Four Ways to Instantly Improve Communication and Safety On Construction Sites

Communication and safety go hand in hand. Safety must be a documented goal and verbally reinforced by site management.
By Derek Jones
November 12, 2020

It is no secret that communication on construction sites directly affects the site's safety and incident numbers. Falls, electrocution and burns often lead the OSHA cited safety incidents, and also cause the most life-altering injuries on construction sites in the U.S. Per the CDC, 61% of workplace electrocutions occurred in the construction industry. It’s no wonder that safety precautions in the construction industry are often considered to be the bare minimum mandated by OSHA.

When a construction company takes on new employees or hires temporary site help, they assume the responsibility of keeping those new employees safe while they are on site. If an employee is injured due to inadequate or broken safety gear, that is the fault of the construction company, not the employee that is tasked with using the broken or damaged equipment. Although the employee should know that the use of broken or damaged safety equipment is a risk to their health, allowing broken and damaged safety equipment to remain on site is a dangerous game to play.

Communication and safety go hand in hand on the job, and one can’t anticipate safety improvements without improving communication between those working on site. Safety has to be a documented goal, and the steps the site is taking to improve safety numbers must be verbally reinforced by site management often. There are four proven ways to instantly improve on site communication and safety.

1. Safety Gear and Equipment Upgrades

If construction site employees don’t have the gear to safely perform the work that needs to be performed, they need the training to recognize the level of liability in the case of an OSHA recordable incident. Harnesses that are dry rotted, inadequate lockout/tag-out supplies and improper signage are invitations to injured employees. By ensuring that site employees have the safety supplies needed to perform the required tasks safely, the company is protecting both the employee and itself.

Due to the costs associated with new safety gear, some companies may cut corners in acquiring safety gear and equipment. This should never be the case, especially on dangerous construction sites where rigging and harnesses can be the difference between life and death for a site employee. The number one rule on these sites should be that if a task needs safety equipment to be performed, and the necessary gear is missing or damaged, the task is not attempted or completed until the proper PPE is obtained.

No employee should be performing a task without adequate safety gear at any time, under any circumstances. From flag-waving to crane operations, every site employee should be using and wearing identifiable safety gear on the jobsite. Safety gear isn’t an option, it is a mandatory part of walking onto the construction site. By fostering that mentality from the site entry point to the cabs of the equipment, it becomes an environment of safe working, rather than an option to use the equipment and safety gear the construction company is providing.

2. Hand Signals

The use of hand signals on a construction site can assist in the prevention of jobsite accidents and injuries by ensuring that equipment operators who don’t have a full view of the jobsite can perform their job tasks with the assistance of a signalman. The use of hand signals in crane operation is mandated by OSHA, and should be performed to OSHA Standard without fail.

By using the standard hand signals on the jobsite, and employing an experienced heavy equipment operator and signalman, a construction company can prevent on site accidents caused by sight hindrances. At no time should a heavy equipment operator be asked to perform their job without the assistance of a signalman. If an employee is asked to perform a task where visibility is limited, they should have the assistance of a signalman to clear the area of limited visibility.

OSHA has been clear on the use of hand signals and conveyed the necessity of using them in all of the material handling and heavy equipment operation training materials produced and distributed since the onset of hand signal use on jobsites was mandated. This is because hand signals have been proven to keep employees safe and assist in performing construction tasks without damage to equipment and site fixtures. These hand signals include forklift signals like tilt mast, raise tines and emergency stop signals. Crane signalmen have a similar set of signals, and these signals have been proven countless times to assist in the performance of site work.

By employing knowledgeable signalmen and operators who are well versed in OSHA hand signal communication, a construction company vastly reduces the chances of jobsite accidents and injuries. Simple communication, in the form of hand signals, can keep everyone on a site safe and working in a productive manner.

3. Begin Every Day With a Communication and Safety Meeting

Each and every morning on the jobsite should begin with a communication and safety meeting. This is the time of day to assign tasks, relay expectation and discuss any safety concerns on the day's tasks before any equipment or materials are moved. By ensuring that everyone on the jobsite is on the same page, the company is minimizing the chances of injuries and incidents.

Guaranteeing that the site employees have a time of day to bring their concerns to management leads to the feeling of being heard. If there are changes on the jobsite, or if management wants to institute new policies or offer additional safety training, the daily team meeting is the time to air grievances andvocie concerns. It’s important to encourage employees to give productive feedback and get involved in this daily communication so that it becomes the focal point of communication on the jobsite.

Many jobsites adopt these communication and safety meetings by conducting them near the coffee pot or water cooler, and it quickly becomes a part of the routine when employees punch the clock and log their safety gear out for the day. It doesn’t take long for it to become second nature to grab a safety vest and a cup of coffee, then file into the materials staging area to have the morning meeting. The construction company needs to foster this type of safe and communicative working environment, so it isn’t an exception to the rule, but the general rule to have an open line of communication and access to safety information.

4. Have a Documented Chain of Command in Place

Who should site employees go to with concerns or questions? The site superintendent may be able to answer that question, but can every employee on the jobsite give the correct answer as well? In order to run a safe and efficient construction site, a construction company should have a documented chain of command in place to ensure that questions are answered correctly and safety concerns can be immediately handled.

Without a proper chain of command on the jobsite, site employees could be given incorrect safety and planning information. This can result in accidents and rework. Every employee on the jobsite should have a point person to go to with any question or concern they have about the job or their ability to safely perform their job. There should also be a site superintendent who can be there to assist site employees in the case of their immediate supervisor not being available at the moment.

Under no circumstances should site employees have to make a safety call by themselves when it comes to performing job duties in a safe fashion. If there is a question about the ability to perform the task at hand safely, the employee should always be directed to the site supervisor in order to obtain the safety equipment needed for the task or to be directed to another task until the correct equipment for the job can be acquired.

Knowing who to go to in the event of safety concern can make all of the difference in jobsite safety. If an employee doesn’t know where to acquire answers, they’re more likely to just push forward with the unsafe activity in hopes of getting the task completed before anyone notices that the task is being performed unsafely. The ultimate goal should be to ensure that no tasks are ever undertaken with this unsafe mindset and that the safety rules in place on the jobsite are there to protect the employee above all else. When every site employee looks at work with the mindset of safely completing the job, an environment of safe working habits is fostered.

With the introduction of these four proven instant communication and safety aids, the number of incidents on the jobsite should markedly decrease. Besides, the increased ability for healthy dialogue will ensure that everyone employed will feel comfortable and heard when it comes to their safety and well-being while on the job.

by Derek Jones
Derek spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets and communication. With a focus on Construction, Derek helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor cost in line and build award-winning workplaces. Derek has over 16 years’ experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.

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