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13 Proven Steps to Improve Construction Worker Safety

13 Proven Steps to Improve Construction Worker SafetyAfter making significant progress in reducing the total number of construction fatalities from a record high of 1,239 in 2006 to a record low of 738 in 2011, the total number of national construction fatalities has once again begun to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported late last month that 874 construction workers—residential and commercial—died in 2014.

These recommendations come from an in-depth analysis of effective construction safety programs that AGC of America performs as part of the Willis Construction Safety Excellence Awards. Every year after the safety awards judging ends, AGCA and Willis develop a white paper that looks at effective practices when it comes to construction safety.

13 Proven Steps to Improve Construction Worker Safety

New Employees

1. Establish a buddy system for all new hires:

  • During orientation assign experienced workers to serve as a new hire’s safety sponsor.
  • After 30 days the sponsor and supervisor evaluate new hire’s application of training and understanding of how to perform assigned tasks safely.
  • Both must sign off that worker is ready to work safely without a buddy or the buddy process continues until the new worker has proven they can work safely.

2. Hold safety orientation sessions for all new hires, including temporary workers:

  • Require every new hire—whether full time, permanent, part time, temporary, and/or labor-firm staff—to complete a safety orientation system before being allowed to work on a project. This orientation should be separate and independent from the general administrative orientation.
  • The orientation system includes photos depicting common and not-so-common (lightning, weather) hazards on projects that trainees are quizzed to recognize.
  • The orientation includes interactive hazard recognition and group discussion on controls.
  • The orientation process covers company policies, procedures, and principles covering work rules and conduct.
  • The orientation includes a verification of competency in the skill or craft the employee was hired to perform.

Ongoing Training

3. Ensure managers and supervisors have the appropriate leadership and effective communication skills critical to instill safety culture and concepts into the workforce.

  • All personnel in supervisory or managerial positions should complete initial management training so they can learn effective leadership and communication skills. This training and continuing leadership education should be an essential element of individual development plans for those in leadership positions.
  • These skills are essential to getting workers to embrace an effective safety culture, including grasping and implementing appropriate safety concepts and procedures.

4. Institute two separate pre-task hazard analysis training programs.

  • Create distinct pre-task hazard analysis training programs: one for the crew and one specifically designed for first line supervision.
  • These programs will help workers operate safely.
  • These programs will train supervisors to effectively fulfill their obligation to ensure workers are operating safely at all times.

5. Hold monthly Lunch and Learn safety training programs.

  • Organize and host monthly safety lunch and learns.
  • Include 30-minute presentations from craft workers on predetermined safety topics.
  • Workers learn from their peers, (not from supervisors); an effective means to acquire skills.

6. Require all foremen and/or superintendents to attend leadership in safety excellence certification courses.

  • Project leaders such as foremen and superintendents are critical to the success of the day-to-day performance and implementation of a company’s safety program.
  • Providing them with the necessary skills to effectively communicate the mission is key to this success.

7. Hold targeted safety training to address all safety incidents.

  • Identify safety incidents and details.
  • Quickly follow up by communicating targeted messages designed to address specific safety hazards involved to avoid similar future incidents. The message can be communicated in bulletins, e-mail, team meetings, formal training, or other appropriate forums.

8. Make sure all training and materials are in the language of the entire workforce.

  • Workforces may include workers with limited English skills.
  • Offer safety training in English and other languages as the need arises, to ensure understanding by all workers.

9. Train your trainers.

  • Training others requires effective communication and training skills.
  • Provide “Train the Trainer” instruction to all personnel responsible for training others.
  • Training the trainer will help improve the effectiveness of the safety training provided.
  • Retaining “science of teaching” consultants to train the trainers on basic instructional skills and/or retained to develop a program implemented in-house can greatly improve the Train the Trainer programs.
  • Professional trainer certification and credentialing through OSHA and Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) ensure adequate rigor in trainer education.

Operating Procedures

10. Create worker task-specific “pocket safety guides” for every task they are assigned.

  • Laborers may get just one guide for the scope of their task; others, such as equipment operators, may get several pocket guides.
  • Guides must be kept on their person and produced upon request by supervisor.
  • Workers are required to verbally explain the safe way to do their key assigned tasks.
  • During morning meetings workers are called upon to lead the meeting using their pocket guide.

11. Establish craft-specific safety mentoring programs.

  • Schedule monthly mentorship meetings where crafts of varying tenure meet to help each other understand and discuss safety-related procedures, processes, and lessons learned.
  • At the end of these meetings, the craft workers should summarize the results and share them with senior management to identify areas that may require additional focus.

12. Issue easy-to-read badges to all workers indicating their level of training.

  • Issue easy-to-read badges (for example, badges that use QR codes or color coding) that identify each worker’s level of training and certification for operating equipment.
  • Badges should be issued to every worker on a project, regardless of whether they work for a general or a subcontractor.
  • Badges allow everyone on a project to be aware of every worker’s training and certification level so they can be assigned appropriate tasks.

13. Authorize all workers to issue “Stop Work Cards” to address safety risks.

  • Issue every worker a “Stop Work Card.”
  • Instruct every worker that they can use their “Stop Work Cards” to temporarily halt construction activity on a project if they identify a legitimate safety hazard.
  • Make it clear to all workers there are no repercussions for using the “Stop Work Cards.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Cannon, senior director, AGCA Safety and Health Services, 703-837-5410 or

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