Construction Safety: Using Technology to Keep Workers from Falling Through the EHS Cracks
Many of today's on-demand training solutions are highly affordable and scalable, offering hundreds of individual lessons that can be deployed to workers based on their specific training needs and requirements.
- By Chuck Haling
- Oct 01, 2017
EHS leaders in the construction industry know all too well the risks workers face. The constant flow of temporary workers and third-party contractors, varying job sites, changing conditions, evolving regulatory requirements, strict deadlines, budget constraints, and external factors like skilled labor shortages make it difficult to maintain safe work sites.
The cracks that these stresses factors can create in your EHS programs not only put workers at risk, but also threaten the health of the entire company by draining productivity and escalating costs. Here, we'll take a look at specific areas that create the greatest stress for construction industry employers and where technology can help fill in the cracks to streamline jobsite health and safety management.
Meeting Diverse Worker Training Requirements
Construction companies face numerous obstacles when it comes to worker training. The distributed nature of the construction workforce, high number of temporary workers and contractors, language diversity, broad range of topics and job functions that must be covered, and the time and resources required to track compliance make meeting all training requirements a major operational challenge.
Traditional training methods just don't cut it anymore. It's nearly impossible to get all site workers grouped together at one time to attend a training session, and even when assembled training does occur, there's no guarantee that the information being shared is effectively received and retained.
This is a significant reason why on-demand training (ODT) is gaining in popularity, particularly among more distributed workers and job sites. Not only does ODT allow workers to engage in training from remote locations, but also they can also complete the courses on their own time and at their own pace. Many of today’s on-demand training solutions are highly affordable and scalable, offering hundreds of individual lessons that can be deployed to workers based on their specific training needs and requirements.
On-demand training is also particularly effective among the growing number of Millennial workers who benefit from a more interactive approach to learning. By breaking training sessions into shorter, more easily digestible segments, workers can focus on the information being conveyed and achieve a greater understanding and retention of the information compared to traditional video or classroom training formats. This trend toward bite-sized training content is only expected to grow as more Millennials continue to join the workforce.
Managing Temporary and Contract Workers
OSHA recently placed renewed focus on protecting temporary and contract workers, as well as workers at multi-employer worksites, by reinforcing its position that host employers treat temporary worker safety the same as they do with permanent employees. While the extent of this responsibility varies depending on the specific employment arrangements of each case, the agency maintains an overall view that staffing agencies and host employers share joint responsibility for temp worker safety and must work together to ensure that OSHA’s training, hazard communication, and recordkeeping requirements are being met.
Training is a particular area of concern for OSHA when it comes to temporary workers because there appears to be much confusion over who is responsible for providing it. The agency emphasizes that it's both the host employer and staffing agency's responsibility to ensure employees are trained properly. However, it places the bulk of responsibility on the employer that directly supervises the employees during work shifts and in their day-to-day tasks. This also means the host employer must supply safety training specific to the workplace equipment and hazards temporary workers encounter.
Training management software assists employers in verifying that training requirements for temp workers are being met, offering them full visibility and control over training workflows across multiple work sites. Instead of trying to track the moving pieces with a paper-based system or cumbersome spreadsheets, training management software provides greater transparency of training records and easier access to training schedules and deadlines. It's this real-time training data that helps employers ensure all employees are getting the training they need.
Safeguarding Workers from Hazardous Chemicals
Access to hazardous chemical information—like that found on SDSs and workplace labels—is vital to worker safety. SDSs, in particular, provide important information about required personal protective equipment, proper chemical handling and storage, and spill response procedures. While storing printed SDS documents in paper binders may work for facilities surrounded by four walls, making them accessible to construction workers across open and ever-changing job sites is exponentially more difficult. Too often SDSs go missing, aren't up to date, or just are not even accessible in the first place.
