Slow Down ... Think About Working Safely

The dirt is flying for onsite system installers trying to keep pace with a demanding work schedule. Pause and remember to follow safety best practices.

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I caught up with an installer in the Midwest the other day, and he was stressed out about falling behind in his work this summer due to increasing interest in construction. He said he had 47 – “No, make that 48’’ – onsite systems on order for the 2015 season and more calls coming every week.

Installers are facing unprecedented (in recent memory) workloads this year, with pent-up demand from the now-long-past economic slowdown and many systems being inspected and check-marked as “failed.’’ When your crews are contracted out for several weeks and – at least up north – the end of the productive digging season is in sight, there are pressures to cut corners on safety.

Well, I guess we have to admit that contractors are always on customer-imposed deadlines of one sort or another, and the pressure is constant to hurry and get systems in the ground and functioning. “We need to move into the house in three weeks because that’s when we have to leave our current house,’’ one new-construction customer says. “We can’t stand any more backups and family is coming to visit,’’ says another who needs an aging system replaced.

This time of year, when installer crews are pushing to finish projects they’ve committed to, my thoughts often turn to safety and how important it is to follow work site rules set forth by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and your own company guidelines.


A recent story from a New Jersey construction site drives home the message that one brief instance of ignoring safety standards can lead
to tragedy.

According to news accounts, a 58-year-old worker was delivering drywall to a high-rise commercial construction site when he stopped to talk to another worker in a pickup truck. At the same time, a worker on the 50th floor had a tape measure dislodge from his tool belt and fall. The tape measure struck a piece of equipment 10 to 15 feet off the ground, then ricocheted and hit the drywall worker in the head. He died an hour later.

It turns out the worker was not wearing a required hard hat, which he had left in the cab of his truck. If he’d put on the hard hat before leaving the truck, he might be alive today.

The story of that freak accident has stuck with me for months. First off, it may be rare for careful high-rise workers to have a tool fall from their belts. Further, the majority of times, a falling tool at a construction site hits the pavement below and everyone pauses briefly with relief and starts working again. Long odds against a tragic accident like this could prompt workers to let their guard down and say, “Ah, I don’t need to wear my hard hat today. I’m only going to be out of the truck for a few minutes.’’

Those who take chances in the name of getting a job done faster are not thinking of the worst-case scenario. Yet many of the rules workers are required to follow were designed for the worst-case scenario. Most days, nothing bad happens on an installation site and everyone goes home to their families happy and healthy.


However, installers can’t let an attitude of indifference to safety rules creep into their work crew culture. You need to constantly train workers about using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and best practices for working with and around excavation equipment. Unfortunately, I know not everyone in the installer community is following best safety practices all the time … even when our cameras are focused on some of the best workers in the industry.

We hire professional photographers to shoot work photos for our monthly Contractor Profile stories and we ask installers and system designers to shoot photos of projects for our monthly System Profile feature. In an effort to promote worker safety, several people in the COLE Publishing production chain examine these photos looking for OSHA violations. Regretfully, we find serious safety infractions more often than we’d like, even from companies that we know are preaching safety and professionalism.

Among the most common violations we see are:

  • Workers standing directly below excavators without any form of PPE, including hard hats.
  • Crews working near heavy equipment that’s not parked on stable ground.
  • Inadequate shoring of holes dug for tanks, lines and drainfields, and spoils piles that are sloped too steeply.


We reject photos showing safety violations. To do otherwise would go against our editorial commitment to promote safe working conditions. Still, we’re not perfect, and if we miss seeing a violation in a photo, it doesn’t take long for an industry watchdog to call us out on it.

I’ve met a lot of installers over the years, and they are a conscientious group of professionals who want to emphasize safety on the work site. But in the busiest of times, anyone can benefit from a reminder about following best safety practices. One way to keep crews thinking about safety is to hold daily tailgate meetings to focus on common areas of concern.

In the course of organizing your safety training, you can tap into the vast resources found at the OSHA website, There you’ll find complete construction safety regulations organized by the type of job including excavation, material handling, working with tools and PPE. They even have identified a list of the top 10 most accessed general industry standards for safety. Among those are PPE, guarding floor and wall openings and holes, and noise exposure, all situations you could encounter.

The OSHA site also gives some sobering statistics about workplace injuries and fatalities. The agency reports that 4,585 workers were killed on the job in 2013, an average of 88 deaths per week and 12 deaths every day. Fatal work injuries involving contractors accounted for 16 percent of all fatal work injuries in the same year.

And it lists the construction industry’s “Fatal Four,” all situations where installers could find themselves at risk during the workweek: falls (302 of 828 construction deaths in 2013), struck by object (84), electrocutions (71) and caught in-between (21).

As the 2015 construction season starts to wind down, please take a step back and talk to your crews about safety. I don’t want to read any more headlines about senseless construction site accidents.


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