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Focus - The safe word

image Renee Ramthun, CSP, CHST, Environmental Health & Safety Director, Jordan Foster Construction, Austin, TX

AUSTIN - The construction industry knows the word “safety,” but keeping up with the new advances, courses and employees are key to any company.







What do you consider are the major safety risks in construction?
    As cliché as it might sound, our biggest risks in construction are: one – the actual work conditions and two – the workforce. It’s an ever-changing entity. There is no single day that will be like the last one. The worksite will be different. The employees will likely be different (whether it is because of decreased staff, increased staff or simply new subs on the job.) After that, it’s the “fatal four” that are documented every year: fall hazards, electrical hazards, struck-by hazards and caught-in-between hazards.

What are ways to identify and reduce safety risks?

    You have to go beyond “compliance-based safety.” You have to begin to look at the things that are causing the issues on your site and address those in ways that are meaningful to that specific project.

How important is a good safety record in the construction industry?
    A good safety record is critical in the construction industry. Every single new project proposal, without exception, includes a section that reviews your safety record. Owners look at the GC’s safety record, GC’s look at the subcontractor’s safety record. The safety record is one indication of how a company will perform and what their overall culture is.

How does construction safety impact Jordan Foster Construction?
    Safety has a great impact on our company in a number of ways. Our ability to perform our job safely impacts our ability to get new work. Additionally, for us, because we self-perform much of our work safety has a direct impact on our immediate workforce, our greatest assets. Without our employees, we would be unable to perform the work that we do, so it is obviously critical for us to keep our employees safe.

Does an increase in the volume of construction affect safety?
    An increase in the volume of construction can certainly impact safety. When there is a sudden increase in volume there is generally an increase in new employees, new employees that may not have the training or experience that our current employees have; new employees that haven’t yet bought into our culture and way of thinking; and new employees that may have heard it a million times before.

What can be done to increase safety awareness and create a safe working environment?
    We start every day with a Task Hazard Analysis. On some days, a crew may do more than one, depending on what their tasks are for that day. We have our safety mantras – don’t just go through the motions. Learn from you issues. Be brutally honest about things. It is through honest communication that you can find the areas that need to be improved before an issue arises.

What safety training programs are available?
    There are a number of training resources out there. In Texas, both UTA and TEEX have extensive safety courses. OSHA provides a number of free courses offered in all of the major Texas markets that range from one-hour courses to full 10 and 30-hour courses in both English and Spanish. There are online courses available through several vendors. AGC, ABC and ASSE (ASSP) also host many training courses through their various chapters. The route that we take is to provide most of our training in-house, so that we can gear the topics specifically to the needs of our employees and can meet their schedule requirements.

Have there been recent advances in PPE?
    There have been a couple of new recent advances in PPE that have peaked some interest, though Jordan Foster hasn’t adopted them yet. We are still looking to see if they are actually effective. New types of safety helmets have recently become popular in Europe and Australia. Kask is the name brand that I have seen most often, though there are others out there. In spite of their appearance they seem to be lighter than your standard hardhat, but provide more impact protection. They can be equipped with much of your other standard issue items, such as safety glasses and hearing protection. Some of the larger contractors are beginning to make the switch, but these new types of safety helmets are by no means commonplace yet. Safety vests with intrinsic safety devices are being introduced now. Some have cooling devices and flashing lights, so you are more visible. There are some that can sound an alarm if there is some oncoming traffic hazard.

What is on the horizon for the safety industry?

    I think the safety industry is heading more and more in the direction of risk management and looking at enhanced metrics to determine the “safety record,” rather than sticking to the tried-and-true compliance-based safety with an occasional glance at the incident rates and EMRS.

What is the most significant challenge Jordan Foster faces regarding safety language barrier?
    Our most significant challenge is establishing one unified “culture” across our company, because we have entities that self-perform and others that act purely as GC’s, so the dynamics are obviously different. We communicate, tackle one issue at a time, suggest a solution, test that solution, revise as necessary and then we communicate. The continuous flow of information, in particular with the workforce, helps guide our activities to what is most effective. It is easy to look out over a site and make a determination about what needs to be addressed, but unless you have open communication with the employees you won’t know whether that is really the issue. The employees know where the problems are and they generally have the solutions, if you take the time to ask them and then listen to their answers.
    The construction industry instills safety all around. Listen, learn and be safe out there.
    Jordan Foster Construction is a general contractor headquartered in El Paso with
offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. –lv

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Author Info
Lexie Velasquez lexie@constructionnews.net