Safety Lessons

 SAFETY ED PIC 1A safety manager shares what he has learned on the job.   

By Charlie Crofford

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’ve been lucky. Twice in my career spanning nearly 40 years, I have been called on to a jobsite the day after someone has lost his or her life. I have seen people fall, structures collapse and powerful tools malfunction. I was around during a time when the letters O-S-H-A didn’t carry a whole lot of weight as the organization was in its infancy.

Thanks to these experiences, I have developed a heightened sense of awareness on each job site I enter, a keen eye for what’s going right and what could go horribly wrong, and can speak personally about the importance of emphasizing a safe work environment. Here are a few things I have learned along the way.

People Really Do Die On The Job

As a younger man, I never really thought about hazards on the job. As long as I had my hard hat, I felt pretty confident I was going home safely at night. However, deaths do happen, now to the tune of more than 4,000 people per year according to OSHA’s most recent statistics.

Every time I enter a job site, I ask myself the question, “What could hurt or kill someone?” I go through a checklist that includes identifying visible dangers, including things that could cause puncture, fall or crush risks. I notify my crew of hidden dangers, such as electrical services, natural gas lines, storage tanks and soil contaminants. Finally, I consider the safety of anyone else who may enter the job site including engineers, property owners and even journalists. I make sure they have the proper PPE, know where emergency information is located and are well aware of the risk they are taking walking on to a jobsite.

Technology Benefits and Risks

OSHA estimates that before its creation in the 1970s that nearly 14,000 people were killed on the job each year. Why? If a construction worker needed to get higher, their only options were scaffolding or using taller ladders. The only safe guards on power tools were the plugs and on and off switches. Thankfully, technology has come a long ways. Boom and scissor lifts allow us to reach higher than ever before and advanced tools can detect danger and shut themselves off. 

With that said, one piece of equipment, while valuable in emergency situations makes me cringe when I see it on the job site: The cell phone. In an industry where you work daily with materials that can crush, bend, break and electrocute you, we simply can’t afford distractions. Call me old school, but I’m tough on people who use them liberally on the jobsite. Distraction is one of our No. 1 enemies. Make sure the phones are locked away.

Common Sense

Have you ever seen someone remove the safeguards from their power tools to cut or drill just a little bit further? How about climb a latter near the edge of a building to reach a little bit higher? 

Ultimately, a construction worker or safety manager can be their own biggest ally, while being their greatest danger as well.  It is critical in this industry that we all work together and look out for each other to avoid catastrophes. See someone working in a non-safe manner? Call them out on it. Is an employee not sure about a rule or regulation? Break out the OSHA handbook. We all fail if someone doesn’t go home safely at the end of the day.

A Commitment From The Top

Virtually every company says it is committed to safety above all else but doesn’t always live up to it. If safety truly matters, your company’s top execs need to play a role in showing just how much. 

As a safety manager, nothing means more to me than support from my superiors. I appreciate knowing that if I have to discipline or come down on an employee for a violation, that the company is going to have my back. Furthermore, I need to know that the company is going to invest the time and resources to making sure employees know how to perform their jobs safely.

Incentives also can be an effective way to establish a culture of safety and it doesn’t always need to include bonuses. Sometimes, simple recognition like end of the year awards or certificates for safe employees can emphasize to them that they’re doing their jobs correctly, and people are noticing.

Safety Information and Equipment 

If you have to dig in order to know at what height fall protection equipment is required for example, you’re more likely to be relaxed about it. Get too comfortable with safety regulations and you open yourself up to fines from OSHA and worse, workplace accidents.

Every time I am on the job site, I carry a 4X6 card full of safety rules and regulations. It includes rules for everything from scaffolds, to electrical, and of course, standards for fall protection, material handling, etc. I also make sure I have on-site a tub full of everything needed to keep a job site safe. This box includes things like emergency PPE equipment, a first aid kit, OSHA labor law posters, and a flash drive full of safety and OSHA manuals.

Not once in my four decades on the job have I heard someone say, “I was too safe today” or “Man, I wish I wouldn’t have known that rule.” In an industry where danger surrounds us, I choose the safe route. Safety is no accident. 

Charlie Crofford is the safety manager at C1S Group, an engineering and construction firm based in Dallas. Prior to this role, he served as a construction superintendent for the company for several years and has earned his Procore Certification. He has nearly 40 years of experience on the job site in the mechanical, industrial and construction fields.


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