Type “lunch atop a skyscraper” into a web browser and a photo of eleven construction workers unharnessed and enjoying a lunch break hundreds of feet above Manhattan will pop up on the screen. While staged as part of a publicity program, this photo attests to the fact that, in the past century, safety regulations have changed.
Today, builders, contractors, subcontractors, developers, safety consultants and the government all work together to ensure high-risk workplaces follow best practices to protect everyone involved. In an industry where men and women construct buildings to stand the test of time, no one wants accidents. Employees and their families along with contractors and their businesses all benefit from a safe work environment.
The Last Frontier
Bryce Clutts, president and CEO of Metcalf Builders described construction as a true haven for those who love to create something lasting and beautiful. “I tell people that construction is kind of the last frontier. It’s really difficult to utilize AI or robotics. You still need men and women with hammers and nails and screw guns and lumber and masonry and concrete. When it’s done, you can drive by and say, ‘We built that.’”
On the job safety has become a top priority for builders throughout the state, and Metcalf is no exception. Clutts continued, “Nobody wants somebody to get hurt on their job site. But, for us, everything starts and ends with it. It starts with me in that you have to lead by example. Our number one core value in this company is safety. Anytime we make a decision or anytime we look at a project or anytime we set a policy, we ask ourselves, ‘How is this in alignment with our number one core value?’”
This final frontier is no cakewalk. Safety must be uncompromised while allowing the company to meet a wide variety of other considerations including code compliance, timeliness, budgets, quality and other contractual obligations. Unlike in years past, many builders have in-house designated safety professionals.
Jorge Macias, safety director at Martin-Harris construction, described their approach toward safety. “Safety is very transparent on our site. It’s making our associates well-being a priority and instilling the company’s core values in every associate to give them a positive work environment.”
As contractors and builders and subcontractors work together, the world of construction safety requires intentional efforts to be proactive rather than reactive.
Safety Plan and Implementation
Safety on a construction jobsite is multifaceted. In Nevada, every business with 11 or more employees is required to have a written safety plan. These safety plans, according to Todd Schultz, chief administrative officer at the Nevada Safety Consultation and Training Section (SCATS), include six primary elements.
The elements a business’ program must include start with a statement of responsibility making clear that the onus of safety rests upon every individual on the site from the highest manager to the truck driver dropping off a package. Next comes hazard identification analysis and control which helps a company have specific steps to find and eliminate hazards. As Schultz put it, “If you don’t know what the hazards are, you can’t protect your people from them.”
The final elements include training, accident investigation and corrective action, program compliance and a safety committee for companies with more than 25 employees.
Every contractor and subcontractor throughout the process need not only their individual Written Workplace Safety Programs but, in construction specifically the state requires a Construction Job Site Safety Plan (JSSP) to address concerns and hazards within those specific projects.
Because complacency can sabotage safety, businesses working with SCATS receive support from the preventative branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that focuses on training to help them come into compliance with the laws of the state. However, SCATS is not the only resource available to construction companies. Safety consultants provide a valuable service helping businesses monitor their work. One of these companies is World Wide Safety.
“When you keep doing the same thing over and over and over, it’s no different than you getting up in the morning. You know exactly where you are going to go to work, so you take the same route every single day. Every single day,” Virginia Toalepai, president and CEO of World Wide Safety, explained.
This can easily lead to slip ups, and in construction, slip ups can be costly. When people go into autopilot, even the best workers can make costly, and sometimes tragic, errors. Toalepai and her company provide education and inspection to serve contractors and their employees. They offer services including training, inspection and staffing of safety departments within companies. All through the process, they teach, train and encourage in order to help businesses build safer job sites.
SCI Safety is another such company. SCI stands for Salus, Consul, Infinitus. “The literal translation,” explains Eric Dominguez, president of SCI Safety, “is Infinite Safety Consulting or Consultant.” For him, safety is not a one-time action. “It is not always going to be safe if we are not continuously keeping up with changes in the workplace. It has to be a continuous process.”
For him, consulting is about helping employers keep their people safe by searching for gaps in the safety program and finding them before they cause damage.
