Safety in Construction Lauren C. Atwell
afety on a construction project has always been a debatable subject. Most owners would probably leave it to the contractor. The reasoning behind this approach is an operational issue in which many owners do not feel comfortable becoming involved. This should not be the case. The owner should set the direction for any upcoming project. Past experience of highly successful construction projects has clearly demonstrated that early and active involvement of the owner has a major impact on the safety and quality performance of all contractors on the job. Rules and regulations are ineffective unless they are understood and enforced. Some of the best rules are simple and to the point. For example, the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is short and simple, but provides direction for millions. The 1926 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) book on construction regulations contains about 575 pages, not counting other applicable regulations and standards. Because some people must be regulated and because the regulations require enforcement, some will conclude that safety regulations prevent accidents. A major problem with regulations is that
they can become too specific; thus, what was intended to be a minimum requirement eventually becomes a maximum standard. All too often, contractors spend extensive amounts of energy trying to interpret the standard and then try to figure out a way of not having to comply with it. One may conclude that contractors do not care; however, the reverse is true. All too often, the contractor recognizes what must be done, but understands that the bottom-line cost is the single most important factor in selection of the contractor who will be awarded the job.
The Role of the Owner The importance of the owner’s role begins at the start of the project, as plans are formulated; this is when the owner has the most influence over the construction process. It’s of critical importance for the owner to: S Develop a process that provides structured methodology S Ensure that the process is comprehensive and consistent The owner should take responsibility to establish the safety model for the project, setting the safety philosophy and goals. A sound safety philosophy establishes an injury-free vision for the project. The owner should focus on what is desired from the construction project, not on how contractors perceive their responsibilities. The owner must set the standard so that the project team sees safety as an imperative that
cannot be sacrificed. It’s important that all involved in the process understand safety is not a separate issue; it cannot be handled in a vacuum or by many components, but must be incorporated into the process and included in daily work habits. All accidents are a human error, and whether intended or unintended, they are a deviation from an acceptable practice. It’s a fact that accidents can be reduced by instituting appropriate controls.
Setting Goals Safety goals are the guidelines that the owner provides to the construction management team as targets that must be attained. The owner should require goals such as these: S Zero fatalities S Zero disabling injuries S Zero lost work day injuries S Zero fires and other property loss S Zero environmental accidents S 100 percent fall protection on the job An owner should reasonably expect attainment of these goals. They should be achievable, because it’s a simple fact that workers do not want to be injured, contractors don’t want their team members to be injured, and the causes of 90 percent of all acute/traumatic injuries are known. These facts support the belief that the goals are achievable. A “zero” injury rate is the only acceptable and supportable goal; any other established goal leaves the subtle message that accidents will occur and that injuries are acceptable. The incentives for increased involvement are lower cost, quality work, reduced risk of bad publicity, and minimal disruptions of the owner’s employees and facilities. The success of the program will depend on good communication between the owner and the contractor. These communications should include the owner’s safety expectations, understanding of the contractor’s safety program, and effective dialogue at all levels throughout the life of the project. Owners can be successful in their efforts to improve job safety on construction projects and contractors should positively support the owners’ programs. Lauren C. Atwell is chief operating officer with Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors Inc. in Jacksonville. S
April 2019 • Florida Water Resources Journal
Conservation and Reuse