Skip to Content
Construction Safety

Construction Safety Best Practices

TJ Lyons | December 1, 2014

On This Page
Conference-people listening to a presentation--presenter

I don't attend the IRMI Construction Risk Conference every year, but when I do, I learn. This year, I had the pleasure of hosting one of the Construction Café tables with the topic "Best Practices in Construction Safety—Bring One, Gather Many," sponsored by Zurich.

I promised those attending to take their best practices and pass them around. I hope you will as well. We also spoke about the best way to share a best practice, and the idea of additional provision in contracts came up. We agreed that effective and practical safety interventions can be included in the contract so contractors will need to follow their clients' best practices and lessons learned. I have collected these for many years and have shared those as well.

Best Practices Offered

  • Workers should never attach both ends of a double-ended lanyard at the same level, for the shock absorbers may not deploy as engineered. You should always read the manufacturer's instructions for correct use.
  • Use a stair tower to a roof rather than a ladder for long-term work. Safer and much faster than a ladder, these increase the efficiency of the work and eliminate the common and difficult use of long ladders to an open-sided roof.
  • One participant shared a near miss in which a loose metal grated walkway fell through the opening, allowing a worker to fall through. The grates had been removed to access equipment below and were replaced without the restraining clips reinstalled. Because it was difficult to inspect these retaining clips (same color as the grate), the owner recognized the need for a best practice and painted every retaining clip in the building yellow so they could easily be seen in an inspection.
  • When a late injury report was recorded to the general contractor (GC) from the subcontractor, it was discovered that someone other than the GC's claims manager had been made aware of the incident but did not share that information with the claims manager. To avoid a concern over later reporting or multiple reporting, make sure only the claims manager records the claim or potential for a claim and only the claims manager contacts the insurer.
  • When pulling over on a highway, always exit from the curbside door, regardless of traffic volume. This provides a barrier to the occupants. Also, when strapping a load in the yard, always put the binders on the curbside so if you need to stop and tighten—you are out of traffic! Love that one.
  • When installing temporary doors in a building under construction, put a section of Plexiglas in the middle of the door to allow light to pass into the space and workers to see who may be on the other side of the door before they swing it open.
  • When installing a ladder to a higher level, always put a corral on the top so workers who need to negotiate the path to the ladder do not walk off the roof by the ladder. Of course, a stair tower eliminates that threat.
  • Always tape soft wood wedges in common areas when working near active or wet sprinkler heads. If the head breaks, you can stick the wedge (upside down) into the head to stop the flow quickly.
  • Cranes that come with polarized windows may not allow the operator to see overhead power lines. If lines are in the area, the operator may consider swinging into that deadly area because he or she cannot not see the hazard. See the photo and contact me for more details.
  • It was suggested to use the dense blue construction foam for infill on temporary stair pans. They are rugged enough for short-term use and easy to trim for a close fit.

The Power of Additional Provisions

Following are the additional provisions I have collected and shared this year at IRMI. These are a practical approach for the work that may (or may not) fit your organization. Most are based on someone's past misfortune, allowing you to eliminate that hazard from your work site. These have been collected from over a decade of work from my projects or shared by others. I recommend looking at each one closely before deciding to use, for many make real sense for those companies that care—for example, the idea of buying a saw that stops before cutting off someone's finger. Simple. Contact me with your additions at [email protected].

