March 2009: Playing It Safe

Words: Dan KamysMarch 2009 Playing It Safe
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Safety and the Masonry Supervisor

For a person to accomplish any task of great significance, he must have the wherewithal to complete the task. Building the pyramids, conquering the known world on foot, freeing all the slaves in an entire nation, harnessing electricity, men understanding women, women putting up with men, or keeping your employees injury free on a construction site can only be accomplished when a great leader is given the opportunity to lead effectively. If we incorporate the following components into our masonry supervisors, it will build a foundation that can give them the opportunity to lead our industry into a safer future.

Clear policies For a supervisor to be able to control safety he must know safety. Some believe that all you need to perform safely is common sense. This is true to some degree, except that “sense” is, at times, uncommon. One person feels perfectly safe working without handrails while 20 feet off the ground, but OSHA says 10 feet off the ground is safe, and your company has a six-foot fall protection rule. All three are confident that their opinion of what is safe is right. The point is that we cannot just leave safety performance up to the use of common sense. We must have clear policies, so there is no doubt as to what is expected.

This is best accomplished with a written safety program, SOP (Safe Operating Procedure Manual) or Safety Policy and Procedure Manual. Call it what you want, but it needs to cover, in some detail, all the foreseeable hazards that an employee could encounter on the jobsite. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of written safety programs out there that can be purchased, but bear in mind that it must be applicable to your business and the masonry industry. A good way to double check whether the program is “for real” is to do a hazard analysis on your jobsites. The hazards found must be addressed in the written program. I’m a believer in a brief, real life, no filler type program. This is easier to follow, and people will actually read it. If it’s not relevant, they won’t read it.

Training Next, a masonry supervisor needs training in safety. Every employee should have a new-hire orientation when he comes to the company. Then, if he is going to be doing any special duties that would require special training, he needs that as well. Examples might be scaffold erection or dismantling – the duties of a scaffold competent person, a forklift operator, or a supervisor. This special position needs special training, particularly safety training.

The supervisor should be the most educated employee on the crew regarding safety. At a minimum, he should have training as a competent person, forklift operator (so he knows what his operator should and should not be doing), and finally, training on the Written Safety Program – that’s the big one. Included should be scaffold safety, heavy equipment, drug-free workplace, hazard communication (chemical hazards), fall protection, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and more. There are other issues of training that should be addressed, such as CPR First Aid training. Anyone one on the crew could have this certification, but it makes good sense to have the supervisor equipped in this as the leader of the crew.

Another form of training that I believe to be important is in the area of people skills. A person in the role of masonry supervisor should know how to communicate and act with professionalism and respect toward other people. Being “the boss” doesn’t give a person the right to be belligerent, and with training he will understand that he can get much more from an employee who feels respected.

Not all of these trainings mentioned have to be done in a classroom setting. On-the-job training, safety meetings, on-site workshops, on-site videos and online training are ways to accomplish the desired result. As an employer, you can do the training, or you can out source the training by using a third-party training company.

Proper equipment You’ve heard that you need the right tool for the right job, and every supervisor needs the right tools for the job as well. Every job is different, so a thorough search of the plans and site to make a proper equipment list is necessary. This impacts safety in a huge way. There must be enough scaffolding to do the job, or the supervisor will end up robbing Peter to pay Paul. It shouldn’t be this way, but this scenario is ripe for not erecting the scaffolding completely and safely. The job would need the right sized forklift to do the job safely. Conexes, job boxes, trailers – something to keep the equipment out of the weather – are also important. Power tools and hand tools must be in safe working order, or an injury is inevitable. Guards need to be in place with handles not broken. Cords and plugs need to be without cuts, splits or bear wire showing.

Don’t forget about PPE equipment, either: safety glasses, face shields, ear plugs or muffs, hard hats, gloves, and the list could go on, depending on what tasks will be performed.

Support from the top For safety to work, there must be support for safety from the owner(s), CEOs, president, VP(s), and other key staff member. If they’re not on board for safety, problems will occur. Some upper administrations are only focused on money and will overlook, at times, things that will help in being profitable, like working without injuries. With support for safety from the top comes an empowered workforce. Crewmembers won’t have to sneak around to try to be safe, because they’re scared they will get caught taking the time to perform safely.

The masonry supervisor needs the right attitude toward safety. If he thinks safety is a burden and he’d be better off to not have all this safety stuff on his back, then he will be a failure at safety. His crew will learn and adopt his attitude. It can be a lengthy process, but you can convince your employees that you truly care.

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