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Is Safety Worth the Cost?

There is a divide in the camps when it comes to health and safety in Heavy Civil work. Some look at it as an expensive annoyance, extra unwanted paperwork, or something to offer lip service too while feeling that production always comes first.

Others on the other hand, think that there should be no end to procedures, hazard analysis, policies that outperform laws and would practically wrap workers in so much P.P.E. that they can no longer perform their tasks.

Because safety is legislated, many also look at the safety program as a way to manage liability, rather than as a moral obligation to protect those who work with them. And some use it as way to discipline or remove those they don’t see as valuable contributors to their team.

Who is right? Which viewpoint holds more weight? Is a safety program worth what it costs?

First and foremost, we all have an obligation to look out for one another. That alone should help us to see the need for basic safety measures.  Just as we have a family and friends outside of work so do all our coworkers, and if we can save one person and their immediate group the pain of dealing with a tragedy, it was worth the effort.

Second, a safe worker is a productive worker. On numerous instances, by adding a lift, a proper scaffold, a decent tie-off point or through other methods, I’ve recorded significant increases in productivity, and a more content work force. By planning well, and sequencing the work in a logical order, crews have been able to work separate from each other in the same area without causing hazards to each other.

Third, a good plan with a safe procedure that highlights safety will promote faster safer execution of even very challenging areas of work. Procedures need to be kept simple, 10 steps or less with photos, or drawings works best, and with the entire crew on the same page and working as a team great efficiencies can be reached which far outweigh the time spent going through the hazards and procedure with the crew.

Fourth, safety should not be a club used to discipline people. If they have bad, unsafe habits, is up to us as construction professionals to mentor them into a better frame of mind.  To illustrate, I had a young man working on my site as a front man next to the piling rig. On two occasions, I found him working over the open caisson without being tied off. The first time he seemed surprised to have to tie off, the second sheepish that he was caught. The third time I caught him I told him to come with me and without a word walked him down to my trailer and parked him at my desk. He worked for our sub, so I had a word with his employer, and then, had my safety trainer put him through a refresher on working at heights, and a long heart to heart with him about who would be affected if he was killed or injured on the job. I could have fired him, but that would not have corrected the behavior, and he would have ended up being hurt somewhere else. I’m happy to say he became a model employee, and today is a lead hand who champions safety on his jobsite.

So is safety worth the cost? Without even introducing to the discussions the costs associated with a bad accident or fatality, I can say that from my personal experience, it most emphatically is.

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