Provision Description
Crane Safety All mobile cranes and similar equipment such as concrete pumping trucks must have manufactured or engineered pads for supporting the crane outriggers and floats. Individual pieces of dunnage are not acceptable with the exception of connected timber for crawler equipment.
Electrical Safety During construction, this contractor must have all energized switches and outlets covered with wall plates prior to energizing these circuits.
Environmental The contractor is to provide information on how it will handle and dispose of cutting oil/pipe threads prior to mobilization. It will be treated as hazardous waste.
Environmental Engineering controls shall be in place so no visible dust is generated by any stone cutting, slab cutting, or similar operation, either tabletop or site related. Respirators will not be allowed for worker protection in lieu of dust elimination or supression.
Environmental—Worker Exposure This contractor shall include in its price the cost for testing, both personal and perimeter, any potential hazardous or nuisance substance (i.e., intumescent paint or two-part epoxy paint) that may be used in the workplace having the potential to create an exposure to those working with the material or others in the area. The one-time testing will verify adequacy of ventilation and other controls for the safety of workers and others and will be completed the first day of the actual application.
Environmental—Worker Exposure This contractor must provide a means of exhausting fumes created by internal combustion engines within enclosed areas. While using fueled equipment indoors, this contractor must provide adequate fume relief to surrounding trades within the area. The calculation or design for the ventilation controls is to be submitted to the GC for review at least 10 days prior to the installation of any system. The contractor must provide air monitoring by a qualified person to ensure that the air quality is acceptable on the first day of the work. Air monitoring results must be documented daily thereafter, indicating the date, time, location, and what was measured, and those results posted.
Environmental—Worker Exposure All sanding of drywall will be completed using a commercially available dust capture system, regardless of the amount of sanding to be done.
Equipment Guarding All temporary cable winches, capstans, or hoists must have the wire way pinch points protected with a guard to eliminate entanglement/entrapment into a sheave or the drum by contact with the cable.
Fall Prevention—Access Including Material Access Prefabricated stairs or stair towers are to be used in lieu of job-made or extension ladders. The contractor shall provide at least two means of temporary of access to all levels and floors until permanent stairways have been installed. Job-made or extension ladders for access are not allowed. The contractor will be required to make safe openings in the existing perimeter railing system, ensuring that no gaps exist between the existing rails and the access system, and any gate installed must only swing inward.
Fall Prevention—Ladders If ladders are used to access platforms (not working levels), they shall have manufacturer-approved extensions to allow "pass-through" or meet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act requirement of three-foot extension above a transition point.
Fall Prevention—Ladders Contractors shall participate in the "Ladders Last" program. The intent of this program is the minimization of work from ladders. Any/all work from ladders requires a formal evaluation of need. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hierarchy of control will be considered when conducting work from elevated platforms (scaffolds, scissor lifts, engineered platforms, or lift trucks) in lieu of ladders. Platform ladders will be considered only in unique conditions. Temporary stairs, not ladders, shall be used for floor-to-floor access. Wooden (job-built) and aluminum ladders are prohibited.
Fall Prevention—Ladders Last Use of A-frame ladders is to be minimized. Platform or pulpit ladders or mobile elevated work platforms are required. Conventional A-frame ladders are only to be utilized (and must be approved) after the subcontractor has proven that a mobile elevated work platform or pulpit/platform ladder cannot be used.
Fall Prevention—Mobile Elevated Work Platforms At a minimum, employees shall follow the manufacturer's recommendations for fall prevention when working from mobile elevated work platforms. If scissor lifts are equipped with an attachment point provided by the manufacturer for a restraint system, they are to be used. The intent of this protection is to keep workers within the confines of the passive protective system (rails) so the shortest length of lanyard that allows the task to be completed and keep the worker confined to the walking/working surface (i.e., 3–4 foot lanyard) is required.
Fall Prevention—Pedestrian Protection All site fencing along a sidewalk or other recognized walkway either shall be driven into the ground or will be self-supporting. Fence bases that project into adjacent walking surfaces are not allowed.
Fall Prevention—Skylights In the event the contractor must work on a roof or similar exposure, it is required to first guard all existing skylights to prevent falls. If new skylights are installed or replaced, they must be designed to support a person's weight according to a national standard.
Fall Prevention—System Caution or danger tapes shall not be considered as acceptable barriers or warning to any fall hazard.
