A clear expectation was set, my focus areas were clear, and the approach
is still in use today. There is great value in this best practice—challenging
teams to develop their own lists reveals what is important to them and to others.
Asking pointed questions is a critical element to the effort and provides
an opportunity to test your teams. If the conversation becomes uncomfortable,
then you have asked the right question. Alice Hamilton, regarded as the mother
of industrial hygiene, reflected on a friend's approach to honesty in conversation:
Julia Lathrop never roused one to a fighting pitch, but then
fighting was not her method. (Nor was it mine. I have always hated conflict
of any kind, but with me this led to cowardice, to shirking unpleasantness.
Never with her.) She taught me a much-needed lesson, that harmony and peaceful
relations with one's adversary were not in themselves of value, only if they
went with a steady pushing of what one was trying to achieve.
So often, when I have succeeded in breaking down the hostility
of an employer and in establishing a friendly relation with him, I have been
tempted to let it go at that, to depart without risking unpleasantness. Then
I have remembered Julia Lathrop and have forced myself to say the unpleasant
things which had to be said.
Exploring the Dangerous Trades, Alice
Following are real examples and case histories illustrating the need for
pointed questions and preparation to provide clear, helpful, and doable answers
#1 Why Does This Condition Exist?
Every safety professional must keep in mind, once searched for, these conditions
do not go away for they are a symptom of a system
in failure. For example, you can still find a large crane, operating, missing
its anti-two block. This critical device was overlooked because the operating
system for the crane readiness was weak. When one of your "Top" items is found,
you must go back to why it was missed and share that with everyone. One fundamental
concern is the tendency to "get past" a condition when it's found, when in fact
this is a huge opportunity for elimination of the hazard and to tighten the
Figure 1: Crane With Anti-Two-Block Installed
#2 Did You Look Overhead?
The Underground Facilities Protection Organizations (UFPO) has a fantastic system operating across the United States. This UFPO number has a one-call center (811 remarking guys) where anyone can call and request remarking of utilities that might lie underground. Countless lives have been saved by this utility funded organization; however, though the underground utilities are marked out in colorful paints, you must also look up when walking your projects, looking for hazards that are just as deadly. This crew is "picking" directly under these armed hazards. This type of risk taking should be criminal.
Figure 2: Picking under Utility Lines
#3 Did You Look under Your Feet?
As important as what's overhead is what is under your feet. Having investigated
over 46 utility strikes, I used to scoff at the cost (about $2,300) to repair
a simple service line to a home struck by one of our backhoes. I would watch
the utility crew at work with their fire-suits and one fellow standing by with
a fire extinguisher and shake my head at the bill that was coming. Until one
day when I read that such a crew had died while trying to fix a similar break
in another town. From then on, I was scared to death when the call came in that
we had hit a gas line. When the incident was downplayed—"It was just a service
line" or "It's a low-pressure line … no worries," I worried even more since
the crew in the field did not understand that what they did, or didn't do, could
kill good people.
Use the 811 system, use it religiously, and if you are ever unsure of what
the underground world has in store, take a "Pause for the Cause" and get back
out there to check it out.
#4 Why Did the Lights Go Out? What Now?
A great test of emergency readiness at a project is to put the superintendent
in the basement of his building and say, "Someone just hit the pole out front
of the building, and the lights are out for a couple of hours. You have 60 nice
workers down here that need to find their way out. What is the plan?"
If you are renovating a movie theater (never a window) or doing "bottom-up"
construction in the Northeast, you must plan for emergency lighting. A simple
fix is battery-powered exit lights that can be installed as the work proceeds.
These range from $23 to $65, and is money well spent. A project manager once
commented that on his job, the lights in the basement went out, and the only
guy with a flashlight led crews of five at a time out of the building. He soon
heard from the other 40 workers who had to wait.
#5 How Fast Can Someone Get a Fire Extinguisher and Bring It Back?
Firefighters are taught a that fire doubles in size each minute it is not
extinguished, so having a charged fire extinguisher (FE) close by is critical.
Take a walk across your site with the safety manager, superintendent, shop steward,
and foreman. When you wander into an area where you do not see a FE, simply
look at your watch and mention to no one in particular, "I just spotted a fire!
Go get an extinguisher!" Someone is bound to ask "Now?" So take the time to
nod, and work on your listening skills. You should expect a charged can to return
within 19 seconds. Why 19 seconds? Because if you walk fast you can cover 34.5'
(typical maximum distance between fire extinguishers is 75') and return. The
point is to ensure FEs are easily seen and placed in a location like the top
of a stairwell or elevator lobby so anyone can find one fast.
#6 Ask "If He Falls and His Gear Works, How Do You Get Him Down?"
Consider the fellow in the photo in Figure 3. His ladder gave him access to the area (he was installing a lightning rod) but if he fell to the outside, he would be 17-floors up and have to hang there until he lost both his legs from lack of circulation—that is, if someone saw him fall. There may be few questions more important to ask than this one.
Figure 3: Danger: Falling on the Opposite Side of the Wall, Where the Ladder Isn't
#7 "Hey, You on the Roof! Do You Know the Building Is on Fire?"
