Safety Tips for Working Alone

Originally published 08/23/2017

Some construction jobs require an employee to work in an isolated environment for a period of time. Doing a job alone can be more hazardous than doing the same job in the company of others. If you’re injured, ill or trapped, there’s no one nearby to help or call for assistance. It’s a good idea to assess the situation and see if it’s possible to reschedule the job, so others can be present or close by. This is especially true if the project requires an employee to work at heights, operate hazardous equipment or materials, enter confined spaces or enter areas with insufficient lighting.

Supervisors should also:

  • Assess whether the worker might be more vulnerable than others. Consider age, disabilities and medical suitability of the individual.
  • Assess the worker’s levels of training and experience.
  • Make sure they know where their lone workers will be and have a system in place to touch base with and monitor them.

If you are working alone, consider these safety tips:

  • Talk to your supervisor and colleagues about your job, the hazards and how to minimize risks.
  • Ensure that others on your crew know where you will be working and when.
  • Have a check-in system in place. This could include:
    • Prearranged intervals of regular phone contact. Be sure your mobile phone is fully charged, or you have another communications tool in the event there’s no phone coverage.
    • Periodic visits to the site by a coworker or supervisor, so they can visually check on you.
    • Use of a “man down” or personal monitoring device that recognizes when a worker has stopped moving.
    • Arranging to call someone at the end of your shift to let them know you are OK.
  • Have a first aid kit, and know how to use it.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on-site at all times, and know how to use it.

Establish an emergency plan in case an accident occurs, and make sure everyone on the site understands it and knows what their responsibilities are. Consider publishing these helpful tips in your company’s health and safety policy statement.

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Trench and Excavation Safety

Originally published 07/12/2017

Trench collapses can occur without warning, regardless of the depth. The vast majority of trenching fatalities occur in trenches 5 to 15 feet deep. But trench cave-ins don’t have to happen. They are preventable with proper planning and execution of safety precautions.

Here are some practices that will help reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries or fatalities on excavation sites.

  1. Know where the underground utilities are located before digging.
  2. Keep excavated soil (spoils) and other materials at least two feet from trench edges.
  3. Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
  4. Identify any equipment or activities that could affect trench stability.
  5. Test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases when workers are in trenches more than four feet deep.
  6. Inspect trenches at the start of each shift. This should be done by the competent person. The competent person should be authorized to order immediate corrective action, including restricting entry into the excavation, until any hazards or potential hazards have been eliminated.
  7. Ensure that employees working in trenches four feet deep or more have an adequate and safe means of exit, such as ladders, steps or ramps. These must be within 25 feet of all workers at all times and will need to be relocated as the job progresses.
  8. Inspect trenches following a rainstorm or other water intrusion.
  9. Inspect trenches after any occurrence that could have changed conditions in the trench.
  10. Do not work under suspended or raised loads or materials.
  11. Ensure that workers wear high-visibility or other suitable clothing when exposed to vehicular traffic.
  12. Develop a trench emergency action plan and train workers and supervisors on the proper actions to take in case of an emergency.

Remember: Unlike most accidents, the cave-in of an excavation can usually be predicted if closely watched. So stay alert. Don’t take anything for granted.

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Heat Stress

Originally published 7/18/2017

Working in a hot environment, such as a construction site, puts stress on the body’s cooling system. When heat is combined with other work stresses – like hard physical labor, loss of fluids, or fatigue – it may lead to heat-related illness, disability or even death. There are three stages to heat-related illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps that are brought on because the body has lost minerals through sweating. If cramping occurs, move to a cool area at once. Loosen clothing and drink cool water or an electrolyte replacement beverage. Seek medical aid if the cramps are severe, or don’t go away.

Heat exhaustion can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for several days and have become dehydrated. Symptoms include confusion, dizziness, headache, fatigue and sometimes nausea. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. If you experience heat exhaustion, get out of the heat immediately and rest, preferably in an air-conditioned environment. If you can’t get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place. Slowly drink fluids. If possible, lie down with your feet and legs slightly elevated.