Fall Prevention—System Where fall protection is required, it will be the subcontractor's responsibility to first try to utilize a retractable or other fall arrest system limiting fall distance to two feet.
Fall Prevention—System "Safe-T-Strap" system or other equivalent engineered anchorage points must be provided by this contractor (one every 20 feet) along the perimeter of any new building and at all interior shafts, all atrium locations, and hoist ways. Contractor will remove at the project completion.
Fall Prevention—System In the event this contractor is to provide rubbish removal chutes, fall protection will be provided within six feet of a chute's access and a means to close and secure (lock) the chute and dumpster provided at each access level when not in use.
Fall Prevention—System Passive protection such as elevated work platforms, barriers, etc., are allowed and expected where feasible in lieu of conventional fall arrest systems. The trigger height is six feet above a lower level. Engineering controls shall be utilized prior to use of fall protection systems based on the hierarchy of control determined by the USACE. Railing will be installed on any platform immediately—regardless of height from a lower level. Exterior scaffolding will exceed the highest point of the roofline, peak, or final parapet height by one level.
Fall Prevention—Walking Surfaces The subcontractor is required to elevate all power cords from any walking or working surface to minimize tripping hazards.
Fall Prevention—Walking Surfaces All areas of rebar that must be crossed by any trade will be covered with a path of suitable material four feet in width and the full length of the mat to an adequate walking surface.
Fall Prevention—Walking Surfaces Where a smaller hole or penetration will be made in a floor, that opening shall be formed with an inset to install a ¾ inch plywood cover (minimum) in the opening flush with the walking surface or the hole protected with a manufactured cover designed for that purpose.
Fall Protection—Access Stair towers or internal stairs are required for scaffolds exceeding one level. Fall protection must be provided at all scaffold-loading points by temporary gates, offset guardrails, or other means to eliminate the fall hazard.
Fall Protection—System With respect to fall protection, if scaffolding is to be used for a fall anchorage, the scaffold manufacturer will need to provide documentation certifying conditions and terms for using scaffold structure as specifying anchorage point. Fall prevention/protection must be used when servicing or operating mortar silos.
Fire Prevention—Temporary Enclosure Job shanties shall be constructed in accordance with 29 CR 1926.151 (b) with the addition of at least two sprinkler-type portable fire extinguishers installed.
Fire Prevention—Temporary Enclosure Per National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101, "Only flame-resistant tarpaulins or materials of similar fire-retardant characteristics [will] be used. If temporary enclosure(s) are required, metal or fire-retardant-treated wood forms spaced about every 4ft (1.2m) should be used to support that material. The enclosure materials should be securely fastened to prevent contact with heaters or other sources of ignition. Fabric or plastic film [will] meet the requirements of NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame-Resistant Textiles and Films. Tarps and fabrics must be obviously marked by the manufacturer as fire retardant or that information available where the material is in use."
The "Get Bent" approach will be incorporated into the design of the building to eliminate impalement hazards using candy cane or right angle terminations.
Housekeeping—Waste Material "Nothing hits the ground." All debris generated during a day's work shall be placed directly into containers on the same day as created to maintain good housekeeping conditions. No debris when generated by a task shall accumulate on any surface and instead will be placed or directed into suitable, contractor-supplied containers immediately. This includes waste packing materials.
Incident and Injury Prevention The subcontractor shall hold daily job hazard analysis/pre-task meetings to discuss the work to be performed that day and the safety requirements of that task. The discussion must include the elements of the activity hazard assessment for that work. These meetings shall be coordinated by the job foreman and shall be attended by all personnel employed by the subcontractor. The discussion will be presented by a different team member each day. Meeting subject(s) shall be documented and shall be signed by all in attendance. These pre-shift meetings may be monitored by GC personnel or the client.
Incident and Injury Prevention Contractor management (not site staff) shall conduct a minimum of one safety inspection per month, submitting written results to the GC project manager within 24 hours.
Material Handling All material lay-down areas must be coordinated and designated by the GC to promote mobility of staged material. Pipes, conduits, metal fabrications, and steel framing are to be stored on rolling racks, bins, or similar means. Bulk material will be palletized or put in bins to allow for easy mobility using a pallet jack or wheeled device.
Material Handling "Just-in-time" delivery is required to minimize clutter. Nothing should be stored in any area that cannot be installed within 5 days. Heavy material, such as glass and drywall, must be staged so as not to overload the structure. The subcontractor is required to do a floor loading analysis for submission to the GC for review and approval. The capacity of floors shall be posted or floor marked by the contractors where their materials are to be staged.
