Tag: Construction Safety

What it means to be the Safety Coordinator at a Small Company

Photo of David Langlais in construction hat and safety vest with article title

We sat down with David Langlais, PE to ask him what it’s like to be on the Safety Committee for a small company. David has worked in the construction field and has also been the Safety Committee Chair before becoming its official coordinator. We asked him what it was like to grow in this position and what it means to him.

What does it mean to be the safety coordinator for a business?

In New Hampshire, each Safety Committee within a company is supposed to appoint a person who is going to have current knowledge on safety trends, expectations, et cetera for a company. At Hoyle, Tanner, we call that person the Safety Coordinator. So, I have to have the training, keep up-to-date on policies and procedures in states where we do business, and keep up-to-date with OSHA.

Why do you see a need for this role?

The need is there because we put people out in the field; that’s our biggest risk area. The most dangerous person is the “casual site-visitor” who doesn’t know the changes in the field; is not that familiar with the contractor; not used to sites. We’re standing next to traffic, next to heavy equipment, we’re out in the woods by ourselves near animals and insects and poisonous plants. These are the types of things employees may not think about when they go out in the field.

You’ve been the safety committee chairperson and you’ve really championed and been the voice for safety in our company – bringing it more to the forefront of peoples’ minds. What started you on that path?

Way back – 2009 or 2010, I was on one of the NHDOT construction projects on the I-93 corridor. Someone had questioned the safety vest I was wearing and made a comment about it not being the right type. I think at that point I brought it to the attention of Woody Wilson [one of our most senior Resident Project Representatives], I think, and asked him about it. The person on the site who commented on my vest wasn’t known for being the most serious person, so I couldn’t really tell. Then I looked into more about the vests and how there are different types of safety vests – there are different types for being in the woods, being in traffic. So really it was a collection of things that happened that got me scratching my head, and wondering what are we really training safety-wise here and what should we be aware of that we’re not?

In September of 2014 I was invited to not only join the Safety Committee, but also be the Chair. At that point the committee hadn’t met in 2 years. I believe the Board of Directors and specifically Frank Wells had recommended that I chair the committee because of my construction background, and to bring life back into the committee.

What are some of the things you’ve accomplished?

  1. As a committee, we basically reformatted the whole way we think about safety in the company. We follow all the rules set forth in Lab 600 from the NH Bureau of Labor, which stem from RSA-281-A:64. The State requires that we have a “Joint Loss Management Committee”, and we call ours the Safety Committee (you can rename it).
  2. We’ve reinvigorated the committee – We didn’t have a real presence within the company before. Once we looked at how we’re supposed to organize it based on Lab 600, we saw we had a lot of things we weren’t doing. We discovered we needed a Health & Safety Manual – we didn’t have one, or one that we could find. We had some of the elements but nothing to the level of what we’ve developed. That’s been the biggest thing we’ve accomplished.
  3. We’ve also made sure field personnel are represented. They are our biggest risk and we need to make sure they have the right equipment and training to do their job safely.
  4. We assisted the Benefits Committee in developing the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Benefit Program, which reimburses employees for certain PPE items that are not required to be provided by the company. 

What are the ultimate goals or principles you’re working towards?

Our ultimate goal is to ensure safety is a part of our everyday lives within the company. The next thing we want to roll out are job hazard analysis sheets. The purpose is to anticipate hazards in the field and be prepared for them before you go out there. That way, we get people trained and get them the tools they need to anticipate safety concerns and be prepared to mitigate them. And not just the full-time field personnel. The hazard analysis sheets apply to everyone – young engineers on bridges. Roadside investigations for preliminary design. Joanne [an environmental coordinator] flagging wetlands. Anyone who leaves the office and goes into the “field” wherever that may be.

The other goal is to incorporate safety into how we plan and estimate our projects – like we do for Quality Assurance / Quality Control. Integrate it into our process.

Given the current situation with COVID, how has your role changed – or how has it not changed?

I’ve become busier [laughs]. We get updated stuff on COVID every day. Trying to keep ahead of what the requirements are is a challenge. I get a lot of info in Massachusetts being that I’m active in ACEC-MA in their Health and Safety Forum (co-chair).

