Numerous accidents occur on construction sites every year, resulting in injuries to construction workers. These injuries are often serious, changing the lives of workers and their families forever. Even worse, many accidents result in the deaths of workers. These deaths leave behind wives and children who will never see their loved one again. This situation is even more pertinent on job sites that require workers to perform tasks at great heights.
Today we present several tips and precautions which will enable you to increase the safety of your crew immediately and without significant investment.
Precautions to Help Prevent Falls
The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” goes a long way in defining the importance of planning in regards to safety on a work site. Of all the tips and tricks to minimizing falls and other accidents while working on roofs, the best one is to prevent issues from happening in the first place. Any action or measure that can prevent an accident is one well worth taking. While it would be safe to say that such measures are worth their weight in gold, the truth is they are worth even more than that. Any measure that can prevent an accident may save a life, and there is no sum of money, gold or otherwise, that can equal that.
Work on a roof without actually stepping onto it
One of the main causes of falls from roofs is weak points in the roof. This can be the result of age, damage or poor materials being used during the initial construction. The most important thing to do is to identify any of these dangers prior to starting any roofing project. In the event that the roof being worked on has weaknesses or other such dangers the best plan is to use Mobile Elevated Working Platforms (MEWPs) whenever possible. These platforms, often referred to as ‘cherry pickers,’ enable a team to work on a roof without actually having to step onto the roof. This eliminates any accidents due to the hazards inherent in an old or damaged roof. Ideally, such mobile platforms would enable a crew to perform roof work from the underside of the roof, allowing them total roof access while staying completely safe.
Instating barriers around the perimeter
Holes created during construction work is another variable that frequently causes fall-related deaths. Tiles, boards and other materials may be temporarily removed in order to be replaced, creating a weak point that did not exist prior to the start of the project. These hazards are especially dangerous as workers would be confident in the roof’s safety as the result of any pre-project inspections and safety briefings. It is critical, therefore, to take extra steps to prevent these newly created hazards from posing any potential threat. One way to address the issue is to surround any weakened areas with a caution tape or other visible barrier. While this barrier won’t prevent a person from stepping onto the area, it will serve as a clear warning of the danger that may occur in doing so.
Cover any weakened areas to prevent accident
The best way to prevent weakened areas from causing accidents, however, is to place a cover over any such area. This cover should be extra stable and sturdy, capable of supporting twice the weight of workers and materials expected to be in the area at any given time. Using brightly colored materials or a bright border will add a level of safety by making the cover stand out and advertising the danger it is intended to protect against. Caution tape or other visible warning barriers should also be erected around skylights or other roof features that are not designed to withstand a person’s full body weight. The time it takes to construct these barriers is well worth it as it could prevent unnecessary damage, injury or even death.
Manage the flow and logistics of operation
Controlling the logistics of workers and supplies on a roof at any given time will also go a long way to significantly reducing the risk of roof related accidents. Restricting the time any worker spends on the roof will help them to stay focused on where they are. The longer a person is on a roof, the more familiar he will become with the roof environment. Eventually, they may forget the inherent dangers where they are and make the only mistake they need to change their lives forever. By reducing the time a person spends on the roof, you cause them to constantly be reminded of where they are and the safety measures they need to practice. This will help to eliminate accidents caused by a simple lack of concentration.
The provision of personal protective equipment
The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is another sure way to help keep the risk of work site accidents to a minimum. In the case of rooftop projects, harnesses and other such safety equipment should be utilized without exception. Regardless of the time, expense and hassle involved in such measures, the ends will always justify the means. Far too many serious injuries and deaths have occurred in areas where a harness would have kept the worker completely safe. Thus, PPE should be a priority, no matter how small or simple the project may be.
Training workers in protective equipment usage
In addition to providing the proper PPE, training should be regularly incorporated into the routine of the construction crew. More often than not, PPE training is little more than a dreaded element of orientation that the average person just skims over in order to get orientation done and over with. The result of this is that most people get an incomplete picture of how PPE works and when it should be used. Even worse, this incomplete picture becomes ever hazier the longer the person works for that given company. In order to provide full and effective knowledge of PPE, regular training should be given to all personnel. This training should take the form of refresher courses, including tests to ensure all workers fully understand the material. Additionally, drills should be regularly administered, allowing workers to demonstrate their proficiency with any and all available PPE.
The Role of Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the final measure that should be taken to increase workplace safety to a maximum. While this equipment should not be relied on alone to prevent accidents and injuries, it can serve as an invaluable addition to all other safety measures. After all, this equipment will prove meaningless if the appropriate inspections are not performed, or if other precautionary measures are not in place to ensure the safety of the workers. However, when used in conjunction with Safe Work Procedures, PPE can add an extra dimension to the safety and protection of the crew, ensuring that accidents are kept to a minimum and that injuries are reduced in severity.
Every equipment has their own purpose
The first and most critical element regarding the use of PPE is that the correct equipment should be used for the correct purpose. Any PPE is capable of keeping a person safe only if it is used as intended. Like any other equipment, each piece of PPE is designed to serve a very specific purpose. You would not expect to get great results if you used a forklift to dig a ditch. Simply put, the forklift isn’t designed for that function. If used for anything beyond moving materials, specifically palette stacked materials, a forklift will prove ineffective. PPE works in exactly the same way. The main difference, however, is that PPE is designed to protect workers under very specific circumstances. Used in any other way than its intended purpose, the PPE will provide no real amount of protection. In fact, when used incorrectly, PPE can actually increase the risk to the worker. Therefore, it is critical that the supervisor of the job or some other member of the team be fully informed of the design and purpose of each piece of PPE to ensure that the proper items are on hand and used at the appropriate times.
