planning carries down to preconstruction level-to bidding and procurement and premobilization. When preparing a bid, the general contractor needs to be very clear about which safety items the GC will handle and which ones the subcontractors will do. Who will install and maintain the guardrails? Subcontractors should provide their own safety plans relating to their scope of work, and everything should work together, says Shafer.

The safety director or manager should work with the estimating department to include safety as line items in the bid. “You should not just add 5%, or 10% for safety,” says Shafer. “That might be too much, or too little. If trench boxes, for example, become a line item, they won’t be thrown out indiscriminately when it comes time to turn the bid in.

“Then when you go to construction, you actually have a budget for safety,” says Shafer. “Then the superintendents can realize that it’s OK to spend money on safety items, if they’re in the budget.”

Shafer says that at some companies, the president might say there’s no limit on money that needs to be spent for safety. That is open to misinterpretation, says Shafer. That way, safety items may not get written into the job’s budget, and the money will not be spent.

Working With Subcontractors
Many general contractors these days have preselection criteria that they use in selecting subcontractors. If you’re a grading subcontractor, you may have to fill out an application to work for a certain general contractor. And frequently that application will ask for your safety record. “Subcontractors are often evaluated based on their safety records,” says Shafer. “If their statistics are somehow skewed in the wrong direction, the general contractor needs to have a conversation with them to find out why.”

A subcontractor may have an OSHA recordable rate that is too high-but maybe there are only 20 people in the company, says Shafer. That can throw off the OSHA Recordable Incident Rate (RIR).

“Safety should be part of the contract,” says Shafer. “It should be written that a general contractor is required to follow OSHA safety regulations or stiffer ones if they apply. If a subcontractor says safety training, such as the weekly toolbox talks or a safety orientation will cost you extra, that’s not the sign of a responsible bidder. The estimator for the general contractor needs to make sure that subs are not excluding safety items from their bid.”

Safety planning needs to include site planning and layout. Where is the access and egress, especially for emergency vehicles? Where are the power lines? If 100 concrete trucks are going to enter and leave the site, can the site be planned so that there’s one way in and one way out? That will help minimize the interaction between people and trucks, says Shafer.

Prior to construction, the general contractor should meet with all subs and talk through the safety aspects of the project. Find out if any of the subcontractors are creating hazards for the others.

“Frequently a general contractor will have a job-specific safety plan,” says Shafer. “It’s a safety plan tailored to the environment and hazards on that project. If you do work for the US Army Corps of Engineers or the Navy, they call it the Accident Prevention Plan.”

The Job Hazard Analysis
One of the most important safety plans is the job hazard analysis (JHA). Usually it has three simple columns. The left column is the task, the middle column is the hazard, and the right-hand column lists the precautions to mitigate the hazard. “It’s best if the people who do the work write the JHA,” says Shafer. “They’re the best at knowing what the hazards are.”

For example, suppose the job at hand is bolt installation and the hazards are eye injuries, electrocution, and skin problems. The precautions listed should be listed as follows, says Shafer: “No person will be allowed on site without safety glasses; the generator will always be equipped with a ground-fault interrupter; no person will be permitted to apply epoxy without gloves; hand-washing water and soap will be provided onsite during the epoxy application.

If field conditions change, the job hazard analysis can change with them. “The job hazard analysis needs to be a useful, living document,” says Shafer. “Foremen, superintendents, and workers need to evaluate changing conditions and change the JHA if needed.”

Shafer also recommends against the general contractor writing safety plans and JHAs for the subcontractors. That gets into legal issues, she says. A subcontractor should be able to create its own safety plans and precautions.

A pre-activity meeting is a good idea, Shafer says. You gather a crew together and make sure you have the right equipment, that there are no new contractors in the area, and that everyone’s going the same direction.

Daily crew huddles are a good idea each morning to plan the work and the safety measures needed, Shafer says. Companies that do these have found their productivity improves. Often, workers come to the job with something else on their minds, and the daily huddle helps them to focus on the job at hand.

After the job is complete, it’s a good idea to review the safety plans made. If there was an accident, why did it happen? “What did I miss in the JHA?” asks Shafer. “Or did I not follow the plan? We can learn from our mistakes and move on to the next project.”
About the Author

Daniel C. Brown

Daniel C. Brown writes on safety and the construction industry.

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