Abbie Goodman [Executive Director of ACEC-MA] called me on Friday with some questions regarding what Massachusetts is implementing for construction for COVID. I also talked to Abbie [on Monday] morning. Basically, the information about COVID trickles down from the governor to our clients to us and our consultant peers. They want to continue with construction – it’s listed as an essential service- but we also have to follow CDC guidelines. Each state also has different rules with regard to construction. In Vermont, construction is not considered essential unless it’s directly related to helping with the virus. Some contractors are not allowed to leave states now if they live in Vermont but work in New Hampshire, which is an issue we’ve been dealing with.

And who’s essential and who’s not? And if we’re essential, which rules do we follow? Those are the kinds of things we’ve been thinking about. Especially now, with construction season upon us.

Are you mostly worrying about construction safety during COVID, or everything at once?

For me, it’s construction stuff because the company COVID-19 team is worrying about the other pieces. How do we build confidence in our employees that their environment is safer than they think? How do we verify that our field personnel are okay before they go out in the field? Also, as I said before, it’s different between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Massachusetts set out rules specifically addressing going out into the field during this pandemic, but New Hampshire said it’s up to each business to police themselves. So unless NHDOT comes out with something that says “here’s how you have to arrive to our site,” we’re still working on this.

Is the company doing anything different (aside from working from home) now that we’re in this situation?

We’re handling it the way the CDC recommends.

What does your day-to-day look like right now?

I’m managing a couple of projects but aside from that I’m getting interrupted by COVID-related information. Every few days new information comes in. So right now, it’s a matter of trying to see what the latest and greatest is so we can make sure we’re following it and that our employees are prepared for it.

Is there anything that intimidates or overwhelms you about being safety coordinator?

I would say that I embrace the position. I’d say if anything, I’d like to have more training and have safety more prominent in our company. Part of that has to do with the size of our company. I communicate with peers in ACEC who have much larger companies, so their initiatives dwarf what we do. Their top safety personnel have different backgrounds. So that part gets a little overwhelming. Or not overwhelming, but I wish we were there. Don’t get me wrong, we’re safe, and we’re doing what we need to for state compliance, and we put smart people in the field. We don’t do a lot of labor-related, safety-type stuff. We don’t have field crews that do labor which makes it a lot easier (like drilling crews or survey crews) – more of that background than office background. Some of that can be more difficult to manage. So, no, I’m not overwhelmed by my role as much as I am of the information that I’d like to put out.

Why you do keep showing up for this role, personally?

I think part of it goes back to the training aspect. The person who’s designated by the committee to be the coordinator has to have a certain level of training. When this originally came up, I received OSHA training for construction safety. So really, I’m the most trained person in the company when it comes to this. And again, we’re not quite where I’d like us to be, and no one else currently has the training to take my place. I’m happy to do it, and I push for it because I feel like I’ve got more work to do in this role.

Would you call yourself a safety enthusiast?

I would say I’ve grown into being a safety enthusiast. I was recognized as having the experience and then the question was, do I have the willingness? And the answer was yes. So now there are aspects of safety I’m very enthusiastic about. I think the toughest part [about being asked to make it more active] is balancing the focus between office personnel and field personnel. So, I’ve found that I rely on other committee members to worry about office personnel, and I worry about the field personnel.

This role has also helped me to not take my construction and my safety background for granted. And I think that’s something we kind of did as a company; we trusted field employees to have the safety knowledge. The full-time ones probably did, but it’s really the part-timers who are more concerning. What’s their experience? What’s their knowledge? Are they aware of their surroundings?

Has your enthusiasm encouraged anyone else? If not enthusiasm, what would it be?

Absolutely. If not mine, then the committee’s. The fact that we were able to gather people to work on the manual and the people who have stayed on the committee. We’ve rotated in and out a few people. We’ve got our quarterly Bee Safe newsletter; we’ve been participating in health and safety week in August which is something we didn’t do before but it’ll be our second or third year this year. I’ve conducted a couple trainings now; I’d like to do more. Gotten more people trained in the OSHA 10-hour course which is big. It’s something we’re trying to get field personnel to have. Building in small procedures and practices – yeah it’s definitely paying off. Not as fast as I’d like, but it’s one of the challenges of being a small business.

Questions about safety? Want to learn from the best? Reach out to David Langlais, PE.

