Cronyism, erosion of the law, unfair sentencing, and death: Brad Gerstman warns that this is the future of the construction industry.
In an op-ed for Crain’s, the New York attorney argues that criminalizing construction accidents threatens construction companies of all sizes. He points out that “a prosecutor can bring criminal charges against any contractor or subcontractor… whenever there is a fatality, the general contractor will be held liable in almost every conceivable circumstance.” In other words, if there is ever an accident — regardless of whether the contractor himself is at fault (ex: being drunk on site) — the construction company is liable.
Once prosecutors become an intimate part of enforcing construction safety, the collusion of regulators and the criminal-justice system will leave contractors and subcontractors virtually defenseless. With the threat of prosecution hanging over a company, regulators will have leverage to enforce the most draconian settlements as firms seek to avoid the hardships of prosecution.
When the floodgates to criminal prosecution are opened wide, even an acquittal might not save a company because it is the process — with its expense and cost to a company’s goodwill — that is the punishment.
Let’s make the industry safer for the men and women who working in it, not use tragedy to score cheap political points. And let’s also make sure that the heavy hand of the criminal justice system doesn’t deprive conscientious and upstanding contractors of their rights and livelihoods by turning all construction accidents into potential criminal prosecutions.
Should Gerstman’s analysis hold true, construction firms are facing unprecedented liability when it comes to on-site workplace accidents.
And since that’s the case, accident prevention needs to be even more of a focus for construction managers.
Construction safety is nothing to mess around with. Even if you’re following OSHA’s guidelines to the letter, there are additional things construction managers can do to protect their crew.
Experience is the best thing to rely on when it comes to keeping workers safe. That’s why I reached out to a host of construction professionals for unconventional construction safety tips. In an industry where best practices save lives, this advice is indispensable. Read on to find out what these managers say about keeping their crew safe and healthy.
1. Get your point across with creative demonstrations.
Bryan Clayton, CEO, Your Green Pal
I have been in the landscape construction Industry my entire life. My previous company was a landscape company with over 100 employees. Over the last 20 years, I have had to conduct hundreds of safety meetings to prevent our men from getting hurt.
First, I start every meeting by telling them that my primary objective was to make sure that they go home to their families every night with everything they came to work with on their body.
During our safety meetings, I create memorable demonstrations that will blaze into their brains the dangers of working around heavy machinery all day.
One such demonstration was to educate the crew about the dangers of using a wood chipper.
I came up with the idea of blowing up a large balloon filled with red JELL-O.
Then, I fired up the machinery and threw the filled balloon in. It sprayed all of the men with red Jell-O particles as they came out the other end.
While we all got a good laugh from getting inundated with JELL-O, the message stuck. The crew understood that JELL-O could have easily been a man’s arm or hand or foot.
Six years later, I still have men telling me that they remember the JELL-O demonstration and how careful it made them around heavy equipment every day. There’s no telling how many accidents were prevented with those demonstrations. It was, indisputably, some of the most valuable time I spent training my men.
2. Protect your toes!
Max Robinson, Co-Founder, Ace Work Gear
I own a business selling construction safety equipment (high-vis jackets, safety boots, helmets, and more).
We stock a wide range of safety boots which have been reinforced with steel to prevent damage to feet on a construction or build site.
Despite how regularly workers suffer foot injuries on construction sites, we still feel that there are not enough companies that regulate the footwear that their workers bring with them strictly enough.
Just recently, we heard from a client of ours who had almost immediately realized the importance of suitable footwear in a construction workplace when a workbench collapsed and sent several boxes of tools onto a worker’s foot.
Thankfully, he was wearing steel-tipped boots.
The worker had cuts and scrapes on his shins, but had escaped virtually unharmed on his feet, which is a far more fragile part of the body. Had he not been wearing protective footwear, that small accident would have undoubtedly led to the worker to miss work for several months, ultimately affecting the whole company.
We hope to spread awareness of how a simple change to footwear can make a huge difference.
3. Invest in the right equipment for fall prevention.
Jason Roberts, Senior Marketing Specialist, My Handyman Services
I work at a London-based home renovation and improvement company. I also used to be part of another company that offered building services. Our specialists worked on roofs. I’m happy to suggest some tried-and-true tactics that we successfully implemented in order to prevent falls.
First, we make sure our sites are safe. We plan the top work in advance to prevent tangled lines and overcrowding. We then make sure the roof is clear of obstacles before sending our first man up. There are numerous cases when such obstacles have caused preventable falls.
We have some competitors who use only belts when working high up — an extremely dangerous practice. We’ve equipped all our workers with full body harness. Also, before they start working, we make sure the equipment is snug.
Another thing we do is connect the harness to a lifeline or a lanyard. We keep the rope long enough to allow the person to do his work, but prevent it from being too long in case there is a fall. We pay special attention to the manufacturer’s instructions about how to anchor the lifeline, down to the specificity of nailing or screwing the anchor into the rafter.
Finally, when it comes to ladders, we make sure the workers are fully aware of how to use them safely. Face the ladder while climbing and descending, always keep three points on the ladder (two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand), and make sure ladders are properly secured at the proper angle (1′ to 4′ ratio). Oh, and never forget: the last rung of the ladder is not a step.
4. Test your equipment.
Charles Gamelin, Construction Oversight Representative, Vertex Innovations
As most construction managers of data centers know, AC-generator rooms are not climate controlled.
The start batteries for the generators are located in the room with the generator and are exposed to non-conditioned temperatures that can soar above outside ambient temperature. Most starting batteries are lead-acid type and may or may not be sealed. With these high temperatures, the electrolyte in the battery can boil away under normal charging conditions, posing a risk to your workforce.
The cause of this problem? Improper crimping of the connectors on the DC cables.
So, we began regular testing of the start batteries for ability to provide capacity to start the generator and thermal imaging of the crimped-on connectors. This reduced the likelihood of a generator not starting when needed due to malfunctioning batteries or high resistance in the power cables to the starter.
By doing this simple test, you can insure that the batteries and cables for the starter are properly sized and have crimps that will not overheat during use because of a high-resistance contact.
5. Use “Toolbox Talks.”
Curt Archibald, Construction Oversight Representative, Vertex Innovations
The most important tool I found to work for preventing accidents on the job is the daily “toolbox” safety meetings that we began implementing called “Toolbox Talks.”
The site I was overseeing had previously suffered severe consequences from poor communication practices among the project team members. Therefore, we began calling an all-hand: a mandatory one-hour meeting first thing in the morning (prior to commencing work) solely dedicated to discussing potential hazards of that day’s work.
Each worker’s awareness of the dangers for the tasks of the day improved greatly.
All too often, construction workers in telecom tend to become caught up in a “hurry up and get it done”-type attitude, and rush to complete a specific task. This jeopardizes their safety and the safety of those around them.
With Toolbox Talks, workers became more conscientious of the safety issues. The likelihood of safety protocol violation decreased significantly.
6. Keep your workers cool and your worksite clean.
Adam Brown, Project Manager and Site Supervisor, Peter Di Natale & Associates
This latest heat wave has been completely unforgiving.
We have set up a window unit where possible on our jobsites to have a place to cool down when overheating.
One other measure I’ve implemented is always having a vacuum hooked up to any saws when in use. We have some really nice vacuums, which auto-start as soon as the saw is turned on. They do an amazing job keeping the site clean and the air quality much improved.
Environmental health and safety management software can help construction managers keep track of the steps they have taken to protect their workers and how compliant their construction companies are with regulations.
Are there other construction safety tips that we missed? Have you used any of the suggestions here? Let us know in the comments below!
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