After years in the doldrums, construction activity is picking up nationwide. Analysts predict even more impressive growth for 2016, but a development of a negative kind is taking center stage: construction accident rates have been outpacing new project starts. The fact is that there are effective ways for companies to keep their employees safe as both work toward a better future for the industry.
A Revitalized Industry, but Signs of Trouble on the Ground
With new starts through the first ten months of the year climbing 10 percent beyond the same part of 2014, few can doubt that things are looking up. If the previous year was an inflection point for an industry turning around, 2015 has been a time of surging ahead with particular strength in the nonresidential segment.
At the same time, construction site accident rates have been climbing even more quickly. On-the-job accidents have always been a bugbear of the construction industry, but decades of hard work have cut fatality numbers by two-thirds since 1970, even as the nation has grown greatly. As a recent New York Times report pointed out, though, progress is not to be taken for granted.
Over the course of a year-long period ending in July, NYC-wide construction-site deaths had doubled compared to the trailing four-year average. Weekly OSHA reports of late often echo that unfortunate development, with accident rates nationwide almost invariably growing even more quickly than construction starts.
Back to the Safety Basics, Even in the Midst of a Boom
While costly in many ways, that basic trend is a familiar one. As construction activity picks back up after a slump, new, inexperienced workers enter the industry and managers push aggressively ahead with projects, seeking to get a head start on the next. Moving the industry forward must be done in a sustainable fashion, though, lest the tolls exacted by job-site accidents prove too costly. Fortunately, there are proven ways of improving construction site safety while still running an efficient, competitive company.
- Awareness: OSHA famously highlights a “Fatal Four” for the construction industry with falls, electrocution, object impacts, and crushing dangers together accounting for around 60 percent of all construction-related deaths in the average year.
Workers need to learn about these dangers and others that are common on job sites and to understand where, in practice, they may be lurking.
Improved awareness alone will see workers making better decisions and being more diligent about utilizing the other safety-improving tools they are equipped with.
- Training: Being alert for dangers is important, but so is knowing how to avoid them. Keeping up with mandatory OSHA training for all workers has to be a top priority, and additional education can be valuable, too.
That also means refreshing training regularly and insisting that mastery of the materials be demonstrated in practice every working day.
Training that works results in both the formation of safety-promoting habits and an increased, conscious awareness of how to navigate an inherently dangerous environment.
- Communication: Many of the most plainly preventable construction accidents occur as a result of simple miscommunication.
Strong, clear communication should be worked into every regular job-site process, from morning meetings that inform workers what to expect for the day ahead to mandatory procedures that ensure that heavy-equipment operators are informed about what others do in their vicinity.
Good communication also makes the awareness of and avoidance of danger a team effort, so that individual lapses need not prove to be costly.
- Equipment: OSHA-required equipment, whether in terms of hard hats and reflective vests or fall protection gear, can provide a strong baseline of safety. It is often worthwhile to look beyond these basics for other opportunities, too, as with construction-ready radio communication equipment that can allow for better, more consistent communication.
In every case, though, the proper and consistent usage of safety equipment is never something to be taken for granted: even a company-wide initiative that results in more regular usage of the simple hard hat can easily save lives.
- Transparency: Above all else, safety has to be something that everyone on a construction site prioritizes and works toward. This means insisting that nothing is out of bounds when it comes to safety issues, and not merely allowing for concerns to be aired but insisting upon it.
A job-site culture that elevates safety to its proper place of respect is one that will protect everything from financial results to the lives and health of workers themselves.
The simple lesson, then, is that construction site safety is well understood and that the tools for achieving it are all readily available. Even with so many new opportunities to be had in a now-healthy industry, it can pay to put some effort into refocusing on these fundamentals.
Companies that do so can expect to earn real rewards for themselves and those who make their missions possible.