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Can better employee training help OSHA build a zero accident construction industry? Yes, We Can.

“Bob The Builder, Can we fix it? Bob The Builder, Yes we can” — I felt inspired everytime that little guy with his big toolbelt and a trademark yellow helmet said “Yes we can…!”

Why me, entire United States felt inspired! Irrespective of whether Bob went on to fix the 2008 presidential elections or not, the can-do approach is welcome! More so in construction, a sector which can boom if the current roadblocks are handled well. Yes we can.

The biggest roadblock in construction is labor shortage. And commercial construction leaders are concerned about higher safety risks resulting from this shortage of skilled workers, according to the recent results of a quarterly survey conducted by USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As labor shortage remains unresolved, contractors are forced to do more with less.

Every day, an average of two construction workers die due to work-related injuries in U.S. One in five of all workplace fatalities occurring are construction-related, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the US Department of Labor, as many as 769 construction worker deaths were reported to OSHA when it conducted a survey in 2017, ranging from falls to equipment failures to traffic accidents and more (note that the data doesn’t factor in the number of non-fatal injuries that occur on construction sites every day).

By its very nature, a construction job is hazardous; for instance, it requires working at heights where you are one step away from a fall. The most common fatalities are caused by what the industry calls the fatal four: falls, being struck by an object, electrocutions, and being caught in between two objects.

Eliminating the Fatal Four would save 582 workers’ lives in America every year, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Improvement of safety practices is therefore a critical challenge for all construction companies.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Back in the 1950s and 60s, US construction sites used to be dreaded a lot. Accidents and falls were rampant and the industry didn’t know who to blame.

As calls for a strong and comprehensive safety programs on construction grew, President Richard Nixon signed the famous Occupational Safety and Health Act into law on December 29, 1970. The Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the Department of Labor, and initially met with obvious opposition from several GOP members as ‘big businesses’ saw it as a threat to the free market economy.

What is interesting is that in passing the Act, Congress declared its intent “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.”

That was necessary because in 1970, it was reported that there were nearly 14,000 fatalities, 2.5 million disabilities, and 300,000 illnesses all stemming from, or caused by, poor working conditions. The first priority of OSHA was to create a better track record for safety in the workplace with 10 regional and 49 area offices located in major U.S. cities. The primary goal at that time was to educate employers about compliance and enforcement of regulations in traditionally high-risk industries. Without doubt, construction was the most vulnerable industry in the list.

Today, nearly every working man and woman in the nation comes under OSHA’s jurisdiction (with some exceptions including transportation workers, atomic energy workers, police officers and others). OSHA has strived to assist each individual — whether worker or employer — to identify, reduce, and eliminate construction-related hazards.

What Does OSHA Do?

One of OSHA’s main roles is to develop and enforce standards that employers must follow as a framework to minimize workplace hazards.

In general, standards require that employers:

  • Maintain conditions or adopt practices reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job
  • Be familiar with and comply with standards applicable to their establishments
  • Ensure that employees have and use personal protective equipment when required for safety and health

If employers fail to comply with OSHA’s standards, they risk being issued citations, and in extreme cases can face imprisonment.

OSHA Standards are published by the Department of Labor in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which is the “rule book” of the executive departments and agencies of the federal government.

OSHA doesn’t just maintain a reporting and recordkeeping system to monitor job-related injuries and illnesses, it also provides assistance, training and other support programs to help employers and workers.

Just as we speak, here is what’s been going on (unfortunately):


How OSHA saves life — Let’s take real life examples

“Get out of that trench,” OSHA Inspector Robert Dickinson ordered a worker in an unshored, unsloped, unsafe trench by the side of the road near El Paso, Texas.

30 seconds after the employee left the trench, the wall near where he had been standing collapsed!

Heeding the compliance officer’s warning and order to leave the trench kept the worker from experiencing a serious, perhaps life-threatening injury.

Another one. Remember the Gauley Bridge tunnel case. The tunnel was built in 1935, before OSHA was created. Do you know how OSHA might have impacted this project? Approximately 1,500 workers were killed by exposure to silica dust while building a tunnel in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia.

How might OSHA have prevented so many deaths during the construction? There could be a number of ways. Which one is closest to your thinking:

  • Enforcing a rule requiring workers to wear respiratory protection
  • Not letting the workers on the tunnel site for more than two consecutive days
  • Requiring a medical screening of all workers before they entered the worksite
  • Selecting equipment for the work that created less dust

All these very much fall in line with the General Duty Clause, as stated in the original OSH Act that each employer “shall furnish … a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

Can OSHA alone do it? It needs a learning solutions ladder to onboard workers to safety

With deep ingrained knowledge and better adherence to compliance, casualties naturally take a dip. But then, OSHA needs a strategic enabler or a guide that can act as a bridge between the end worker and their safety. A sort of ladder that would transport them into the vehicle of safety. Learning solutions have an important role to play here.

A professional learning platform having integrations with MOOCs will bring all the learning modules from OSHA straight into your inbox, along with safety content created for your company (since every construction company’s working environment is different). For instance, if fall is the biggest health hazard in construction, your construction workers could open the learning app on their mobiles and click on different modules as to how to select the proper ladder, how to set up and climb the ladder in the easiest way, and how to descend properly during dismantling.

A quick 2-min microlearning video could also train you on how to minimize the damage in times of vulnerabilities. Just like the case with Robert Dickinson saving definite lives during the El Paso incident as we saw above, getting trained in safety programs through real life simulations and virtual reality modules could train an employee to become fully job-ready ahead of their actual on-site deployment.

Here is an interesting video prepared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) where a construction farmer is talking about protecting his crew from falls using safety programs:

This is not just about employee safety; it also leaves a tangible impact on your business. When your employees are safe and secure, your business will naturally thrive and numbers will grow.

Why we are making this point again and again is because lack of safety is the biggest deterrent for aspiring people to join the construction business. The sector is booming but the workforce is just not ready to join this industry. If it were not for the safety threats, millennials would flock the construction sites, isn’t it?

The US Chamber of Commerce concurs. Though they maintain safety is the natural extension of the same skilled labor shortage problem. 

Source: US Chamber of Commerce

And this is no myth, they vouch. Four out of five contractors (~80%) are at least moderately concerned about the safety risks created by workforce shortages.

The only way is to create a safety culture, the report makes an observation.

The question is, to ensure a safety climate, would you spend more on advanced tools and equipment or on training?

Effectively improving jobsite safety requires training at all levels. If each and every employee across the organizational ladder is made to pass through an organized training and continuous learning approach (and with that we are not just talking about on-site training but project management as well), safety culture gets developed as a natural upshot.

That is the bottomline. It’s about creating a safety culture!

And OSHA alone can not do this. It needs our support at every step to build a safer and more secure construction environment. This is where a new age mobile training and engagement platform like Disprz has a role to play in the resurgence of the U.S. Construction landscape. When your construction workforce receives daily or weekly safety posts shared through Disprz’s social learning platform buzz, and sees safer workers getting rewarded based on the safety points they earn on a leaderboard — it all results in a feel-good culture where safety is the most important on-the-job virtue.

Let’s make America safer again. Bob The Builder says Yes, We Can!!

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