As a construction business owner, you understand that accidents, injuries and other mishaps can occur anytime. When you’re working with power tools, heavy equipment, outside in various weather conditions and using ladders and scaffolding, there’s a lot that could go wrong.
Fortunately, you can do things to help keep your employees and subcontractors safe on the job by setting the tone for the company
One way to do that is by having “toolbox talks” — regular meetings where you discuss different construction safety topics. These talks help keep subjects front and center in workers' minds and foster a culture of safety. You can also hang posters to remind workers of your messages.
It only takes a few minutes, but the payoff can be big. Implementing regular toolbox talks in your business is a quick and easy way to improve workplace safety for everyone — and there's no shortage of topics to discuss.
Here are seven safety topics for construction to get you started, plus some tips to help you keep your meetings interesting and your employees engaged.
1. Ladder safety
Whether they need to paint a ceiling or fix a roof, there will likely be times when workers need to use a ladder at a job site. Climbing a ladder may seem simple enough, but 81% of falls among construction workers who seek treatment in an emergency room involve a ladder.
Remind your workers of these best practices to help keep everyone safe.
- Choose the right size ladder for the job.
- Inspect the ladder before using it. Look for cracked rungs, loose bolts and anything else that might lead to an injury.
- Always face the rungs when climbing up or down.
- Always maintain three points of contact (i.e., two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand).
- Place the ladder on a stable surface.
- Don't use the top rung as a step.
- Don't carry anything up or down a ladder.
- Don't try to move the ladder while you're on it.
- Stay on the lowest rung possible.
2. Scaffolding safety
If you're working on multiple building levels, scaffolding is often necessary to get the job done. It's also one of the most dangerous locations on a construction site. Falls to a lower level resulted in 36.4% of construction deaths and nearly 14,000 non-fatal construction injuries in 2019. Similarly, "struck-by" incidents accounted for 15.4% of construction fatalities.
Review the following construction safety topics with your employees and subcontractors to help minimize the risk of injury.
- When there is scaffolding on a job site, the designated "competent person" is responsible for making sure it's set up correctly and inspecting it at the beginning of every shift.
- Workers on the ground should not walk under scaffolding. If they're working near it, they should wear a hard hat in case something falls from above.
- Wet soil can cause scaffolding to shift. If your work requires water, stay away from scaffolding.
- Don't move scaffolding unless you're working with the competent person.
- Don't use mobile equipment (e.g., tractors) near scaffolding.
- Install toeboards, screens, guardrails, nets, and other structures to prevent objects on scaffolding from falling and injuring someone below.
- Block off the area below the scaffolding if there's a risk of falling objects.
- Secure large objects, so they don't fall.
3. Fire safety
Tools that spark, flammable materials and electrical wiring are just a few fire risks your workers may face at a job site. They must know what to do to reduce the risk of a spark turning into a full-blown fire and what to do if it does. Here are some key points to cover.
- Proper ways to store flammable materials
- Where and how to use equipment that may create sparks
- Your response plan if a fire does break out
- Different types of fire extinguishers and the importance of using the right one, depending on the material that's burning
- How to use a portable fire extinguisher
4. Protective gear
Using the right protective gear in the right situations can reduce the risk of worker injury. You're responsible for making sure your workers have what they need to do their jobs safely. Here is some information to review.
- Make sure employees know what protective gear they need to use, when they need to use it and why. For example, workers should wear hard hats in all areas with a risk of falling objects, and need the proper cold-weather gear to prevent frostbite when working outside in the winter.
- Protective gear doesn't work if you don't use it properly. Demonstrate the right and wrong ways to use it.
- Personal protective gear doesn't last forever. Make sure workers know when to swap out the old for the new.
5. Slip and fall prevention
Uneven surfaces, inclement weather and tools on the ground are just a few of the many hazards that lead to slips and falls at a job site. Falls, slips and trips accounted for 32% of all non-fatal injuries in the construction industry in 2019, resulting in a median of 28 missed workdays per incident.
It's hard to meet your deadlines if your workers are at home recovering from an injury instead of at the job site. Here are some tips to help prevent slips, trips and falls.
- Clean up items that don't belong, such as tools, materials, liquids or other spills.
- Make sure you have the right kind of footwear for the type of surface you're working on.
- Be intentional about where you place tools, hoses, extension cords, supplies, boxes, etc.
- Keep the area well-lit.
- Use an appropriately-sized body harness, and make sure you position it correctly when wearing it.
- Cover and mark all holes.
6. Tool and equipment safety
Malfunctioning equipment and improper use of tools can lead to injuries on the worksite. Here are some key points to review to keep tools and equipment functioning properly and workers safe.
- Conduct routine inspections to make sure all tools and equipment are in good condition.
- All tools and equipment require regular maintenance and proper storage.
- Employees should not use tools and equipment until they have received the appropriate training.
- Workers should follow the manufacturer's instructions when operating tools and equipment.
- It's important to choose the right tool for the right job.
- Workers should take regular breaks, so they're not working while tired.
- Review lockout and tagout procedures for heavy machinery.
7. First aid
Even when you do everything right, things can go wrong. Workers must know what to do if someone gets injured. Here are some helpful reminders to discuss during your meeting.
- The location of the first aid kits and what's in them for minor injuries.
- When it's appropriate to provide first aid and when you should wait for medical personnel.
- What actions you should take or not take when someone is injured.
- When and how to call 911.
Construction safety meeting tips
When holding a toolbox talk, you want what you say to resonate with workers. Here are some tips to keep your presentation interesting, your employees engaged and your message memorable.
- Review the information before the meeting. If you stumble through your words, pause frequently or roll through your message so quickly that no one can keep up, you'll lose your workers' attention. Take a few minutes to practice what you’ll say before the meeting.
- Keep it short. Your workers show up ready to get started every day. They don't want to listen to you drone on endlessly. Keep the meeting short and to the point so they don't tune you out.
- Choose a distraction-free environment. It's hard to focus when surrounded by a whirlwind of activity.
- Use props. Ladders, fire extinguishers and power tools all make great props and can help drive your point home. Choose materials that relate to the topic you're discussing.
- Use humor. Toolbox talks don't have to be boring. You can have a sense of humor and make your point at the same time.
- Be careful when using examples. Examples make it more likely that people will remember what you discuss. However, you need to be cautious when choosing what stories to tell. Don't include examples that involve a worker on the current job.
- Invite questions. When you're finished with your presentation, take time for questions to make sure everyone understands what you discussed. Don't put anyone down for asking a question.
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