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Understand How Labor Impacts Construction Safety

Many project managers overlook the important connection between hiring and a safe job site.

By Jason Litkowiec, Contributor

Many project managers view hiring from an isolated lens. They understand that choosing the wrong workers can cost them money due to inefficiency and mistakes. But often, they overlook the important connection that labor has in ensuring a safe job site.

Despite advances in safety training and technology, construction is still one of the most dangerous industries with the highest rate of workplace deaths and injuries. These statistics spotlight the need for construction teams to focus more on who they are bringing onto the job site. Here are four ways your construction team can better prepare workers to ensure top performance, efficiency, and safety.

Go Beyond Basic Training

It’s no secret that skilled labor significantly reduces job site mistakes and injuries, yet 56% of construction managers today report that workers lack adequate skills.[1] OSHA 30 safety certification is certainly vital to a safe work environment. But for companies aiming for a world-class safety record, this is just the beginning.

Organizations like The National Center for Construction Education and Research can help build a more comprehensive plan for certifications and training in an array of construction trades. Remember, training requires an ongoing commitment to providing appropriate workshops and certifications that invest workers in their own well-being and that of their crew members.

Apprentices from highly-ranked training programs in any trade make ideal job candidates because they are well-rounded and trained extensively to be ready for anything. For example, Steamfitters Local 601 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin offers a five-year paid apprenticeship that provides classroom and real-world experience in specialties like HVAC/Mechanical and Pipe Fabrication. Programs like this throughout the U.S. are easy to locate and provide a dependable and well-trained workforce that’s ready to work. Studies also show that union workers provide more reliable labor.[2]

Plan Ahead

One of the most efficient ways to keep workers safer is to anticipate everything that could go wrong on a job site and prepare for every possibility. Start with a comprehensive and actionable safety plan to protect your workers. The plan should describe the project scope and location, identify hazards, outline procedures for handling common safety issues and emergencies, and include key contact info and chain of communication in case of an incident. Having a well-organized workflow, where everyone is clear about their responsibilities, makes a big difference.

Many construction projects have laborers from multiple employers who work side-by-side, performing various tasks at different times. For that reason, project managers need to ensure that all workers are aligned in understanding potential safety or health hazards they may face on the site and policies in place to prevent accidents. Monitoring weather and ground conditions can help avoid slips and falls, and the integration of automated machinery can also reduce risks.

Ensure a Drug-Free Workforce

There’s an opioid epidemic in the U.S. and businesses are seeing a significant impact including increased absenteeism, workplace accidents, and withdrawal from the labor force due to disability.[3] The construction industry is not immune with 15% of construction workers reporting a substance abuse disorder, according to the American Addiction Center. That’s not surprising, considering the desire to cope with stress or to self-medicate physical pain.

Drug education along with mandatory and random drug testing can help employees reduce problems. Focusing on mental health and well-being also makes a huge difference. That might mean investing in a mental health clinic and ensuring there is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that all workers can access.

Communicate, Then Do it Again

In some industries, miscommunication may mean a missed deadline or shipping of the wrong product to a customer. In construction, miscommunications can cause injuries or even death. If two workers are installing an electrical system, one of them needs to cut the power so the other can install a new device. If the worker thinks the power is off when it isn’t, he could be injured by an electrical shock, or even electrocuted. Clear communication also impacts productivity. Construction firms are losing as much as $40 billion due to labor inefficiencies.[4]

Start by putting a communication chain of command into place to address problems as they arise. Construction management software offers features that can advance effective communications. Conduct regular meetings with the field crew and subcontractors to discuss problems and challenges together with proposed solutions.

Construction firms that invest in safety planning, training, strong communication, and comprehensive health and wellness plans will ultimately benefit from a safer work environment.

Jason Litkowiec is an Industrial Division Project Manager, Grunau Company (grunau.com).

[1] https://www.uschamber.com/economy/us-chamber-commercial-construction-index-q4-2021#:~:text=Two-thirds%20(66%25)%20of,from%2044%25%20in%20Q3)

[2] https://www.mcaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/IPA-Study-Quantifying-the-Value-of-Union-Labor-in-Construction-Projects-FINAL.pdf

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-economic-impact-of-the-opioid-epidemic/

[4] https://www.constructiondive.com/news/construction-wastes-billions-labor-lean-planning/696421/#:~:text=About%20half%20of%20contractors%20see,see%20relief%20through%20lean%20practices

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