Material Handling—Equipment Operation Free-rigging (rigging below the tines of a Lull or like vehicle) is not allowed on this project unless the rigging is acceptable to the manufacturer and that approval submitted for GC review.
Material Handling—Falling Objects Material may not be stored within 10 feet of the building perimeter or adjacent to any shafts or stairwells.
Material Handling—Workstations All material fabrication shall be performed at a work station between 30 and 39 inches off the floor. Work stations shall be mobile and include a fire stop directly behind all spark-producing chop saws. Contractor-supplied debris and scrap containers shall be wheeled and located directly at the workstations.
Scaffolds and Elevated Work Platforms All scaffolds, regardless of height, shall have top and midrail installed prior to use. Toe boards are required if the working height is six feet or greater or someone will be working or passing underneath. This includes "Baker" and "Perry" scaffolds. Wire is never to be used for a connection.
Scaffolds and Elevated Work Platforms All scaffolds, regardless of height, require documented inspection each shift—prior to use. Scafftag® or equivalent shall be used to document scaffold inspection.
Scaffolds and Elevated Work Platforms In the event the GC provides a scaffold for use by multiple trades, all trades shall conduct an independent inspection by that contractor's scaffold competent person each shift prior to use and sign off on its acceptability.
Site Work—Excavation This contractor shall excavate all trenches assuming all soil to be Type C unless another type can be confirmed. Also required is the justification for conventional excavation when portable shields are not used. This contractor will be responsible to furnish, install, maintain, and remove fall protection or barriers at the top of all trenches or excavations that create fall exposures in heights of six feet or greater.
Site Work—Underground Hazards The penetrating contractor for any activity shall verify the presence of all existing underground utilities that may be affected by their work regardless of the project's location in the United States. For areas not covered by "811," this contractor shall use an independent contractor or local source of this information to identify location and depth of all existing underground utilities within all areas of excavation or disturbance. This contractor shall transfer this information onto a posted drawing immediately after the survey to retain this information and make available for all contractors.
Struck by—Hand Protection Anyone entering the project site including visitors will wear protective gloves. All gloves selected for use shall be cut-resistant and suitable for the specific task or hazard. If there is a hazard to wearing gloves (such as during drilling operations), relief from wearing such protection can be requested in writing.
Struck by—PPE Every on-site employee is required to wear a Class II American National Standards Institute high-visibility vest; brightly colored shirts are not allowed unless Class II compliant.
Struck by Prevention Hot roof tar applications shall use an electric kettle complete with a fume recovery system.
Struck by Prevention—Equipment All equipment shall have a windshield of material prescribed by the manufacturer. Excavator cab windshields must be protected with both a suitable cage covering and safety glass (per equipment manufacturer) when the excavator is used in conjunction with a hoe ram or other material breaking/shear attachments.
Struck by Prevention—Equipment All powered industrial trucks (rough terrain) must be designed so the operator can see to the left and the right.
Struck by Prevention—Hand Tools
  • All hand tools shall be operated in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and free of modification.
  • Cordless power tools are required unless the subcontractor can demonstrate a hardship or need to use tools with power cords and that request for relief is presented in writing.
  • All guards shall be in place. Employees modifying or using modified equipment shall be denied access to the site.
  • "Lock-on" switches are prohibited.
  • If operation of a drill or like device requires the addition of a torque handle (like a hammer drill), it shall be used.
  • If someone is discovered using a tool on which the switch has been tampered with, he or she will be removed from the site for the balance of that day and the next workday.
Struck by Prevention—Impalement Protective covering will be placed on exposed rebar, anchor bolts, and any other like projection that presents an impalement hazard unless they are four inches or more in any dimension or a candy cane termination is used.
Struck by Prevention—Table Saws Contractor must utilize the SawStop© table saw for all table cutting operations. If SawStop© table saws are not available for purchase, any brand of table saw with comparative safety technology will suffice. Additionally, all table saws must be equipped with guards at all times, and operators will utilize "push sticks." The use of a sensing device is required that will disable power to the saw, router, or similar equipment should the source of power fail to prevent unexpected energization of an unattended device.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.