Construction accident prevention starts from day one

Communities rely on construction craft professionals to build homes, workplaces and roads, and to maintain infrastructure systems used every day.

Due to the nature of what they are asked to do — such as working at great heights, operating powerful machinery or physically exerting themselves — construction workers are involved in workplace activities that expose them to potentially serious accidents if appropriate safety measures are not implemented.

They include falls, mechanical accidents, being struck or crushed by heavy equipment, electrocution and exposure to asbestos and caustic chemicals.

When construction accidents including fatalities make the news, as they have recently in San Diego, the public becomes concerned about efforts being made to mitigate safety concerns. As construction industry professionals, we take safety seriously. We want everyone to go home safely from the worksite every night. When someone is hurt or killed, these are people we know.

What is the construction industry doing to decrease accidents and prevent them in the future? More than you may realize.

Just a generation ago, craft professionals didn’t often wear safety helmets or gloves. They didn’t secure themselves with harnesses when working at great heights. They breathed all sorts of dangerous materials.

Safety is a top priority for the Associated Builders and Contractors, including the San Diego chapter. It is easy to say, but what it takes is a commitment to programs for members that emphasize continuous training. Most construction accidents are preventable with training, but consistent training is a must. It is an approach, not a one-time solution.

ABC San Diego safety committee member Bob Harrell, a private safety consultant, says safety is now integrated into training from day one. “Safety has gone from an ‘oh, by the way’ attitude to being mandatory,” said Harrell.

“Our beginning apprentices focus on safety from the minute they begin their training program,” Harrell said. “The entire first semester is spent studying training, learning a wide array of safety measures. It includes the safe use of tools, fall protection, proper rigging, safe use of lifts and scaffolding,”

Harrell says there is emphasis on preventing the “fatal four” incidents that make up most workplace accidents: falls, being caught in or between hazards, being struck by something such as machinery, and electrocution.

Harrell says there are other important safety measures that workers might overlook. For example, distracted driving can put individuals and their employers at a major risk of accidents.

The good news: According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA), workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent since 1970. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled.

When a company can reduce incidence rates and days away, it protects workers while saving personnel costs. By lowering the experience modification rate (EMR or “mod factor”), contractors can reduce their annual workers’ compensation insurance rates and share savings with clients. And recognition for safety performance can be used as an important business development tool, making a contractor more attractive to current and potential clients.

ABC’s Safety Training and Evaluation Process (STEP) is a safety self-audit and awards program for contractors. The program evaluates applications based on safety performance and the applicant’s score on the “20 Key Components,” ABC’s innovative safety evaluation system with awards at bronze, silver, gold or platinum levels.

By participating in the STEP program, ABC member companies become eligible to apply for Accredited Quality Contractor status. STEP Platinum recipients are eligible to apply for the prestigious National Safety Excellence Award presented annually at the Excellence in Construction Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

ABC member companies that participate in the Safety Training and Evaluation Process (STEP) receive 70 percent fewer citations per inspection and have an overall fatality rate that is 59 percent lower than the national Bureau of Labor Statistics average for the construction industry. STEP participants also have an incidence rate that is 41 percent lower than the national average for construction.

Smyth is chief financial officer of Sherwood Mechanical and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust board of trustees.

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