Staying Safe by Speaking Up


Words: Bronzella Cleveland 

In our first Hazard Communication (or HazCom) article, we provided a very detailed overview of this critical process. Since safety is a vital part of working on any job, we wanted to give a more focused look at HazCom, and the integral pieces that go into the OSHA mandated processes that are required on a jobsite day-to-day. Aside from being in compliance and following the rules to stay compliant while using various potentially hazardous materials, there is another component of HazCom that may be overlooked. The competent person is the gatekeeper for all the information, procedures, steps, and processes that help to keep everyone on the jobsite safe.   

A competent person is defined as someone who is capable of identifying existing and potential hazards in nearby surroundings and or in working conditions that are hazardous to those in the environment, and has the authority to take corrective measures to reduce risk, according to OSHA. A competent person on a jobsite or project can be the difference between being in compliance and potential fines and dangers on a jobsite. They have a role of authority and are qualified to deal with hazardous materials.   

A person who takes on the tasks of a competent person is responsible for assessing various potential hazards, and entering a method statement or procedure for containing and/or managing the hazardous material. All of this is done in order to ensure the company and team on a jobsite is safe and in compliance with OSHA standards. With every job a mason can come into contact with an unlimited amount of materials and potentially hazardous items used throughout the job, the adequately trained competent person is present to ensure everyone goes home safely at the end of each day.   

The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) offers the easiest way to become a qualified person for competent person training, according to Kevin O'Shea, Director of Safety and Training at AGF Access Group Inc. Those who are interested in becoming a competent person must be trained and have previous knowledge of hazardous material. Each candidate works his or her way through assessments and forms that are combined with the proper procedures or containments of each substance, which is cataloged for future reference while on a jobsite.  

Challenges with HazCom   

There are many challenges when it comes to safety and hazard communications, one of them being glaringly obvious: communication. Every construction company or team is unique in its own way, big or small, commercial or residential, family or corporate-owned, and the rules of safety and communication can vary from team to team. This can mean a smaller family-owned business can have a different set of regulations or set of procedures they follow when it comes to safety and potential hazards that can be presented with on a jobsite. Bruce Mackinnon, the Safety Manager of AGF Access Group Inc., gives us more information on this front. "For instance, family-type construction businesses that are scattered throughout the US, a lot of these companies could be very tiny with about 5-7 people. They probably don't have effective health and safety manuals, but they have skilled, qualified tradespeople to go out and do the work."   

They may not have formal training as a competent person or someone who is qualified to become a competent person. However, they have hands-on knowledge from doing the job for many years as it is what they've grown up doing in the family business. This can sometimes be a challenge in the industry as the owners usually are the foreman and salespersons on each and every job and may not have adequate time to focus on the regulations set forth by OHSA.   

Whereas with bigger companies, this may not be the case: training courses, formal orientations, and similar mandated safety-based classes may be set up for each individual employee prior to getting them on a jobsite and on the wall. "On the other hand, you have situations where you have companies that have employees scattered all throughout the US. Sometimes they have a crew of 5-6 masons in a remote location. Education has really not gotten out effectively across the US in reference to HazCom," Mackinnon continues. Even though information on HazCom safety can be found online and in informative research papers, it is difficult to ensure everyone in the construction industry has read up on the subject.   

This is where a competent person, safety classes, and seminars come into play. However, the qualifications and requirements can prove to be difficult. The real question still remains, how do we keep everyone safe on a jobsite?  

Ensuring Safety   

With the start of every job, a safety analysis, or a quick risk assessment should be done in order to project any potential dangers or hazards that can arise during the construction, Mackinnon suggests. "Part of that risk assessment is the introduction of chemicals on the site. We need to look at that impact." By testing chemicals in the jobsite area, gives the competent person and the general contractor the overall impact of the materials that are going to be used day-to-day. Communication across the jobsite is another helpful way to ensure the safety of the team, notifying everyone when chemicals of any sort will be used onsite is just another way to prevent dangers from happening.   

Depending on the agent or material being used, there will be provisions or instructions that are usually attached to each product. Kevin O'Shea provides an example of washing off a mast climber or scaffold following the completion of a job for a clearer look at managing hazardous materials and remaining safe. "The materials used can have a deafening degree of hazardous classifications that may require management, containment, or procedures in place when storing for later," O'Shea explains. By following the instructions or provisions, the risk of hazard is reduced or even eliminated.   

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is another important component of staying safe on a jobsite. Mackinnon suggests that the risk assessment should be one of the determining factors for the mandated use of PPE on a jobsite. "Employers should look at the scope of the materials used and see if they can control that potential exposure," Mackinnon states. Health and safety are all about how the team and be protected from the harm of hazardous materials.    

Kevin O'Shea agrees with Mackinnon, providing another great example of the importance of having the proper procedures in place along with someone present to enforce them. "An OSHA inspector can come onto any jobsite at any time and ask a question about hazardous materials. The critical component is there is a competent person here who can speak authority to the inspector about any hazardous materials, and contained materials that may be on the jobsite."   

If the designated person is there to provide a clear, knowledgeable response and reasoning, then the inspector or OSHA official should be happy with the jobsite and the company. "They want to see someone addressing the issue properly, someone who knows about the subject matter, is present on the job, knows how they managed the data and hazard. If that happens, there will be no further questions," O'Shea contends.    

The overall goal every day and week is to complete the job as efficiently and safely as possible by getting everyone home to their families at the end of the shift or day. With the help of the competent person, GC, and the rest of the team, this happens day after day. We must continue to keep pushing forward and staying safe in the industry. By taking refresher courses with the MCAA and other associations that provide informative seminars and classes, we can continue to keep our teams and industry safe from hazards to come.   

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