Guest Column

Construction site safety requires more than just a hard hat

July 27, 2018
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There are more workplace fatalities in the construction industry than any other, according to a recent survey, underscoring the need for both construction companies and construction workers to make safety a higher priority.

All too often, workers feel pressured to cut corners in the name of meeting deadlines and meeting productivity expectations.

In 2017, a National Safety Council survey found 58 percent of Americans working in construction feel safety takes a backseat to productivity and completing job tasks. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed say management does only the minimum required by law to keep employees safe, and 47 percent say employees are afraid to report safety issues.

With this mentality being so prevalent, it is important organizations heavily invested in safety raise awareness for what should matter most — keeping employees safe.

Other challenges facing the construction industry, according to a 2016 report about construction by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, include:

  • New construction techniques, materials and equipment that require additional training

  • An aging workforce that means some workers are at higher risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders

  • Increased temporary and contract employment that can sometimes disrupt the traditional relationships among construction crews

With all of these challenges, it’s easy to see that safety on a construction site goes far beyond just wearing a hard hat.

For a project to be successful, intricate planning is of the utmost importance, especially when thinking about the security of the workers on-site. Elzinga & Volkers believes safety and commitment to community and community projects should take priority for all involved in the industry. Internally, E&V puts a heavy emphasis on training precautions on work sites.

In May, the organization reached 4,000 days of no lost time due to any construction-related incidents. This milestone was made possible because of strong leadership and dedication from key executives who truly care about the well-being of employees. Tactics like making safety a daily on-site discussion, continuous training and support from all team members to keep safety top of mind no matter the cost or time are just a few requirements to keep a work site safe.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) began stepping up efforts to investigate the high rate of construction fatalities and is spending less time on violations that are less likely to cause injuries. With the help of MIOSHA, real change in safety standards will continue to occur within the industry.

But companies cannot and should not rely on regulators; they should be proactive and create a culture that puts safety first.

There are several important factors to consider when making safety a priority, including establishing a safety committee, having a dedicated leadership team, providing support to employees and making safety an ongoing conversation. Employees who are trained properly have the opportunity to share their education with the community, offering the perfect conduit to connect with other workers. A safe workplace and a culture of safety first reduce stress for both workers and the families they go home to at night — creating a better community for everyone.

All E&V employees know the importance of safety, so the organization decided to use this education to ensure safer communities, coming up with creative ways to get involved with nonprofits.

Elzinga & Volkers’ employees began donating money directly to a fund via payroll deductions that will be used to benefit local nonprofits. The first opportunity will be assisting Bethany Christian Services to certify foster parents in CPR and first aid. Bethany is a global nonprofit organization that provides services including adoption and foster care, has multiple West Michigan locations and has touched multiple lives in the E&V family.

Bethany noticed the impact Elzinga & Volkers has had on the surrounding community and reached out for assistance in getting foster parents the first aid certification they need. A second fund will be established to support local safety needs and will be used at the discretion of E&V’s Safety Committee for opportunities such as Boys & Girls Club bike helmets, emergency and medical service providers, school AEDs, lifejackets and employee recommendations.

This continued dedication to safety on-site and within the community is vital to move the construction industry forward. The commitment to community and employees should be a focus for all organizations but sometimes is overshadowed with day-to-day tasks. E&V believes connecting the community through safety helps to make a cohesive and comfortable environment for all. With continued efforts such as these, community-based organizations can continue to provide great opportunities to support those around them in need of resources.

Tony Roussey is chief operating officer of Holland-based Elzinga & Volkers.

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