Propeller Asks: What New Safety Practices Have You Introduced On Site Recently?

A quick note on this initiative: 

Propeller Asks is our monthly blog series in which we ask our customers and subscribers one timely question relevant to construction and earthworks, and share some of their responses here. Our goal is to take the pulse of the industry, and hopefully learn a thing or two from one another.

Read on to find out what people are saying.

In a recent survey of earthwork professionals, when we asked about workers’ motivating factors, one of the most popular answers we received was “staying safe.”

But we didn’t need a survey to know that the foremen, site managers, and everyone else responsible for managing personnel on site take the safety of their employees extremely seriously. Carefully adhering to established safety protocols and initiating new measures as they become relevant are as important to them, if not more so, than the success of a project.

Knowing this, we decided to use this month’s Propeller Asks blog post to ask our customers:

What new safety measures have you introduced on site in the past year?

The answers we received covered several areas, but it should come as no surprise that when asked about recently implemented safety protocols, the topic of COVID-19 came up quite a bit. 

In fact, 80% of respondents mentioned coronavirus avoidance as part of their response. (You can read more about the impact COVID-19 has had on the earthwork industry in last month’s Propeller Asks post.)

Drone operator

Another pattern in the answers we received—which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering we polled our own customers and subscribers—was the mention of their initiating a drone program on site

Not only are drones being used to keep surveyors from manually traversing difficult terrain and away from busy, active spaces, but the 3D maps generated from these surveys are being used to mark hazardous areas, and to measure things like berm heights and road grades, which are crucial to worksite safety.

Safety nad Drones

And while we’re talking Propeller and safety, be sure to check out our newest Propeller Platform add-on, Crew. Among other benefits, it gives workers out in the field the power to check for nearby utility lines while they work.    

Here are the five most frequently cited safety practices mentioned by our respondents:

1. Facemasks and newer, better PPE

Ensuring workers have the best—and best fitted—personal protective equipment (PPE) available is one of the most basic strategies for establishing worksite safety. Every crew should be armed with an ample and effective supply of hardhats, safety goggles, protective shields, gloves, and more.

construction worker with mask

And while masks and respirators that prevent the inhalation of hazardous materials were already commonplace prior to the pandemic, many contractors are now requiring workers to wear cloth face coverings at all times, or at least when coming within six feet away from other workers is unavoidable.

“The focus on face masks during down times has actually resulted in us spending more time reminding everyone of when they should be using other PPE,” one superintendant told us. “Silver lining, I guess.”

2. Social distancing

Most of the talk in the media around social distancing at work has been focused on offices and other indoor spaces, but maintaining a six-foot distance between workers on worksites has proven to be equally challenging. 

“COVID-19 has had a massive impact in the way we do things on site, from paperwork to physical work,” said one site manager. “The most difficult part is the social distancing, especially where heavy objects need a two-man lift. These can no longer be done, so we have had to adapt our techniques.”

The CDC recommends limiting the number of workers in more confined spaces like job site elevators, trailers, and vehicles.

Of course, sustaining that safe distance between all workers, every minute of the day, is a difficult feat for even the most vigilant work sites. It’s for that reason that cloth masks have been emphasized as an extra layer of protection.

While there have been developments in proximity alert and contact tracing technology for construction workers and other manual laborers, implementation—at least based on our survey results—is a while away.  

3. ABD: Always Be Disinfecting

First, some good news: It’s becoming increasingly clear that the coronavirus does not spread easily through contact with contaminated surfaces. Workers are far more likely to contract the virus from person-to-person contact or from being in the same enclosed space as someone with the virus. 

However, that does not mean we should all stop washing or hands—or stop disinfecting commonly touched objects and surfaces. The CDC recommends wiping down “shared tools, machines, vehicles and other equipment,” as well as “handrails, ladders, doorknobs, and portable toilets” at the beginning and end of every shift, as well as immediately after use. 

Another common practice recommended by the CDC is the limitation of tool-sharing throughout the day. It’s impractical to expect every surface to get wiped down after every use, but restricting who can use a single tool or piece of equipment each day is more reasonable.   

4. Temperature checks

“Fit for duty” checks involve just that: making sure, to the best of an organization’s ability, that every worker who steps onto a worksite is healthy, safe to be around others, and able to perform their job.

forehead thermometer

There are two primary ways to go about these screenings:

  • On-site temperature checks – Using an infrared, “no-touch” forehead thermometer, every employee is inspected upon entrance. In the U.S., standards for clearance vary depending on the state, but many that have implemented such safeguards use 100.4° F (38° C) as a marker for fitness.
  • Employee self-checks – For organizations that don’t have access to a suitable thermometer or believe they lack the capacity to perform regular temperature checks, many rely on their workers to check themselves at home and confirm their fitness with a supervisor when they get to work. This is obviously far from fool-proof, but establishing and sticking to a process like this at least communicates the severity of the situation to everyone on site on a daily basis. Employers can also ask workers if they’ve experienced symptoms in line with the coronavirus, and monitor them throughout the day.

However, even organizations that perform daily temperature checks can’t completely guard against someone with the virus entering the worksite, since it’s possible to be infected—and infectious—without experiencing symptoms. 

5. Tool box talks

“Tool box talks” are brief, informal meetings that typically happen at the beginning of the day before workers head out into the field. They’re intended to get workers up to speed on newly introduced safety measures, drill longstanding protocols into the minds of newer employees, and remind everyone of practices that managers think might be getting overlooked. 

construction workers with mask

What the leader of the discussion chooses to cover can change from day to day, and can include anything from proper machine handling to avoiding hazardous areas to maintaining visibility during different operations.

Of course, more and more tool box talks these days are incorporating the coronavirus-avoidance measures we’ve just discussed on a regular basis. Two different respondents also reported that their organization is now holding daily tool box talks, when previously they were limited to once or twice a week.

“People are definitely getting tired of us reminding them every day to keep six feet apart. But we’re going to keep doing it anyway,” said one project manager.     

Here’s a sampling of some the other responses we got, covering both COVID and more general safety practices

  • Third-party inspections 
  • Proper tagging of active electrical equipment
  • Proper tagging of contaminated objects
  • Stricter ‘permit to work’ procedures
  • Giving notice to clients that subcontractors/teams are on the site
  • Better defined and more visibly posted standard operating procedures
  • Visual observers for dangerous operations

Download our ebook to learn more about drones and on-site safety considerations.

Related resources:

Propeller Asks: How Has COVID-19 Affected Your Operations?

Conventional Surveys Pose Time, Cost, and Safety Risks on a Construction Site—So What’s Next for SEE Civil?

Track and Share Safety Hazards with 3D Drone-Powered Site Maps

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