How to Approach Construction Health Risks Like a Project Manager

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Construction is a risky business. In fact, from 2002 to 2012, about 20% of work-related deaths occurred in construction; and this number doesn’t even include all the non-fatal accidents that occur each year in construction work.

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Aside from workers’ welfare, high accident rates also mean a higher number of project delays and an increase in fines for unsafe conditions. None of this makes for a good working environment for construction workers or their managers.
How can you, the construction manager, decrease the number of health hazards on your construction site? You need to approach the problem of construction health risks more like a project manager. Read on to learn the steps you can take to achieve this:

1. Assess Health Risks

The first step you should take is to locate the sources of risk on your construction project. There are a variety of these. Take a look at a few examples:

  • Carcinogens. Did you know that construction is among the top five at-risk industries when it comes to exposure to asbestos, which can cause mesothelioma? If your construction project includes exposure to materials such as asbestos, silica, nickel, or any of these twelve common carcinogens, your workers are at a higher risk of contracting a life-threatening form of cancer.
  • Other toxic materials. Lead, cement, and solvents are just a few of the harmful substances found in many construction materials. The health risks from these materials can be as minor as skin irritation from the isocyanates in polyurethane finish or as extreme as death from carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Excessive noise or vibration. These are perhaps two of the less obvious health hazards on a construction site. Exposure to excessive noise from construction tools can cause hearing loss and cover up sounds of warnings or other important information to workers. Vibrations from hand-held machinery can lead to neurological and muscular damage.

2. Plan Your Response

Your goal should be twofold: You need to eliminate as many risks as possible before they cause a problem, and you need to have a good plan of attack for when an accident does happen. Aim for a record of zero risks, or at least zero accidents, going forward.

Start by doing away with some or all of the health risks mentioned above. For example, make sure that all the paint used by your construction project is lead-free and require that your workers wear protective gear when dealing with lead and other toxic substances. Limit the amount of time they spend using tools that cause high levels of noise and/or vibration and make sure all areas of your project that involve heights are compliant with Department of Labor Fall Protection regulations.

Then write a good emergency response plan you can implement in the event that an accident does happen. This plan needs to include a reporting format, an evacuation procedure, a media response rubric, and an investigation protocol. If you’re using a construction management software system, much of this can be done within the tool.

Once you have a good response planned, you are well on your way to having an accident-free construction project.

3. Educate Your Team

A crucial part of managing risks on your construction project is ensuring that everyone from workers to clients is informed of what you want to accomplish vis-a-vis safety and has the opportunity to provide useful feedback on your safety initiatives.

Online safety training courses should be a requirement for everybody working and managing onsite. There are many such courses available, including several that can be tailored to your construction specialty, and prices start at only $25. These courses can be a great way to fill out what workers already know about health and safety.

Even though its application to construction might not be readily apparent, a healthy living campaign is also a good idea. Initiatives that encourage healthier eating habits, safer work practices, and general disease awareness all contribute to healthier, happier construction employees and lead to fewer exposure-related accidents.

These are just two examples of education initiatives that will help you better manage and prevent construction risks.

4. Make Safety an Ongoing Priority

Your concern with managing construction health risks should not cease when your current project ends. Assessments of health hazards should happen on a regular basis, and you should keep track of your plan and make changes to it as the need arises. Education should be an ongoing effort, with frequent team challenges and safety review sessions.

Also, create key performance indicators for the safety of your projects and check on them regularly. This will ensure that you notice if any health standards need attention and if your employees seem compliant and satisfied with their current working conditions. Be sure to test new employees for substance abuse and provide them with the kind of comprehensive training you’ve provided for your other workers.

Here’s to a Safer Construction Industry

By following these steps, you will not only improve the safety of your own construction projects, you will also encourage a broader culture of construction safety. Approach construction health risks like a project manager and look forward to a future with fewer construction accidents.

Did I miss anything? Are there any other steps construction managers can take to improve their approach to handling health risks on the job? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.

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Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.

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