Train for when the needs for PPE arise
The next critical element in PPE use is proper training. Every worker who may come into contact with or use PPE in any way should know everything there is to know about that piece of equipment. The better trained the person is, the more effective they will be at using PPE. Just because a piece of equipment is designed to increase safety doesn’t mean that the equipment itself is safe. Only when it used in the right way, will PPE provide any sort of increased protection. Used incorrectly or in the wrong conditions, PPE will increase the dangers rather than reduce them. Thus, just as it is critical that the supervisors be fully informed about each piece of PPE, so too is it critical for the users themselves to be just as fully informed. Not only will reference materials help to achieve this goal, but regular drills and hands on demonstrations will go a long way to maximizing the effectiveness of all PPE.
Common types of PPE
One of the key pieces of PPE used in roofing projects is the travel restraint system. This is an item that serves to restrict the movement of a worker, thus preventing them from overextending themselves and increasing their risk of falling. The most common forms of travel restraint system are belts and harnesses. Used properly, these tools will ensure that no accidents occur that would allow the worker to fall from their working platform. However, it is critical to ensure that the restraint system is correctly deployed, being properly anchored to the appropriate point as well as being properly attached to the person using it. This should be part and parcel of the safety inspection performed prior to beginning that particular job.
Another piece of PPE commonly used on elevated construction projects is the individual fall arrest system. This usually takes the form of a harness, ensuring that the worker is secured at heights even if they fall off of their working platform. These systems can be simple, consisting of a harness being anchored directly to the platform itself, or they can be more complex, involving additional lines referred to as lifelines. In the case of lifeline systems, the harness is attached to lines that are in turn anchored to the platform itself. These systems are used when greater mobility is required for the job at hand. However, with the increased complexity of these systems comes increased risk accidents. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that all inspections are done thoroughly and that all members using or in contact with the fall arrest system are trained and briefed on its proper use.
Simple Tips and Tricks for Improved Safety
So far, we haven’t yet mentioned the most important element of construction site safety—an element that can and will make the difference between safety success and safety failure. That element, in short, is common sense.
Common sense: most important element
The number one cause of accidents on any work site—let alone those involving working at heights, is carelessness. Cutting corners, skipping steps, half-hearted inspections—all of these lead to increased risk of accident, injury and even death. Therefore, the number one solution to increase safety is to use simple, down to earth common sense. By following some very basic tips you can help to ensure that your workers are protected and that every site you work on is safer all round.
Enroll workers for safety and technical training
The first tip is to increase training. If your workers are better informed on the dangers inherent in the job, then they will be more capable of spotting those dangers in the first place. Better training will result in better habits, which in turn will reduce the risk of accidents and injuries and create a healthier, safer work environment. In addition to training workers on the dangers themselves, it is critical to train them on the procedures and practices that help to address those dangers. Again, the better trained your workers are on safety standards like SWP or PPE, the better prepared they will be when confronted with the hazards of working on heights. Regular refresher courses on safety will help all workers to stay fresh and up to date on the issues that can help keep them safe and healthy while on the work site.
Get multiple workers to do the safety inspection
Another recommendation is to get multiple workers involved in the safety inspections. While it is only required that supervisors conduct safety inspections, including other workers, will help to improve the chances of spotting any issues. This regular involvement in safety inspections will also serve as an ongoing training tool that will help improve the awareness of dangers on the work site.
In addition to simply conducting the inspection, a supervisor can actually quiz the workers on important safety topics, specifically those related to any issues that appear during the inspection. This will significantly increase the ability of all workers to detect hazards and potentially spot problems before they occur. The more involved every worker is in making the work environment safe, the safer everyone's job will be.
Provide the best safety equipment
It should go without saying that every construction site should have the best safety equipment available. While using old and worn ladders, scaffolds and the like may seem like a great way to save money, it is, in fact, a great way to put lives at risk. All equipment should be replaced at any sign of wear or damage. No amount of instruction or inspections will be of any value if the equipment you are using proves dangerous itself. Only when you have safe, reliable equipment can you be assured that your workers will be safe while using that equipment. Therefore, inspections of all equipment, especially PPE and roof access equipment, should be performed on a regular basis. This is especially true whenever equipment is subjected to extreme weather conditions or other such situations that may increase the strain and stress that the equipment is put under. Charging a particular person with this task is an easy way of ensuring that the equipment is kept at peak performance levels at all times. However, every worker should be familiar with and keenly interested in the condition of any and all equipment they use at any given time.
Implementing open door policy
Finally, the best tip that can be given to increase the safety of your workers is to establish an open door policy with regard to any concerns over safety or other related issues. If a worker has concerns over certain policies or practices they should be able to raise those concerns with the highest levels of management without fear of any negative repercussions. All too often workers will keep their opinions to themselves because they don’t want to rock the boat. How many accidents could be prevented, and lives potentially saved, if this were not the case? The better the lines of communication between management and workers, the better the conditions on the site overall. Therefore, it’s not just a matter of you talking to your crew, it’s also a matter of encouraging your crew to talk to you.