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat illness and is a medical emergency. It often occurs after heat cramps or heat exhaustion are not properly cared for. But it can strike even if you have no previous signs of heat illness.

Heat stroke can kill, or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. Symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion, but the skin is hot and dry and breathing is deep and fast. The victim may collapse. The body is no longer able to sweat, and the body temperature rises dangerously. If you suspect that someone is a victim of heat stroke – also known as sun stroke – call 911 immediately. Move the victim to a cool area and remove excess clothing while waiting on help to arrive. Fan and spray them with cool water. Offer sips of water if the victim is conscious.

There are things you can do to prevent heat-related illnesses.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Consider beverages that replace electrolytes. Stay away from beverages with caffeine. Caffeine contributes to dehydration.
  • Slow down in hot weather. Your body’s temperature-regulating system faces a much greater workload when the temperature and humidity are high.
  • If possible, get accustomed to the heat gradually.
  • Dress for hot weather. Light colored clothing reflects heat.
  • Get out of the heat occasionally. Take breaks in a cool, shady location.
  • Eat light, cool meals.

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Thunderstorms and Lightening – A Dangerous Duo

Originally published 06/13/2017

Thunderstorms can be very dangerous. The National Weather Service (NWS) issues watches and warnings for severe thunderstorms. A watch means that conditions are favorable for the formation of a severe thunderstorm; a warning means that a severe thunderstorm has been sighted or has been indicated on NWS Doppler radar. Although they can occur at any time, severe thunderstorms are most common between the months of April and August.

Severe thunderstorms are defined by the NWS as storms with downdraft winds in excess of 58 miles an hour. They will also likely produce lightning and/or hail one inch in diameter or greater. A bolt of lightning can carry 30,000 to 500,000 amps of electricity of 15 million to 125 million volts. An average lightning bolt is 3 to 5 miles long and anywhere from 1/2″ to 5” wide.

What you can do before a storm strikes:

  • Know the county you work in and the names of the nearby cities and towns. Severe weather warnings and statements are issued by county and reference major cities.
  • Watch for signs of an approaching thunderstorm, which may include darkening skies, a sudden wind shift and drop in temperature. Keep a battery-powered weather and/or AM/FM radio with you.

When thunderstorms approach, consider doing the following:

  • Remember the 30-30 lightning safety rule: seek safe shelter if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Even if you don’t see it, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning.
  • Wrap-up, pause or postpone outdoor work. Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Seek safe shelter inside a building or hard-topped vehicle (a car or truck). Heavy construction equipment with a Rollover Protection System, doors and windows is safe, but you should shut down the equipment and close the doors. Sit with your hands in your lap (don’t touch the metal) until the storm ceases. Rubber tires provide no additional protection from lightning; it is the metal vehicle body surrounding you that protects you.
  • Never get out of your vehicle or equipment if lightning is striking close by.
  • Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use. Use a corded phone only for emergencies.

What you should do during a thunderstorm:

  • If you are caught in the open, find a low area that is not near water. Stay away from trees, fences and water, as they attract lightning. Watch for flash flooding.
  • Remove your tool belt and don’t hold any objects in your hands. Avoid anything metal.
  • Crouch down with only the balls of your feet touching the ground. Do not lie on the ground, as current could flow through you, causing a heart attack, internal injuries and/or burns. Keep your head down and make yourself as small a target as possible.
  • Do not huddle in a group. Stay at least 15 feet away from others.

What to do if someone is struck by lightning:

  • Call 911 for medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Check the victim’s pulse and breathing. If both pulse and breathing are absent, CPR should be administered at once.
  • If the victim appears only stunned or otherwise unhurt, check for burns, especially at fingers and toes and next to buckles and jewelry.
  • Give first aid for shock and do not let the victim walk around.

