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Construction Safety

In Construction, "It's Good Enough" Isn't

TJ Lyons | March 16, 2022

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These three words spell trouble on any construction site. "Enough" indicates it could be better (i.e., "We have enough soldiers for this battle" versus "We have more than enough to win"). Hearing "good enough" is both a warning and a gift.

Construction continues to kill good workers each year. Though we've seen progress in reducing fatal falls from height, we still allow unsafe conditions on our projects, often owing to the idea of "it's good enough." We can fix that.

Intimidation Is No Excuse

I used to have an inferiority complex with crane operators; these are the experts. Questioning them may result in my embarrassment. I got past this with experience, but this reluctance to question experts remains in place today. On a site visit, I once pointed out to a safety professional how dangerous the crane's footing was and made suggestions on what was needed. His answer was, "I doubt they will do that." What I heard was, "It's good enough," and chose not to answer. It was the right response, for immediately after, that uncomfortable silence drove the corrections.

Dangerous Crane Footing

Years ago, on the West Coast, I came across this crane and operator. Good guy, simple pick, one day at the site, and he and the crane would be done. This is the classic example of "It's good enough." The tiny cribbing used to provide additional height to level the crane is just one concern. Will it support the crane? Perhaps. When I asked the operator if he was okay with the setup, his answer was "Well, that's the only blocking on the truck." This excuse confirmed my fear—and that's the gift you must listen for.

We then discussed what I believed to be the following concerns.

  • The cribbing was too small for the load. Rather than spreading the weight of the crane across a wide area, it was concentrated on one specific point on the soil.
  • The general contractor (GC) had not supplied a safe, level foundation for the crane. In almost all cases, the design and installation of crane pads is the GC's responsibility.
  • The operator ignored the fact that the crane pad was not perfectly level as required.
  • Adding excessive cribbing to this front support introduced a tipping point at the front of the crane.
  • The cribbing itself was remarkable, a mix of 4 inches x 10 inches plank, 4 inches x 8 inches blocking, and he had inserted one 2 inches x 6 inches piece of soft-pine stud within this collection.
  • The overall height of the front support most likely exceeded the manufacturer's recommendation.

The conversation continued with me asking where he could get the correct cribbing. He acknowledged they had piles at the shop. After a second look at the setup, he called the shop, and in 3 hours, the right cribbing showed up and was installed. All from the gift of listening for "It's good enough."

Here's another example: I spotted this common attempt at rebar protection. The hazardous condition was either unrecognized or allowed for several weeks. The project manager asked why this was not adequate. I suggested that if you were to fall on this, the horizontal bar would slide down, and you're on the way to the emergency room. Placing my foot on the bar, it slid easily.

I have the pleasure of working on world-class projects where "It's good enough" rarely occurs. If you are in a buggy driving the site and someone spots an empty water bottle, you stop and pick it up. On the majority of construction sites, the driver would aim the tires for the bottle and continue on. The move from good enough to perfect is what we must focus on when planning and later inspecting a construction site.

Avoiding "It's Good Enough"

Here are some tips for using the "Good Enough" approach to make your sites safer.

  • When you hear "What do you think is wrong with it," you're looking at the right stuff. Remember, if it looks wrong, it is. Scaffolding is often erected with what's available—not what's needed.
  • Make sure to always look for those small things that might work but might fail. For example, one cable clamp on a wire rope when two is the minimum is not okay.
  • Ask the crane operator to go over how he inspects his machine. You will immediately see pride or indifference. But first, you must step up and ask.
  • Pose the tough questions we often avoid. If you are confident in the right answer to a technical question, ask the "expert" doing the work in the field. Again, a reluctance to ask pointed questions, in my opinion, has resulted in a skewed belief that anyone from crane operators to riggers know what they are doing. Often, they do not. With today's worker shortage, many foremen are now supervising without the skills or experience needed. Here are two tips to start these correcting conversations.
    • First, establish a relationship with your competent persons or experts on your project. Discuss why he is wearing a Red Sox hat and let him know you are a Yankees fan. What do they do for fun? If you approach them as a threat, you will fail. Remember, those you meet are doing the best that they can and that work reflects how they have been trained. Often, knowledge is passed down from others. That tribal knowledge helps and hurts safety.
    • As you walk the site, let the workers know a big part of your job is to keep them out of trouble, and they will listen a bit closer to what you have to say. Slide some specific questions into the conversation as you walk. These should be easy for a professional or expert to answer. Some of my favorites are below.

Plumbers or Fitters (There Is a Big Difference)

What does MAPP gas actually stand for?

Acetylene—heavier or lighter than air?

How far should you open an acetylene cylinder valve?

How do you typically do your hot work permit?

Will you need a fire watch? If so, for how long?

Why can't you lay an acetylene cylinder on its side?

Carpenters, Formers, or Framers

Ladders or lifts to do your work? What's better? Why?

What worries you most when using a nail gun?

When do you need fall protection?

Can you use sneakers on a roof?

When roofing, how do you keep from falling off?

When you use torches to apply roofing, how long is the fire watch?

Masons and Concrete

How heavy is the biggest thing you will physically lift alone?

Will silica be a concern when you are working?

Is carbon monoxide heavier or lighter than air?

What is the maximum load you can put on your scaffold?

Do scaffold planks need to be stamped?

How close can you get to a power line with that concrete pump truck?


Have you ever been electrocuted?

If someone is shocked, does he need to go to the hospital?

NFPA 70E—does that apply to your work?

Hot work, do you do that often?

Mechanical Trades

Will you need to use gloves?

If you have to extend duct lifts, how do you do that? What's the maximum weight?

What is the heaviest thing you will need to lift?

How close can you place your materials near a shaft?

Crane Operators

How close to level does the ground under a crane need to be?

If you hear thunder or see lightning, what does your team do?

When it's windy, when do you stop and see if that's a good idea to continue?

When do you decide to toss out worn nylon slings?

How close can you get to an overhead power line with a crane, rigging, or load or rail line?


Nice slope—did you choose type 1 or 2 soil?

Good berm along the haul road to protect the edge—how high does that dirt need to be?

Nice crane setup—how close can you get an outrigger to the edge of the cut?

(For the right answers, drop me a line.)


In summary, safety professionals need to get past the reluctance to question the experts. Accomplish that and lives will be saved. Here are a few more tips.

  • When you hear that something is good enough, listen closely.
  • If what you see as unsafe is okay with someone else, talk it through because it's not.
  • Always consider how you will answer in a deposition. If your reply is, "I thought it was good enough" or "It's a common industry practice" or "I assumed the operator was an expert," you will fail.
  • Grab a 4x8 sheet of plywood and stand that up in the break areas. Show what right and wrong look like: where to and where not to anchor a lifeline, one wire-rope clip upside down on a wire rope, standard prescription glasses with slide-on side shield, double-headed nails on a handrail, and, of course, using rebar to protect you from rebar. This will help eliminate the good enough question.
  • Take this "right and wrong" board and use it as the central topic for toolbox talks. Many workers simply do not know the difference. You can help with that..
  • Establish a "good enough" program on your site. When anyone sees something that IS NOT "good enough," reward and recognize them.

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