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BE SAFETY PROACTIVE INSTEAD OF SAFETY REACTIVE…BUT HOW?

Congratulations! Your bid was the winning bid on that big construction project you have had your eye on! You have the building plans printed out, the materials are bought, you have the tools to build it, and your employees are all in place. Are you forgetting anything?

If you are not used to working on construction sites, you probably are forgetting something. But don’t worry, you are not alone! Many contractors aren’t sure what OSHA requires of them. But there are also many more contractors that are being PROACTIVE by researching exactly what they will need before they go on a construction site!

Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards as well as the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act which requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards. Remember! OSHA standards are minimum standards so in order to ensure a safe and healthful workplace for your employees, you might have to go above and beyond the written standards.

Once you have your safety policies written down and you are implementing them, you have conquered half the battle!

So let’s start from the top and discuss what you will need.

A Plan

Everyone needs a plan to make sure you stay on track. Safety is no different. Most General Contractors (GC) today require you to have a safety plan in place before you can begin work. If the GC does not require it, have one anyway! Remember, we’re being PROACTIVE. If OSHA comes onto a construction site, there is a very good chance the Compliance Officer will want to review your written, documented plan. Does this mean you should just make a copy of the OSHA website and add your company name to the title page? Absolutely not!

Your safety manual is a direct reflection of how you and your company think of your employees and their safety. A generic manual that was downloaded from the internet for $19.95 will not convey a safety conscience message very well. But putting a little thought into your policies and procedures show you are actively taking a part I your employees well being. You are creating a company safety culture.

This plan does not have to be 300 pages. It should only include what is required of your scope of work. For example, a landscaper does not need a section on respiratory protection like a painting contractor would need. Only include information that pertains to you and your company.

OSHA standard 1926.21(b)(2) states “The employer shall instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.”

Do you have employees using hand and power tools? If yes, that will be one tab in your safety plan. Ladders? There’s another section. Don’t forget to go through OSHA’s General Safety and Health Provisions since there are some required sections each contractor must have such as reporting injuries and illnesses (recordkeeping) and fire protection.

Once your safety plan is written, don’t keep it a secret! Make sure all your employees have read and understand the company policies and procedures. If they don’t know what you expect of them, how are they supposed to perform to your expectations? It is always a good idea to have a page in the safety plan that emphasizes the company safety policy, or mission statement, signed by the President of the contracting firm with a space for your employee to sign stating he or she has read and understands the plan. Documentation is always a positive thing!

What happens if you are using contract (1099) workers? No matter what, contract workers are your responsibility. They must be treated, in terms of safety, just like a “normal” employee.

Training

As mentioned before, OSHA requires employers to instruct all employees in hazard recognition although OSHA does not always say how this training should take place. It is generally acceptable to conduct “Tool Box Talk” type of training sessions with your employees on most topics. Other OSHA required training will be a bit more in depth. Keep in mind everything should be documented. OSHA will ask you if you have conducted training and if it is not documented, it never happened. It is as simple as that.

Some of the required training topics in construction include Personal Protective Equipment (Subpart E), Fire Protection (Subpart F), Tools – Hand and Power (Subpart I), Electrical (Subpart K), Fall Protection (Subpart M), and Stairways and Ladders (Subpart X). I suggest a separate tab in your safety manual for each of these sections which will detail your policies if they differ from OSHA.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Another section of your safety manual should be Personal Protective Equipment. Keep in mind, OSHA requirements are minimum requirements. If you are working for a GC and they require 100% hard hats at all times, than the stricter provision prevails. If your safety policy states all employees will wear 100% Class E (electrical) hard hats opposed to the Class G (general) that the GC states, than your employees should be following your stricter policy.

All workers on a construction site should be wearing long pants, shirts with at least a 4” sleeve and work boots. The employer is not required to pay for an employee’s ordinary clothing but they are required to pay for hard hats, safety glasses, reflective vests, etc. If an employee intentionally destroys their PPE, the employer is not required to pay for a replacement. Make sure you state this as one of your policies in your safety manual so that all employees understand when they are provided with their personal protective equipment. And don’t forget to document the employee training!

Workers are allowed to provide their own Personal Protective Equipment as long as the employer inspects it and approves it for the specific task at hand. Although, using the example above, if your company policy enforces Class E hard hats, employees must wear Class E hard hats.

Hazard Communication Plan (HazCom)

One of the last required sections of your safety manual is the Hazard Communication Plan. This section must be developed to provide employees with information concerning any chemicals they may be exposed to in the course of their work. All employees must be trained, annually, on specific topics such as necessary personal protective equipment, procedures in case of a spill or other emergency, and where to find a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) in case of an emergency, all before they ever begin to work with a chemical. OSHA recently revised the Hazard Communication Standard to the Globally Harmonized System so there will be some upcoming changes which all companies will have to adhere to.

 

So this is what your company would need to make sure your employees and your company, are both safe when you first walk onto a construction site. And since you have been proactive, this written plan can go with you on each and every job you win. No need to rewrite anything unless an actual OSHA regulation has changed which means you just need to update the specific section that pertains to your scope of work.

I know there are a lot of companies out there that do not have a sufficient plan, if any, in place when they work on a construction site. But they are gambling with the chance that OSHA won’t catch them. The fines being handed out for contractor non-compliance are getting larger and larger. For instance, a cabinet maker in California was cited for four separate non-compliant issues and was initially fined $43,550. The company did fight the citations and brought the fine down to $12,300 – which is still not a cheap fine. One can only assume that the only reason the company had this fine lowered by over $30,000 was they had a safety program in place and they could prove they were doing everything in their power to ensure a safe workplace.

 

If you do not have a written company safety plan, there is no argument for you.

 

If you do not have documented training of your employees, there is no argument for you.

 

Lack of safety demonstrates to OSHA you are not doing anything that is required of you.

 

Being reactive to safety doesn’t pay…only being proactive saves you, your company and your employees.

 
 

 

 

 

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