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Attitude & Behavior – Major Causes of Accidents

Originally published April 18, 2017

There are potential hazards on any construction site. In many cases, whether or not we get hurt depends on how we approach these dangers and deal with them. To a certain extent, safety is instinctive. For example, we seem to be born with a fear of falling. In other instances, safety is not instinctive. It has to be learned and practiced. Why do some people ignore the dangers they’ve been warned about, while others take heed? The differences are EXPERIENCE and ATTITUDE.

In almost any operation, accidents caused by unsafe environmental conditions or mechanical failures tend to be easiest to control, at least potentially. However, human behavior – identified as a leading cause of accidents – is harder to manage. Everyone should be aware of the human factors that can contribute to an accident.

Ignorance. This condition may stem from lack of experience, the inability to recognize a hazard or lack of job training. Don’t guess or take chances. Ask questions, and be sure you understand your job and its dangers.

Daring. This type of worker believes he can beat the odds. Maybe he can, for a while. It’s like playing Russian roulette. Will you find the bullet on the first trigger pull or on the sixth? Some jobs are so full of danger they can be likened to having more than one bullet in the cylinder. In other words, in some conditions your odds of being hurt are greater. There are enough dangers in construction without taking extra chances.

Poor Work Habits. These sometimes come with familiarity, or they may begin on the first day of the job. Don’t become complacent just because you’ve been taking shortcuts and have been getting away with it. Set an example for the younger, less experienced worker.

Haste. We are all familiar with the adage, “Haste makes waste.” It’s true. An accident is always costlier than the value of the time saved. Not only can it result in medical bills, but there may also be damage to equipment, loss of production and other “hidden costs.” Work at a steady, efficient pace and work smart.

Physical Failure or Fatigue. Exhaustion can limit your concentration, coordination, eyesight and judgment. Pace yourself and get enough sleep when you have work to do. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Tests have shown the effects of these substances can last for days, even if you seem to feel fine.

Work smart and work safe. If you maintain a positive attitude toward safety, you’ll live longer and be better off in many ways.

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Jackhammers and Chipping Concrete

Originally published 04/11/2017

It is sometimes necessary in bridge and highway repair, to remove small amounts of concrete. Compact pneumatic chipping hammers (jackhammers) are often used to do the job. These compact battering rams pack a lot of punch, and they can be dangerous if not used properly. Here are some common-sense tips provided by tool manufacturers.

Dress Appropriately to Protect Yourself

  • Everyone in the area should always wear impact-resistant eye protection.
  • Depending on the situation, wear a facemask or respirator.
  • Wear a hardhat, especially if there is a risk from falling objects.
  • Wear adequate clothing that fits properly.
  • Wear proper hearing protection.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands and steel-tipped boots to protect your feet.
  • Set up screens to prevent nearby workers from being struck by flying fragments.

Inspect the Jackhammer and Tools Before Use

  • Carefully inspect the jackhammer for damage and make sure all controls and safety interlocks work properly.
  • Inspect air hose connections at the air compressor and the jackhammer for cracks, worn threads and loose couplings.
  • Inspect the safety clip or tool retainer for proper operation. This prevents the chisel/tool from being unintentionally shot from the barrel.
  • Check the chisel/tool for tightness of fit and excessive wear. Repair or replace when required, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Beware of Air Under Pressure

  • Never engage in horseplay with compressed air – it’s dangerous!
  • Always disconnect the tool when it is not in use or when you are changing accessories.
  • Never exceed the tool’s designated operating pressure.

Proceed With Caution

  • Always keep both hands on the tool.
  • Watch for excess lengths of the air hose, which can cause you to trip.
  • Never operate the tool without the chisel against the work surface.
  • Discontinue use if numbness, tingling, pain, or flushing of the skin occurs.
  • Prevent back injuries by using your leg muscles to lift the jackhammer into position.
  • Allow the tool to do the work by using a grip light enough to maintain control.
  • Always follow any special manufacturer instructions.

Work smart and work safe when using jackhammers or any other equipment on the jobsite.

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