You should be scared of two things when buildings are under construction:
fire and wind. Both have the capacity to kill good people, damage the palaces
we build, and hurt people we do not know. Granted, many fires start on roofs,
but there are plenty of examples where fire starts in the lower levels of a
building, and fire always goes up. How do
you let the people on the roof know of the danger? Yell up to the workers to
stop the work and come down. Work your way to the roof and test that emergency
plan, and you will see how ineffective that tactic can be. Many firms are now
installing annunciators at all levels of the building so when the alarm sounds
in the basement, everyone know there is trouble everywhere.
#8 Ask a Rigger and the Crane Operator before the Lift, "How Much Does that
Many safety professionals have a misplaced deference to competent persons.
Until competency is proven, the danger of the "taxicab" mentality is present.
When you jump into a cab, you expect that the driver will be sober, licensed,
and knowledgeable of the traffic laws and area. We never ask; we trust.
The best gauge of professionals working on a crane crew is the set up: solid
dunnage and outriggers fully deployed and on a solid surface. If these fundamentals
are not met, stop the work.
Figure 4: Crane Outrigger on Uneven Surface
Then ask the two most valuable people responsible for the most dangerous
piece of equipment on your site, "How much does that weigh?" If the rigger and
operator point to the boss, at each other, or appear unsure at any point, get
a new crew. If a crew is unsure of what they are lifting, then they are used
to taking risks. If the answers are honest, complete, and accurate, thank them
and explain why you asked.
#9 Are All Accidents/Incidents Avoidable?
One the best life lessons I ever learned, I had to watch. A top safety engineer,
working for the owner, asked my safety director "Do you think all incidents
are preventable?" My guy answered, "Well, we might get cuts and bruises, but
it's construction." I had to replace him the next day, and took over the job
for several months. In retrospect, that's like telling the young man who picks
up your daughter for her first date to "be as careful with her as you can."
If someone, in particular a manager of risk, does not believe any work can be
done safely, you have a significant weakness in your system.
#10 "Is the Temporary Fire Riser (Standpipe) Working?"
With the exception of the crane incidents in the United States several years
ago, few events have put safety managers on the spot like the 2007 firefighter
deaths in New York City. It is alleged that, unknown to a city fire crew, a
temporary riser for fire hoses had been disconnected so when they tried to fight
a fire on a construction site in a 41-story building, disaster struck.
4 indicted in deaths of New York
Negligence alleged in fatal blaze
at ground zero tower
December 23, 2008|By Associated Press
New York—Three construction supervisors and a subcontractor
were indicted Monday on manslaughter charges in the 2007 deaths of two firefighters
at a skyscraper that once housed Deutsche Bank at the 9/11 ground zero, but
the city was not charged in the firefighters' deaths.
I have asked this question many times in many states since, and received
answers ranging from:
"The fire company comes by each month and walks the system."
"Test the standpipe? We have to do that?"
"Can't test it—the water would freeze up over the winter."
"Actually it's always under pressure, and if somehow we lose
pressure, my pager goes off."
While protecting a building under construction is important, it's just as
important—or more so—to protect the firefighters who help in the event of a
fire or disaster. Due to the Deutsche Bank fire described above, the issue of
personal accountability and responsibility has taken the forefront in fire prevention
when it involves temporary protection, e.g., fire standpipes or exit routes.
Everyone should be familiar with the circumstance of this fire.
If you should ask this question during an audit (and it would be difficult
to defend why you did not), and there is no system to confirm the standpipe
is intact, stop the work and get it squared away. It is that critical to you,
your firm, and some good firefighters. There are systems on the market or ones
that can be designed to keep this system available so the fire guys can "put
the wet stuff on the red stuff." For a better understanding, go to
Local Laws of the City of New York.
If someone notes that it is not yet code in the area, consider the implication
of not making the correction. Precedent has been set, and not to install hazard
prevention system that is well recognized for being effective is indefensible
and will likely be seen as negligent.
Figure 5: Inadequate Pressure in Standpipe System
Finally, it is important to "Show and Tell" what you learned on your inspection.
I suspect if you asked 100 site engineers and superintends what an anti-two
block (ATB) is, perhaps 40 percent would know. Telling someone what an ATB looks
like is like eating grapes in the dark and just as dangerous. My challenge to
you is to develop your own Top 10 and have your site superintendents craft the
same. Like people who have a taste for country music, it is hard to understand,
but you must recognize we all hum different tunes. A superintendent's focus
is critical for a site safety coordinator to know, and this is a great way to
understand what he looks for. And remember, if you can use a photo or better
yet the actual device (like a tattered lifting strap) takes advantage of that.
Share your list with your insurer so it can support or add to your focus. I
once had a team of great people put together a preplanning guide, and they had
inserted example photos next to the item that was being discussed. A manager
removed all these photos before allowing the document to be released. The result
was very few used it.
And do remember to drill down to the cause that allowed the hazard or danger
to exist. A safety friend of mine once spent the better part of his year planning
out a project to ensure hazards were eliminated and all efforts were exhausted
to prevent any incident. The job was completed with a perfect record, a very
happy client, and a safety manager who decided to take what he had learned and
share it at a professional conference. But when he asked his manager for approval,
the response was "Don't you have something new to present?" A huge opportunity
to learn and share success was lost, and this guy's motivation dissipated. This
is because the manager wanted to simply "get past something learned," and not
drill down to the cause—and that limits success.
Sharing of best practices is one of the nine top elements that successful
firms incorporate into their safety efforts. If you are curious about the other
eight, just drop me a line.