How to Address the Who, When, and Where to Ensure a Safer Construction Site

December 10, 2019 Matthew Ramage

The role of a construction Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) manager carries a lot of responsibility. Looking after the well-being of a range of employees and tradespeople who are working side-by-side on busy construction sites is anything but an easy job. 

There are a host of potentially dangerous situations that can arise when many people are working in relatively close, unfamiliar quarters. When those quarters are a chaotic construction site, including heavy equipment and electricity, the potential for risk rises exponentially. It’s a lot for an EHS manager and others tasked with workforce safety and construction jobsite access control to monitor and oversee.

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Of course, no one has the power to control everything. There are some situations you simply can’t foresee. But there are other things within your control. For example, you can ensure your crews are properly trained and outfitted with standard personal protective equipment (PPE). You can also schedule regular, mandatory safety meetings to keep your workforce informed of current hazards and the most pertinent safety concerns. 

Just as importantly, you can ensure that your jobsites are secure and compliant. You’ll sleep better when you know you’re doing everything you can to protect your workers’ health and safety. In fact, your ability to effectively control the three Ws of jobsite access control – who’s on your construction site, when they’re there, and where they’re located – can mitigate many of the risks that threaten your workforce and keep you up at night. Here’s a closer look at each one.

WHO is on the construction site

Around every corner lurks a potential hazard, making injuries and fatalities more common on construction sites than most other workplaces. Inexperienced or unqualified workers only exacerbate this reality. Research has shown new employees in their first month are more than 3X as likely to be injured on the job than workers with a year of experience. 

And certain industry conditions aren’t making workforce management any easier, including the ongoing construction labor shortage. In light of the scarcity of available talent, you can assume some contractors and trades may be rushing the onboarding process of new hires to get them on the job quicker. They could be cutting corners when it comes to training and safety instruction – taking their chances that nothing bad will happen rather than taking the time to onboard properly.

In the U.S. alone, there were 434,000 vacant construction jobs as of April 2019.
—U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The problem with this short-sighted approach is that just one person’s lack of training and experience on a construction site can put everyone else at risk. Even a relatively small misstep has the potential to result in an accident or injury to any number of others working nearby when it happens. 

WHEN are they on the construction site

In addition to knowing what workers are on the jobsite, you also need to know when they’re there. This knowledge gives you greater visibility into the type of work that’s being performed at any given time so you can ensure the right workers are doing the right things at the right time. Labor costs account for about 40% of total construction project costs, so monitoring how workforce hours are being used can be a critical lever in improving productivity. 

But there are safety implications of knowing when workers are onsite, too. Tracking workers’ time spent on the job helps you address your responsibility under OSHA to monitor and limit workforce exposure to health and physical hazards in the workplace. It can also provide you with potentially life-saving information. 

Given the often aggressive schedules of construction projects and the shortage of skilled labor, many construction workers are putting in longer hours on the job. Irregular and extended shifts are more common than not. While it’s often overlooked, construction worker fatigue is a very real issue. By compromising alertness, judgment, reaction time, and other factors, fatigue increases the potential for human error, accidents, and injuries. 

Having a reliable record of the hours worked by each person on the jobsite can help you identify prolonged exposure to hazards and worker fatigue before they become a life-threatening safety issue. And a very expensive one. The average injury, including days away from work, is estimated to cost $42,000. The value of knowing when and how long workers are on the job extends beyond safety to reduce financial risk and liability, too. 

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WHERE are they on the construction site

Without a clear understanding of who’s on the jobsite and when, you likely have limited visibility into where crews and individual workers are at any time. When you can’t locate workers on your jobsite, you’re limited in how effectively and quickly you can respond to accidents, emergencies, and safety hazards. For example, you could waste precious time trying to locate a worker who’s fallen or been involved in an equipment accident. Depending on the situation, even mere minutes could mean the difference between an injury and a fatality. 

When you don’t have visibility into worker locations, you’ll also be hard-pressed to notify all affected workers of localized hazards. You run the risk of missing an individual or entire crew and inadvertently leaving them behind during an evacuation. Aside from the threat to your workers’ health and safety this creates, it could also put you in violation of OSHA’s standards for emergency action plans (EAPs).

Lack of visibility into worker locations can create other hazards, too. For example, if a worker enters a restricted area, it could create an unsafe situation for that worker, as well as others. But without visibility into the locations of crews or individual workers on your jobsite, you have no opportunity to quickly respond to and remedy these avoidable situations.

Gain Greater Control Over Your Jobsite to Increase Construction Worker Safety

Effectively securing and managing construction jobsites is a big challenge for EHS managers. Your ability to do it effectively (or not) can have devastating implications for your workers, who are already working in some of the most dangerous jobs today.

But it’s hard to feel confident that you’re doing all you can to protect your workers, particularly when you’re relying on manual processes to control jobsite access and manage your workforce. If you can’t verify who’s on site, when they’re there, and where they’re working, you can only do so much. 

When you switch to a modern workforce management solution, you gain modern and reliable tools to help you address many of the preventable hazards that can trace back to the wrong people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

To learn more about a safer approach to workforce management – and uncover seven avoidable hazards and how to protect your workers – get the Construction Safety Quick Guide.

About the Author

Matthew Ramage

Matthew Ramage is Trimble's Segment Manager for Asset Management and the MEP Global Marcom Director. He leads a new marketing approach for his team, specializing in inbound and content-centric marketing.

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