Ensuring worker safety in construction is paramount. According to OSHA, 4,764 workers died on the job in 2020 and nearly half of those were in construction, transportation and material moving and extraction occupations. National Construction Safety Week, held annually, is an opportunity for the construction industry to recommit to sending every worker home safe each day.
What is National Construction Safety Week?
National Construction Safety Week is a week-long effort to educate those in the construction industry about safety risks, as well as providing resources to help maintain a safe work environment. The purpose of Construction Safety Week is to empower everyone on the job site to step in, speak up and work together to stop anything that exposes a safety risk.
Part of the process of stopping safety risks is to be able to recognize everyday hazards. According to Construction Safety Week organizers, “when there’s trust, respect and communication, everyone can own and act on safety. That’s how we can break the patterns that lead to accidents and injuries, strengthen our connections, and create more opportunities to improve our safety culture.”
OSHA for its part is holding its National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction the same week. Falls routinely top the list of OSHA’s 10 most frequently cited standards. The effort raises fall hazard awareness to stop fall fatalities and injuries.
Taking Part in National Construction Safety Week
All companies, no matter their size, are welcome to get involved in Construction Safety Week at no cost. The initiative offers resources for the entire week that help companies take part in the event. Resources include daily topics, videos and toolbox talks as well as digital marketing materials and at-home family activities.
National Construction Safety Week makes it even easier to take part in the event by offering supporting materials for each day, including a recommended discussion topic.
Day 1: Engagement
Day 1’s topic of discussion is engagement. According to National Construction Safety Week, establishing a supportive culture is essential to creating a safe work environment. Feeling safe and having the power to speak up when something looks unsafe are important to a worker’s day-to-day well-being. Working together, companies can build a supportive culture where everyone’s voice matters. By encouraging open communication, you’ll create an environment where people feel safe to speak up and you will learn more about what is happening on the job.
Talking points include:
- How to be a safe and supportive leader, including communicating safety expectations in a meaningful way.
- Empower workers to work safely, including looking for hazards before starting work and inspecting tools.
Trust, respect and communication helps empower everyone at a company to own and act on safety.
Day 2: Risk Identification
Risks and mistakes are part of everyday work and most of the time, risks or mistakes don’t cause injury or harm, but they can be significant. National Construction Safety Week suggests taking three steps to minimize exposure and harm.
Acknowledge Error-Likely Situations to anticipate where you and other crew members are more likely to make mistakes, especially under stressful conditions. Examples include:
- Activities with new or inexperienced crew members
- New task and/or tools
- Change in work sequence
- Highly repetitive tasks
- Other external factors such as schedule pressure, weather, or personal distractions
Downtime where well-intended craft professionals work beyond the scope of the plan to stay busy and end up encountering unforeseen hazards, such as a yet-to-be-located live utility, etc.
Encourage employees to openly discuss which of these might apply to the work they are doing each day and implement protective measures to minimize the chances of an error and ensure no one is injured as the result.
Utilize a tool, such as the Energy Wheel, or other structured evaluation process when conducting your hazard assessments. Again, while some hazards (such as fall exposures) are more obvious, others take deeper thought for us to recognize them. Use of structured tools/processes can help us consistently identify hazards such as pressurized systems, live electrical hazards, or chemical exposures that might otherwise go unrecognized.
Identify the critical steps of the task. Some companies use the acronym STCKY for “Stuff That Can Kill You” to identify the tasks that must be done right or someone may be seriously injured or killed. Spend time discussing what must go right for the activity to be successful. Take extra time to discuss activities where the safety of an individual is solely dependent on them making the “right” choice, for example, proper adjustment of a rope grab system on a sloped roof to prevent an individual from reaching the edge. Where these critical steps exist, work as a crew or with supervision to build in resilience or add layers of protection to ensure that if someone makes a mistake, it doesn’t result in a severe incident. What could we explore to make work safer? Are there other ideas to make work safer? Are you actively sharing them with your crews? It doesn’t matter what level of experience you have; everyone should be able to speak up.
Day 3: Brain Matters
Hard hats and helmets protect workers’ brains. According to NIOSH, workers in construction sustain more traumatic brain injuries than in any other workplace in the United States. Making the switch from hard hats to helmets can offer even better protection for workers. And while protecting the outside of the head is crucial, focusing on mental health protects your workers’ minds.
- Is our workplace inclusive? Is it representative of the community where it exists?
- Are people in our workplace respectful of others?
- Do we have a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence?
- Do we have an environment where we welcome diversity?
- Are we equitable? Does everyone have opportunities based on individual needs rather than equal needs? (Everyone needs work gloves – when you give everyone gloves, that’s equality. Everyone needs work gloves that fit them and are correct for their tasks – that’s equity.)
- Do we feel safe and empowered by others to speak up?
- Are we allowing workers to speak up? Do we value their opinions and input?
- Are we giving people fair opportunities?
- Do we embrace Total Worker Health concepts that take into consideration social, economic, and environmental concerns on AND off the job?
- Does our company have a positive community impact program?
Reading answers to these questions can help you make positive solutions.
Day 4: Continue Learning and Demonstration Day
The construction industry is filled with people of different backgrounds and experiences. Those differences provide an opportunity to share lessons learned on making tasks safer and more efficient, improving overall safety. An interactive demonstration aimed at improving knowledge and safety led by experienced crew members that encourages participation can be educational and fun.
- Making the switch to safety helmets instead of hard hats.
- Workplace fatigue awareness, including practical steps to improve physical and mental health.
- De-escalation techniques and situational awareness, including how to respond to someone in need.
- Equipment inspection that covers critical items.
- Traffic safety, including traffic control.
- Fire injury prevention, including sharing past injuries and near misses.
- Fall protection demonstrations that share OSHA’s Fall Safety Stand-Down Week initiative.
- Emergency action planning, what to do if an emergency does occur.
Day 5: Take Action and Thank You
Every year, organizers say participation in Safety Week grows as craft workers across the country come together and commit to creating a safer working environment. National Construction Safety Week offers the following craft empowerment examples:
- CVIS – The Craft Voice In Safety program is an excellent tool that ensures all craft are represented and everyone has a voice. Supervision must respond to suggestions.
- JHA Collaboration – Supervision solicits craft team members to help develop Job Hazard Analysis. They are solicited for their specific feedback on risk mitigation solutions.
- The Energy Wheel – Use this tool in crew settings. Ask which types of energy they are exposed to in their work and what could be done better/safer.
- Incident Review – Bring team members in to review the details of an incident or near miss without fear of reprimand. What insights can they offer into potential issues that may have led up to the incident? What solutions would they recommend to prevent similar incidents in the future?
- Safety Suggestions Box – Create a jobsite Suggestions Box. Ensure all suggestions are responded to at mass safety meetings.
- Field Walks – Supervision and craft team members walk the site and observe the work. What suggestions do they have to improve safety?
- Job Boards – Create a jobsite board that lists all the concerns, suggestions and solutions raised by the craft and the responses. If something could not be accommodated, explain why.
- Safety Observations App – Some safety management platforms offer smart phone apps that give every team member a direct line to supervision regarding safety concerns. Observations can be made anonymously and should always be responded to in a timely manner.
- Recognition Programs – Be sure to recognize the efforts of any team members that create effective solutions to safety concerns. Some of the most effective methods of recognition are the simplest, such as a thank you from executive management. It is important that recognition is given at mass toolbox meetings to help reinforce the importance of speaking up and creating solutions.
It takes everyone working together to make the construction industry safer. This collaborative effort will help empower everyone to speak up and improve their ability to recognize and manage risk and make safe choices.
Visit Construction Safety Week for more information.