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Safety at work needs to be a continual improvement exercise

Proactively gaining insight into worker knowledge of incident reporting, emergency procedures, as well as workplace hazards with accompanying protective measures, will help organizations.

Construction workers discussing a project. Image by Tim Sandle.
Construction workers discussing a project. Image by Tim Sandle.

Avoiding workplace injuries is something that every good employer needs to be mindful of.  There are different approaches that can be taken to assessing risk and developing appropriate strategies.

To gain an insight on reducing serious injuries and fatalities by contractors, Digital Journal caught up with Duane Duhamel, Health, Safety and Environmental Director at ISN. This looks at safety from the U.S. construction sector perspective.

Digital Journal: With the passing of the Infrastructure Bill, there will be millions of jobs introduced over the next few years. How can organizations prepare their job sites and safety guidelines before contractors even arrive?

Duane Duhamel: Millions more jobs are going to be added to the market in the coming years and ensuring that employers have standard safety practices and onboarding in place before new workers come onto site is vital to ensuring their health and safety. While the demand to fill construction jobs quickly is adding pressure onto organizations to get workers on-site, leaders must continue to not compromise worker safety as a result of productivity. But rather, establish a culture of safe production.

Establishing a clear and transparent line of communication between parties is critical to a safe work environment. Leadership within the organization should encourage their employees to speak up about how comfortable they feel regarding the safety of their workplace and be open to hearing alternative solutions as a result.

Businesses should also continually evaluate their written safety programs, ensuring that they align with how operations and workers perform tasks, as they evolve over time. Worker job tasks, when performed safely, should correlate back to what employees learned in their previous training. Virtual training sessions can also help organizations effectively train this influx of workers. By doing so, companies which may be onboarding large numbers of employees can still effectively measure the qualifications of each individual.

Ultimately, focusing on creating a positive safety culture, despite outside pressures of filling jobs quickly and getting workers on site, will reflect positively on reducing the site’s future serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs).

DJ: What are some of the most common hazards or circumstances that lead to injury/death on construction sites?

Duhamel: ISN’s SIFs Whitepaper analyzed over 60,000 recordable incidents that occurred at contractor companies from 2018 to 2020. Of those incidents occurring in 2020, ISN found that 42 percent of all SIFs occurred among contractors who reported they perform construction work.

The most common cause of SIFs on construction sites was found to be contact with an object or equipment leading to 28 percent of SIFs on site. Following this is falls, slips and trips causing 24 percent of SIFs on construction sites. This aligns the results of the SIFs reports for the past three years, proving the same exposures in the construction industry that cause serious injuries also have potential to be fatal.

Despite not being able to change the nature of the work, what are a few strategies companies can employ to lower Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs) rates among construction workers?

The nature of the construction industry and the equipment involved is inherently dangerous with a variety of high potential hazards existing. There isn’t much room to change that, but where there is opportunity for change is how hiring organizations train and prepare these workers to handle these potentially dangerous working environments with precautions. Organizations should practice frequent evaluations, not only of their written safety procedures, but also of their established training.

Measuring how knowledgeable and prepared each individual is to work on-site prior to the start of the job is crucial. Proactively gaining insight into worker knowledge of incident reporting, emergency procedures, as well as workplace hazards with accompanying protective measures, will help organizations analyze how prepared their workers are to protect themselves as they begin to perform tasks on-site. The more prepared your organization is to onboard and train contractors before they ever arrive on-site will have a direct positive impact on SIF incident occurrences.

DJ: How can analytics help companies build predictive models to better understand the context surrounding SIFs? How can this information then be applied to better train workers and reduce SIFs?

Duhamel: As more companies are implementing digital employee and contractor management platforms, the utilization of incident data collection can be extremely beneficial. By analyzing trends in data, organizations can gain more insight into the context in which SIFs incidents are occurring. Those that provide timely reports and analytical insights available on incident and near miss data, are especially valuable.

These data-driven insights are key in identifying risks specific to an organization and to effectively designing reduction strategies. As more data becomes available, risk management professionals can perform trending and descriptive analytics and then create predictive models. When companies can understand and identify the leading indicators and factors that are associated with SIFs, they can establish preventive measures to reduce those types of incidents moving forward.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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