Those gaps can fall across a broad range. Some might be considered imminent danger. Schultz explained what imminent danger might look like and how SCATS would respond. “If we see somebody up on a scaffolding and it has no guardrails, we’re going to have them bring that person down immediately because it’s immediately dangerous to life or health. If we see somebody up on a rooftop without fall protection, again, imminent danger. We’re going to bring then down off that roof right away and find out what’s going on. Why aren’t they tied off?”
Common problems Dominguez sees while working in his consulting business include misuse of personal protection equipment (PPE), lack of a written safety plan, misuse of equipment such as unsafe forklift habits, unsecured access to a jobsite, lack of respirator protection if necessary and a multitude of other infractions of state and safety requirements.
Rules Weren’t Made to Be Broken
The axiom “Rules were made to be broken” holds true in some areas of life; however, when it comes to safety, those rules save lives. Because of this, when a safety consultant finds an infraction, things are adjusted immediately. Schultz describes the response to SCATS observations. “Things get fixed so fast. If we find something, they fix it almost on the spot, typically the same day before we leave the site.”
The atmosphere, though potentially fraught with frustration or policing, is one where companies, regulating agencies and consultants work together in an attempt to ensure safety while helping businesses grow.
Macias describes Martin-Harris’s program for dealing with safety concerns. He said, “First, if we catch somebody doing something wrong, it depends on the severity as well, but if it’s something minor, we try to counsel them, try to train them. [We] try to teach them how to do whatever it is that they’re doing wrong correctly.”
Macias continued, “After that, we have our three-strike policy. We have a verbal warning, written warning, and then removal from our job site. It’s the same across the board with our employees and subcontractor employees as well.”
Metcalf Builders is also tremendously aware of the consequences of not following the rules. “If you don’t follow the rules, the consequences can be pretty serious. Those can be anywhere from minor violations that may be on your record to minimal fines to very serious fines. If you’ve been written up and received a citation in the past for a particular infraction, and you do that again, you can potentially have a willful violation. It can go as far as criminal charges or losing your license depending on the severity of the issue. It’s statutory, and it’s against the law to not follow them,” said Clutts.
For Metcalf Builders, OSHA is a partner in ensuring safety and following those laws. Clutts explains, “We partner with them. We communicate with them. They’re not an adversary of ours. They’re an asset.”
The Red Carpet
In an attempt to avoid policing while succeeding in supporting businesses, Toalepai developed a solution above and beyond her role as a safety consultant with World Wide Safety. “One of the biggest things to push safety is to compliment them or give them the pat on the back when they’re doing something great.”
Hearing and learning from what’s wrong is vital for growth but often difficult. “When we come, it’s like the police pulling you over for a traffic ticket where all of the sudden now we’ve got to put on our hard hat because safety is here. We don’t want that.” Instead, Toalepai and her team work to build relationship and create a culture where safety is second nature. Once it’s second nature, Worldwide Safety steps up to encourage safe behavior while recognizing all the time, money and effort businesses put into caring for their employees. “We see what goes into everything with safety behind the scenes.”
Time and Growth
Safety practices in construction develop and change, and today, they’ve changed for the better. Dean Gettman, CEO and co-founder of Platinum Contracting of Nevada pointed out that, “industry professionals are more educated and informed than ever before as to what is considered safe and what is considered unsafe.”
While sometimes this can translate to more rules, the truth is those rules help keep businesses and workers safe, and in the long term this proves a tremendous boon to all involved. “The advancement of knowledge in our industry not only saves lives, but also provides companies with cost savings, less accidents and time efficiency among other [benefits].”
The ever-evolving and vital task of creating safe construction sites is one requiring buy-in from everyone involved. Gettman continued, “Safety practices can continue to grow by the continuum of education throughout all sectors of our industry. This knowledge, understanding, and practice of what makes a safe project will evolve if we can ensure every level of the company, from executives and project managers to operators and laborers, have access to education resources and are thoroughly versed in the subject. “
This education allows growth and learning while helping to create an environment of caring concern and precision. This is vital in an industry where mistakes can come at a high cost. Safety is paramount and, like Toalepai said, when businesses invest in safety, they can fulfill their mission of “being able to make sure that everyone gets to go home at the end of the day.”