Opinion Editorial by Patrick Tarrant, CEO of Crane Management & Leading Safety Expert
On the first Friday 13th of this year Speaker Mark-Viverito, Housing and Buildings Committee Chair Jumaane Williams and Council Members announced that they will introduce the Construction Safety Act, a comprehensive package of legislation to strengthen construction and crane safety regulations in New York City. These bills were drafted in response to an alarming increase in construction site injuries and fatalities. The Construction Safety Act aims to address the longstanding issues of lax compliance with local construction codes and carelessness on the behalf of contractors.
The following is Tarrant’s response to the above Construction Safety Act
This is a very laudable goal and I wholeheartedly agree that it’s unacceptable to tolerate serious injury and death as a part of doing business. I believe that a very important part of a safety initiative is missing and has never been part of any comprehensive safety plan.
Let me share with you how I have avoided causing serious injury, property damage or death during my 45 years in the construction industry, both here and in Europe.
I am a New York City licensed Master Rigger (183), a licensed crane operator with all NCCCO1 crane categories and an OSHA Authorized Construction Trainer. Early in my career I saw that just about all accidents happened for very foreseeable reasons.
Examples are people rushing to get the job done, working without the proper tools and/or equipment, trying to get a job done in an area that was cluttered or had to work around obstructions. I also noticed that accidents were happening more frequently to people who were poorly skilled or were not skilled in the task they were trying to accomplish.
I narrowed it down to six causes and every accident that I’m aware of was deficient in at least one of these causes. When I set up my own company I had the freedom to implement these six preventive measures and if all companies did so it would eliminate deaths and serious injuries in our industry.
PERMIT: 6 Resources Needed to Safely Complete Any Task
These are the six resources needed to safely complete any task (not just in construction). When these resources are identified, and procured before commencement of the work an accident is virtually impossible. I have found an acronym that makes these resources easy to remember.
P E R M I T
The people selected to perform must be capable of performing the task safely. This may involve training, certification, demonstrating or just explaining the task. The appropriate number of people must be assigned to the task. A clear chain of command must be established. Backup personnel must be available in case a crewmember doesn’t show up.
A thorough assessment must be made of the task to be accomplished and a list of every tool and piece of equipment that’s needed should be prepared. It is important to reference the number of workers and ensure that no tools must be shared.
R (Room to work):
In every task an assessment must be made of the space needed to store materials, store equipment and have access to the work area. This applies equally to setting up a large crawler crane on site or tiling a bathroom.
Obviously, no work can be done unless the material is on site in sufficient quantities to allow work to proceed in a manner consistent with the number of workers assigned to that task, the room available to stage the material and the schedule. Often there is just enough room to stage material for a few days and then get resupplied when the space frees up. It takes careful planning to work on a JIT (just in time) schedule.
It can be a difficult task to stay up to date with all the revisions, addendums, schedules, RFIs (requests for information) site safety plans and subcontractor shop drawings but it is a vital part of any construction project. All this information must be available to the lead person on site. It is not enough to have it in different locations in the field office; copies should be made and given to the lead person in the form of a job kit.
There’s never time to do it right; there’s always time to do it over. This is a fact of life in the construction business. It is important to accurately assess the time required to complete the task allowing for all possible contingencies such as weather delays, absenteeism, power failures, fire drills, elevator or hoist breakdowns and emergencies. Float or makeup time should also be included in the assessment.
This seems like a simple enough solution to prevent accidents and fatalities so why is it not being implemented? The solution is simple but the reason it’s not being implemented is complex and involves a systemic failure in our industry.
Management at the executive level understands the huge cost of accidents. It may involve a negative adjustment in the insurance Experience Modification or a loss of future business because of a poor safety record. It may also cause delays resulting in financial loss.
It is reasonable to assume that senior executives are on board with the need for improved safety so why is that not filtering down to the job site? Workers are on board with the need for improved safety because of the mandatory safety training they receive.
There are safety professionals on all large construction projects but the accidents continue.
A lot of resources are deployed in the interests of safety and I suspect that more resources would be deployed if upper management could be guaranteed results.
The reason that safety is not assured is because the responsibility to make it happen is delegated to field management personnel who also have the responsibility to get the job done on time whatever it takes. Usually the site safety professional makes his presence felt when he interjects in a negative way to make a demand that slows down progress. This creates an adversarial situation between field management and site safety because upper management have failed in their responsibility to create a system and structure to allow all field personnel to share the same goal.
This is easy to do but it takes effort which has been absent until now.
It’s time to recognize the need for management safety training to complement the worker safety training that is mandatory.
On a typical construction site the workers have no control over the six resources, identified above that guarantee site safety so it is unrealistic to expect safety to improve just by training the workers and not equipping them. They can of course in theory refuse to work in an unsafe environment but anyone who believes this is oblivious to the power balance in our industry and is displaying an alarmingly naïve view. The reality is that a typical worker adopting that stance will find himself replaced and unemployed in short order. It is unfair and ineffective to make compliance the responsibility of the lowest man on the totem pole.
The answer is simple. The construction industry in the United States depends largely on subcontractors. This reduces the control that the construction manager has over the workers but remember we need to relieve the workers of the responsibility for compliance and put it firmly on the subcontractor’s field management.
The subcontractor is contractually committed to a “time is of the essence” clause in most construction contracts so if he is not allowed on site until he has satisfied the site safety professional that he has identified and retained all six resources to complete his work, the responsibility is now firmly where it should be. If the work of the subcontractor involves several phases the process should be repeated for each phase.