In the United States, the reigning authority when it comes to health and safety standards for the workplace is OSHA or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For some background, the organization was created by the OSH Act of 1970 as part of the United States Department of Labor. The purpose of the administration is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for all Americans—this happens both by setting and enforcing standards to which employers must adhere, and through programs and resources for training, outreach, education, and assistance.
OSHA safety meeting topics, therefore, are primarily aimed at keeping everyone onsite safe just like any other safety meetings. However, they also help employers to ensure compliance with OSHA standards, as non-compliance can bring warnings, citations, and increasingly hefty penalty fines according to the severity of the breach.
Of course, all that OSHA does and enforces is aimed at workplace safety, so compliance is hardly a separate issue. The following safety meeting or toolbox talk topics are OSHA-approved ones that will serve any construction site well. We have covered the more obvious possibilities such as fall protection/fall prevention, personal protective equipment (PPE), electrical safety, ladder safety, fire safety, lockout/tagout, and hazard communication and identification in our previous post about construction safety meeting topics. However, OSHA takes a holistic view of health and safety in any workplace, so this list includes some that may not immediately occur to safety leaders despite playing an important role in safety awareness and practices.
This important topic is addressed in several sections of the OSH Act of 1970, including those which cover general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring, and the construction industry. People don’t tend to give much thought to the air they breathe—but when it is threatened, they are likely to be reminded of how important breathing clean air really is! Ventilation also plays a part in keeping workers cool. Heat stress is a major threat to employee safety.
In a safety meeting, hazard recognition around insufficient ventilation could be discussed. Depending on the worksite, identifying ventilation issues may involve regular testing of air quality with specialized tools. When areas of poor ventilation have been found, solutions can be talked about with workers and enforced. Often, installing adequate ventilation systems where necessary can resolve the problem to OSHA standards, but more serious—and behavioral—measures may be needed on sites with serious air pollutants to ensure compliance. Transparency is important; workers should come away from a ventilation safety meeting knowing exactly where ventilation is an issue and exactly how to keep themselves and others safe.
Work hours, long shifts, and worker fatigue
The topic of working hours and fatigue shouldn’t be a contentious one between employers and employees. Having well-rested and positive workers benefits the company hugely. It is particularly important in construction, where errors on the job can have major consequences—a study found that overtime schedules came with a 61% higher injury hazard rate. Reasonable working hours are a win-win.
Work schedules often include more than 40 hours a week and can include shifts of more than eight hours. In some industries, working hours are limited by rules set by national commissions or administrations. Construction is not among them, so a safety meeting around this topic might involve discussions between employers and employees to ascertain any issues with fatigue and determine what’s fair and beneficial for everyone in terms of scheduling.
Employers are required by OSHA to provide access to first aid practitioners and equipment “commensurate with the hazards of the workplace”—and on a construction site, those hazards are many! Safety training for construction should include first aid training for as many workers as possible, and first aid kits made available and accessible to be used by those who have been trained. Of course, first aid is only meant as a stopgap for proper medical care, and anyone suffering a workplace injury should receive medical attention as soon as possible.
Organizations like Red Cross, the National Safety Council, and the American Heart Association—as well as private institutions—provide first aid safety training in the USA, and most countries will have similar options. Any job site should have certified first aid-trained people available at all times.
This is a tough topic and one that can be tricky to broach with employees—but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided! OSHA lists workplace violence as one of their safety and health topics, and defines it as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” In 2017, violence contributed to 16% of workplace fatalities. This includes both violence between employees and from the public.
Preventative measures for construction workers regarding workplace violence could include:
- Ensuring that workers are not alone on the site or a section of the site, particularly after dark.
- A zero-tolerance policy for violence shown by employees or the public.
- Providing clear channels to report any workplace violence, and creating a culture in which people feel comfortable to do so.
- Putting up extra lighting for crews working after dark.
- Enforcing access restrictions to the site so that unwanted visitors cannot enter.
Unplanned and unwanted events have often been referred to as accidents, but this implies that they were random and unpreventable—so “incident” is the preferred term.
A crucial part of incident/accident prevention and improving safety culture is thorough incident investigation, and this is emphasized by OSHA. It should ideally be done collaboratively by a site safety committee with input from anyone who was involved or has insight. Incident investigation is not about assigning blame or fault but about finding the causes of what happened and coming up with strategies to prevent it from happening again. For example, stricter rules around the use of hard hats could become necessary after someone suffers a head injury or has a near miss due to an object falling off scaffolding.
Incident investigation is a relevant OSHA safety meeting topic as everyone should be made aware of the processes that take place and how they can contribute to any investigation. It should be as transparent as is possible. Keeping workers updated on the progress and findings of incident investigations can make them feel heard, and also gives confidence that something is being done to keep them safe.
Stay safe; keep on top of paperwork
Planning safety meetings and toolbox talks, staying on top of safety training schedules, and keeping up with safety programs that meet the standards of national bodies like OSHA requires a lot of paperwork. A good safety management software designed for the construction industry like SafetyTek will cut down on time—and therefore money—spent shuffling and storing papers, simplifying safety processes and making life easier for management and workers on the ground alike.
Contact the SafetyTek team to find out how our software can help you to achieve a safer job site!