Heat Safety: 4 Tips to Stay Safe on Construction Sites During Summer

Heat illness prevention graphic of construction worker

Summer is officially here, and although the warm weather brings promises of barbecues, beach days and the hum of AC, working in the summer heat is not something to be taken lightly. For construction laborers and other outdoor workers, the heat can drain your energy and be very dangerous if proper precautions aren’t taken.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data, in 2015 over 2,830 American workers suffered from a heat-related illness that required at least one day away from work. In order to prevent more injuries now and in the future, it is important to spread awareness in the workplace about how to stay safe while out and in intense summer conditions. By planning ahead and executing these simple safety measures, you will be happier, healthier and ready to enjoy all the fun that the summer heat has to offer.

Drink Water

Staying hydrated is the single most important thing you can do to prevent heat-related injury or illness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends drinking water every 15 to 20 minutes even if you are not thirsty. Additionally, anyone exposed to prolonged periods of sweating should balance out their electrolytes by drinking sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade. Keep in mind, though, that sports drinks are laden with food dye and sugars, so you can also boost your electrolytes by eating mineral-rich foods like bananas, nuts, yogurt, and dark green vegetables like kale. Coconut water is another good source of replenishing electrolytes. If you can’t carry snacks around, some say that adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon to your water can have a similar satisfying effect.

Be Cautious of Caffeine

Coffee is an essential part of the day for many Americans. However, all caffeine — whether it be coffee, tea or soda — can be dangerous on a hot summer day if you aren’t careful. This is because caffeine can be diuretic, meaning that it causes water loss in the body and dehydrates you more quickly. Whether or not caffeine is actually a diuretic has been debated over the past few years, but your reaction is also very subjective; someone who rarely drinks caffeine may feel its effects more than a daily consumer, especially on a hot day. Drinking water throughout the day should counter these effects, but be wary of drinking excessive amounts of caffeine, especially while on the job site.

Take Breaks

Do not be afraid to take breaks. No job is worth risking your health over. The heat can be draining, and it is important that you allow yourself the time you need to recuperate. When you do take breaks make sure you find some shade, drink at least 20 ounces of water and reapply sunscreen. For lunch, eat healthy and energizing foods. You will be surprised how much stronger you feel throughout the day.

Know the Symptoms

Excessive heat can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It is important that you are able to recognize these symptoms and know what to do if the situation arises.

Heat Exhaustion

Nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness, confusion, dizziness, and cool, pale, moist or flushed skin can all be signs of heat exhaustion. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms it is important that you immediately move them to a cooler location and start to loosen any tight or heavy clothing they are wearing. You need to lower the person’s body temperature by any means necessary. Some examples of how to do this include fanning them, spraying them down with cool water or resting wet towels on their skin. If the victim is conscious, start replenishing their fluids by having them drink water slowly (about 4 ounces every 15 minutes). Keep a careful eye on the person and watch for any changes in their condition. If they refuse care, begin to lose consciousness or start to vomit, call 911 or local emergency authorities immediately.

Heat Stroke

Signs of heat stroke include hot dry red skin, confusion, loss of consciousness or convulsions and seizures. Heat stroke is an extremely serious condition and can be fatal, so if you witness anybody experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, cool the person down as quickly as possible. If circumstance allows, immerse the person up to their neck in cold water. If that isn’t an option, spray the person down or apply ice packs or wet towels to their skin.

For more information on what to do when temperatures rise, download the free Red Cross Emergency App. The app also gives users the option to receive alerts for excessive heat watches, warnings and heat advisories.

We want this summer to be memorable for a lot of reasons, but overheating is not one of them. When working outdoors in hot weather, the most important things to remember are water, shade and rest. Anyone can be at risk for severe dehydration and heat exhaustion, but people who are not used to prolonged exposure to heat typically are at a higher risk of suffering an injury. As things start to heat up this summer, ease your way into your work, especially if you are a new employee. Listen to your body and take the necessary precautions to ensure that you are both safe and successful.

Now get out there and enjoy the sunshine!

 

 

Written by Grace Mulleavey

 

 

 

 

4 Safety Tips for Visiting a Construction Site

I-93 Construction Site Visit

Summer is known for vacation, beach days, barbecues, and last but not least, construction. During the summer months, it’s unlikely you’ll make it to any of your favorite summer destinations without encountering at least one construction site along the way.

