It shouldn’t be a surprise to contractors that hazards associated with working at a height are one of the top reported incidents. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that falls to a lower level accounted for 14 percent of all fatalities in 2018, and OSHA standards related to scaffolding and ladders are regularly among the most frequently cited violations.
Hazards associated with working at height can originate from a lack of understanding. Employers may not know they have to provide fall protection, or the fall protection gear may not be worn properly or not hooked up to anything. Some employers don’t even have a written fall protection procedure or process.
Employers need to identify all locations where fall protection is necessary—as well as where the engineered anchor points are—and train employees and regularly audit the fall protection program. Also, employers need to make sure to buy the correct-sized gear for workers, and keep in mind that, although some work environments may have anchor points readily available, other locations may need an engineer to install them. Remind employees to hook to the anchor point when working at height and keep a close eye on how well personal protective equipment is holding up. Environments with sharp edges, chemicals, or welding, for example, can weaken a harness. Regularly inspect gear and remove damaged PPE from service.
In some situations, it may be beneficial to forgo using personal fall protection equipment and instead build a platform with standard railings and a swing gate in front of a fixed ladder. Although such a platform costs money, it may be less costly than creating a fall protection plan, buying the PPE, and training and re-training employees.
Site Clean Up
Clutter blocking fire exits, aisles, and emergency exits is a clean-up problem that often occurs on busy job sites. Another common hazard? Over-stacking loads on racks in a warehouse that bring them too close to a sprinkler head, which can limit the sprinkler’s efficiency in an emergency. Clutter, leaks or standing water also can contribute to slips, trips, and falls.
The time to clean up a hazard is when you see it—don’t wait for someone to get hurt or an accident to occur. If the clutter or spill requires specialized training to clean up, then employees need to alert their safety officer or supervisor, who can take the right steps to ensure it is done properly.
When it comes to storage, employers need to make sure appropriate areas are made available, often electrical rooms are used inappropriately for storage, with supplies blocking electrical installations—that is a fire hazard and accident waiting to happen. You need to have access to shut off power in case of emergency.
Often overlooked, but one of the most frequent safety issues on any job site or workplace, is the use and placement of extension cords. Often contractors are guilty of “daisy-chaining”—using multiple extension cords or power strips for a tool or application.
Although extension cords can be useful for temporarily supplying power for certain operations, the key word is “temporarily.” When a cord is used for several weeks or months, OSHA doesn’t consider the use temporary. This opens the door for a violation. Beyond that, extension cords lying on the ground for extended periods of time are a trip hazard. They also can be subject to traffic abuse if run over by construction vehicles or feet, which can wear down insulation and create shock hazards. When cords are daisy-chained, they can easily overdraw electricity from the circuits, causing the wires to heat up and potentially result in a fire.
Contractors should assess whether extension cords are truly being used for temporary measures—perhaps to power a ventilation unit or fan. In such an event, the cord should be gathered up at the end of the shift and stored. You also need to periodically inspect extension cords, and train your employees on that system to ensure the cords stay in good working condition and worn-out cords are placed out of service.
Workers need to ensure they’re using the right extension cord for the job. Typically, a more expensive cord has a heavier gauge, which allows it to take more power without getting hot. The same applies for using a single power strip to plug in several different devices—the power strip may not be rated for the combined wattage needed for all the high-draw appliances being plugged in. If the extension cords are not being used for a temporary fix, employers should consider bringing in an electrician to drop in a line and outlet.
Lastly, but by no means least, confined spaces can present a number of hazards. Many accidents involving confined spaces have occurred because an employer didn’t issue a permit or failed to carry out a risk assessment.
In many cases, a confined space’s hazardous atmosphere wasn’t assessed properly because the equipment being used was out of date. In those situations, an employee can enter this space and collapse due to contaminated air leaving the standby person in danger as well. If the risk assessment and permit process are done correctly, and all steps are followed, employers won’t have a problem, But, if you don’t plan it correctly, you plan for a disaster.
This is why a company’s focus has to be on prevention. The seven hazards presented are by no means an exhaustive list—many other hazards may exist at your worksite and spotting them requires vigilance. According to Kim Gamet, ABC SEMI Safety Director, workers won’t inherently know they have to do something a certain way. It’s up to each organization to appropriately train employees on safety protocols. This training begins upon hiring the new worker, when a contractor provides an introduction to occupational safety and health, including hazard recognition. The training should continue under the specific department in which the new employee will work. Afterward, regular refresher training is necessary.
Know the purpose of the training, and ensure the appropriate training is given for each individual worker based on his or her needs. After the training, monitor and supervise the workers to check whether they’re applying it appropriately.
“The use of PPE falls squarely on the role of employers to determine, to provide, and to ensure people are wearing it,” Gamet said.
But providing the right safety equipment isn’t enough. The devices can be misused or neglected. “People are pretty cavalier with their PPE,” Gamet explained, adding that employers should ensure gear is placed in its appropriate container and not simply slung over a hook.
Clearly communicate and reinforce the need for workers to wear PPE by stressing that the equipment protects them from injuries and illnesses, such as losing an eye or developing a respiratory disease. In short, George said, teach “what’s in it for me.”
Quite often, small businesses simply don’t have the resources to adequately check their systems for safety. And in many situations, employers may not know what encompasses a safe procedure. These employers should reach out and access available resources, many of which are free. Several fire insurance and workers’ compensation insurance carriers offer complimentary inspection programs. OSHA does too and says employers won’t be penalized if violations are found during a consultation visit. Some equipment vendors also may be willing to conduct certain audits, so ask. Check out free resources on the web—including those from OSHA and the National Safety Council—and search for free, local training. OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program routinely provides training in a variety of areas, and its website has free resource materials.
However, not all resources are free, and employers must be willing to make an investment in certain training or PPE if they want to keep workers safe. “Spending a little bit of money up front on prevention can save you money on the back end,” Gamet said.
Ultimately, worksites have a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality—if a supervisor or manager does something in an unsafe manner, other workers will follow suit. Instead, organizations should establish a culture in which safety becomes everyone’s responsibility and workers feel comfortable reporting hazardous processes. Leadership sets the tone.
“If management is committed, and they send a signal to employees about the management of safety to the job site, it cascades that responsibility,” Gamet said.