SAFETY AWARENESS AND PRACTICES FOR CONSTRUCTORS AND ENGINEERS

S. Scot Litke, Honorary D.GE

One would hope that by now virtually every company that works in the field of geo-design and geo-construction would have a full understanding of the importance of making company-wide commitments to developing and instituting comprehensive safety programs. Moreover, we should be well past considering OSHA a “four letter word”. Unfortunately not everyone agrees.

By way of perspective you may be surprised to learn that construction, in all its iterations, is not the number one environment for accidents. Topping the list is farming! There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that farming is conducted in remote environments, often by people operating large, complex, and often dangerous equipment with no supervision or support. OSHA, an understaffed agency, has a difficult time monitoring far flung operations of the kind typified by the agricultural industry. While there are specific regulations that apply to machinery operation common in agriculture, this is not where the regulatory action is.

OSHA regulations and concerns about potential violation citings should not be the reason that safety should be foremost on the minds of those whose work environment is fraught with danger. Management should primarily be concerned about providing a safe working environment as a matter of moral principle. Working safely is good business in the most direct and practical ways imaginable. The humanitarian justification should be enough of a reason to provide a safe working environment. Accidents are not only tragic for the injured party, and often their families, but in a purely business way they are disruptive, morale killers, and expensive.

Where’s the Beef?

Construction can be a dangerous occupation. No one is naïve on this point. When we drill down on this a bit more we discover the areas in which most construction-related accidents occur. A report from “Red Vector”, an online education and training company, featured a breakdown of the top 10 OSHA violations that occurred in 2016. The report was posted on the “ENR Customer Connection” e-newsletter on February 27, 2017. That breakdown is as follows:

  • Fall protection – 6,929
  • Hazard communication – 5,677
  • Scaffolding – 3,906
  • Respiratory protection – 3,585
  • Lockout/tagout – 3,414
  • Powered industrial trucks – 2,860
  • Ladders – 2,639
  • Machine guarding – 2,451
  • Electrical wiring methods – 1,940
  • Electrical, general requirements – 1,704

Events in these categories only relate to reported violations. How about non-reported events? Yes, we know that accidents of any magnitude, meaning those resulting in the need for medical attention, or lost days on the job are to be reported to OSHA, but in reality this doesn’t always happen. While an accident is defined as “an avoidable occurrence” we know that there are conditions and operations in which they occur, avoidable or not. So if we agree that a construction site can be a dangerous place we would like to think that everyone on that site is operating at 100% of awareness. That however is not the case. Almost 30 years ago the American Subcontractors Association issued a report that found that “conservatively”, at any given time at least 20% of those working on construction sites were impaired by illegal drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation, emotional stress, or even legal and prescribed medications all of which compromised motor skills and/or judgment. I would guess that the percentages haven’t changed much over the last three decades, drug testing, and safety training notwithstanding.

Safety is Not Just for Constructors

If we focus on the deep foundation and related industries we find another issue of note, that being where do design engineers, inspectors, and monitoring professionals fit in this equation? If they have an on-site function they need to have the same kind of safety training as do those who are implementing construction procedures. So if you are an engineer and so engaged, “note to self”… your company owes you the same kind of training that is expected of those on the purely construction side. It would be easy to just say “heads-up” (or “heads-down”), when on site. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy. Engineering firms have the responsibility to provide safety training for their employees. There is no shortage of safety training materials and experts available to assist with this activity. It takes an awareness and commitment from the top down to make this happen and certainly many, but not all engineering firms are so committed.

Another aspect of engineers’ safety awareness comes well before construction even commences. This is called, “Design for Safety”. Several years ago ASCE launched an initiative to encourage that when in the early phase of a project design engineers should consider what the construction site is going to “look like”. This refers to equipment access and mobility around the site. For example when constructing an anchored earth retention system there will be a series of lifts, almost all of which may require some kind of access benching or the like. This needs to be “built into the design”. We can design all kinds of exotic support systems and installation requirements on paper, but what happens when we get to the actual construction process? How do we safely get from point A to point B? As an engineer it is imperative that all of these elements are taken into account.

In the End…

So where does this take us? Unfortunately when it comes to safety and safety training there are clichés a-plenty, but clichés and paying lip service to safety issues are not what is called for. What is needed is an organized, on-going safety training program with job site accountability. OSHA and the threat of being cited should not be the motivator. Taking short cuts doesn’t cut it. Being an old hand doesn’t exonerate a worker from practicing due diligence on the job. It’s not just the “newbie” who must be trained and be ever mindful on the site. Statistics prove that even more experienced workers often become lax, with an, “I’ve been doing this a long time. I know my way around. I don’t have to follow these ‘dumb’ rules”, attitude. When it comes to working safely there is never an excuse for complacency.

A well-known and highly regarded safety professional, Rick Marshall, with whom I had the pleasure of working for many years once told me that, “you can work safely and work fast at the same time. In fact working safely IS working fast”*

Working safely is not a part-time awareness. It must become as normal a part of everyday performance as are the most automatic operations. Just like constructing an earth retention system, safety is a “top down” process.

* Rick Marshall was a featured speaker at DFI’s SuperPile’17 Joint Conference in Coronado, CA. For information about upcoming SuperPile events, visit: www.dfi.org.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
S. Scot Litke, Honorary, Board Certified, Diplomate of Geotechnical Engineering

S. Scot LitkeScot is often referred to as the “Dean of Association Executives” in the geo-industry. He served as the Executive Director of the ADSC: The International Association of Foundation Drilling from 1982-2010. He is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame. During his tenure with the ADSC he was the Editor-in-Chief of Foundation Drilling Magazine, the association’s flagship publication. A noted public speaker, lecturer, and author Scot has received numerous awards from a variety of geo-industry-related organizations including the ASCE’s Geo-Institute, the American Subcontractors Association, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Canadian Geotechnical Society, and the United States Universities Council for Geotechincal Engineering Research. He was the recipient of the Deep Foundations Institute’s 2014 “Distinguished Service Award”. Scot is a Founding Trustee of the Geo-Institutes, “Academy of Geo-Professionals”. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the “ASCE’s Council on the Certification of Engineering Professionals”. His column, “Beneath the Surface” appears regularly in Deep Foundations Magazine, the official publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. His writings appear in other geo-industry publications. Scot offers management consulting services in Strategic Planning and Communications to companies and organizations in the geo-industry. Scot can be reached at: scotlitke@att.net


This article originally appeared in “Deep Foundations Magazine”, the flagship publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. It is herein reprinted with permission of the DFI and the author. To learn more about the DFI and their programs visit: www.dfi.org.

This article was reproduced under the auspices of Pieresearch, manufacturer of quality concrete accessories, exclusively for the benefit of the structural and geotechnical engineering, architectural and construction communities.