Construction can be spotted from a mile away. First there are a dozen signs, then the traffic slows down by 10 mph or more, you may even see a cop car or two, finally you pass the workers in hard hats and fluorescent vests, hard at work turning our engineers’ designs into reality. Every operation on a construction site is designed with safety regulations and guidelines in mind; there is a reason for everything down to the color of the vest the workers are wearing.

Here at Hoyle, Tanner, we are committed to ensuring the safety of our employees, our clients and the workers who turn our designs into reality. In honor of Safety Month, we spoke to David Langlais, the Chair of the Safety Committee at Hoyle, Tanner about practicing basic safety on the job site in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) guidelines and regulations.

    1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
      This may go without saying but you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times when inside a work zone. Be aware and on high alert from the moment you arrive on-site. Remember where you are, sometimes one wrong move can change everything.  Hazards can be on the ground, like those that cause slips, trips, and falls, or in the air such as equipment coming into contact with electrical wires.  Make eye contact with equipment operators – if you can’t see them, they can’t see you.  Avoid fumes, dust, and particulates from cutting or grinding.  The first step to ensuring your safety when on a construction site is keeping the wellbeing of both yourself and others at the top of your concerns.  If it doesn’t seem safe, stay away, and contact a supervisor to assist you.  A list of common site hazards can be downloaded below. Check out this article on improving driver safety on construction sites, too.
    2. Prepare for the Elements
      Working outside in the elements can be dangerous. A day on the construction site is far different than another day at the office. Make sure you prepare for the weather conditions – whatever they may be. Especially in these summer months, the weather can change from calm and sunny to torrential downpours with lightning in an instant, so be sure to check hourly forecasts and plan your visit accordingly.  Anticipate what your needs will be before it becomes a threat to your safety, and know your limitations.  Oftentimes, we are called to observe work that puts us at a height, or in a confined space, or to walk long distances.  Communicate with your supervisor if you have difficulty with any of these.  Thousands of workers suffer from heat related illnesses each year. Practice heat prevention techniques – drink plenty of water, take breaks, and give yourself rest when necessary. Just because you aren’t at the beach doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear sunscreen. Take care of yourself and come prepared with everything you need to have a successful and comfortable day working outdoors. The physical environment can be a concern as well.  Ticks, mosquitoes, bees, and poison ivy are common problems when working outdoors.
    3. Wear Proper EquipmentSafety Garments Chart
      Wearing the proper safety equipment is required to enter the job site. Required equipment varies from site to site, but may include a safety helmet, protective eye glasses, gloves, high visibility clothing, hearing protection, and laced steel toe boots. The type of safety vest you need to wear varies based on the proximity between the jobsite and motor vehicles, speed of motor vehicles passing the job site, site visibility and complexity of background. When purchasing garments to wear on the job site, read the labels and only select clothing that meets ANSI/ISEA 107 standards. There are a number of products on the market that look similar to clothing that meet these standards but are in fact made of inferior material and do not provide the proper visibility and protection necessary to stay safe on a job sight. To learn more about the four classes of garments take a look at this chart:
    4. Be Prepared for Emergencies
      Sometimes no matter how safe you are, emergencies happen, and it’s important that you are prepared. When visiting a job site make sure you provide your supervisor with your emergency contact information. If you’re on an active construction site, check in with the site supervisor.  Bring a first aid kit – each service group and branch office has at least one for you to take with you.  Consider becoming CPR certified, it can never hurt to be educated in what to do in the case of injury or illness on the job site – it could save a life.

For regular site visitors, Hoyle, Tanner recommends completing a 10-hour OSHA training session to ensure you are caught up and aware of safety regulations and standards. The training will provide potential situations that may arise on any given day at the job site and walk you through how to properly mitigate the risk.

Situations that carry their own unique risks require special training, i.e. bridge inspections, wastewater treatment plant inspections, confined spaces and others. Our professionals at Hoyle, Tanner are trained and up-to-date on safety regulations and requirements and are committed to the safety of the client and construction personnel. We are currently working on systems that will help you and your supervisor identify and prepare for risks on the job site well ahead of your first site visit.

For more information on this topic, feel free to email our safety committee with any questions or concerns and someone will be happy to help you.