OSHA's adoption of GHS brought significant changes to its Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom), which has only increased confusion among employers. As part of GHS alignment, SDSs and labels underwent major formatting changes. Confusion surrounding the adoption timeline among manufacturers also caused delays in getting many reformatted SDSs into the hands of downstream users, while other downstream users, unaware of the changes, may not have realized they’d received an updated document and disposed of it. As a result, many employers' SDSs libraries contain outdated documents, putting them at risk of non-compliance with the HazCom standard, which annually ranks among OSHA's most-often-violated standards and one that's high on inspectors’ priorities.
A good chemical management software solution with a web-based SDS inventory not only makes it easier for workers to access documents remotely, but also can automatically supply updated documents as they become available. Such systems simplify a variety of complex chemical management tasks and provide sophisticated chemical inventory tracking across multiple sites. The best systems offer mobile accessibility so that individual SDSs can be dispersed electronically to job sites where the chemicals are in use; workers have on-demand access to documents and chemical inventories can be easily tracked using a smartphone or tablet to scan container barcodes, QR codes, and UPC codes. Some providers even offer chemical management mobile apps so employees on job sites where Internet connectivity is limited or unavailable can have access to the lifesaving hazardous chemical information they need.
Comprehensive Incident Management and Recordkeeping
Recording and tracking incidents, implementing corrective actions, and ensuring that work sites are in compliance with applicable standards is a daunting task for any safety manager. That job gets considerably harder in construction where a large, diverse workforce is spread out over multiple job sites. Unfortunately, this difficulty often results in inaccurate incident reporting and recordkeeping. Without complete and accurate documentation of incidents, employers are unable to identify incident root causes, let alone develop and schedule corrective actions to ensure an incident doesn't occur again.
Many employers also will need to comply with OSHA's new electronic reporting requirements that go into effect at the end of this year. Under the rule, all covered establishments with 250 or more employees will be required to electronically submit their OSHA 300 and 301 forms on an annual basis. For those not already using an electronic system to track, document and report injuries, the implications of this new rule will be significant.
Mobile-optimized incident management software and downloadable incident reporting mobile apps help make safety a part of everyone’s job, allowing workers to report incidents and near misses, perform hazard IDs, and schedule corrective actions directly from the job site when the information is most accurate. Some incident management apps even integrate mobile device cameras and voice-to-text features, helping workers document incident data even faster and in greater detail. When combined with robust incident management software, that data can then be used to automatically generate completed regulatory documents to help streamline reporting requirements.
Hosting Regular Safety Briefings
Regular safety meetings are a trusted and invaluable resource for communicating and addressing specific job site hazards, especially those locations where conditions and workers change rapidly. Aside from their proven role in reducing the number of severe incidents and injuries in the workplace, safety meetings are required by law in a number of jurisdictions throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Many labor unions also require safety meetings as part of their collective bargaining agreements, and insurance providers frequently offer incentives for employers who conduct them on a regular basis.
Despite the benefits, though, coordinating and managing safety meetings can be a major pain point. Coordinating multiple workers on tight schedules to find a time for everyone to come together can be a real challenge. As a result, many safety meetings are often rushed, fail to provide workers with necessary safety information, or workers miss the meetings altogether.
Safety meeting management is another area where technology has removed the clutter around an otherwise complicated task. A good EHS software solution today can provide tools to efficiently record, track, distribute, and report important safety meeting information across the entire organization. Meeting schedules, agendas, notes, roles and responsibilities, action item status, and all other meeting documentation can be recorded and housed in one centralized system and can instantly be distributed to attendees via email. By making it easier to coordinate and conduct safety meetings, more regular meetings can occur and EHS managers can spend more time focusing on providing effective training and hazard information to their crews.
Filling In the Cracks
Out of 4,379 worker fatalities OSHA recorded in 2015, more than 20 percent were in the construction industry, which should serve as a signal to employers that more attention needs to be placed on maintaining effective safety programs. Add to that OSHA's increased focus on temp workers and it's clear that now is the time to re-evaluate your EHS programs and embrace technology solutions to overcome the challenges you face. By focusing on the areas where construction workers are most at risk, employers can gain greater peace of mind knowing that fewer employees are falling through the cracks.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.