As in any state, New Jersey jobsites cover the gamut in site safety performance. “No two construction projects are the same,” says NJ Laborers Health and Safety Fund (NJLHSF) Assistant Director Ken Hoffner. “Different buildings. Different sites. Different crews. But one thing should be the same everywhere you go, and that’s a commitment to safety.”
Yet, as some recent safety visits reinforced, with safety, too, not all construction projects are alike, and that’s a big problem. Hoffner characterized the three sites as “the good, the bad and the encouraging.”
Without getting into too much detail, the first jobsite visit at a local college brought Hoffner in touch with what a safe worksite should look like. Among other things, the general contractor was making routine inspections to find and correct safety hazards; the scaffolding was properly erected and guarded; and every worker on site wore appropriate safety equipment and was properly trained. Laborers interviewed said that safety was a big emphasis on the job and that they worked together with the contractor to create a safe jobsite. The cooperation on safety issues was part of a positive approach to productivity throughout the jobsite. Hoffner concluded that this project had excellent prospects for completing the job with a minimum amount of serious injuries.
Not more than a quarter mile away, at the same college campus, another construction project rose in stark contrast to the first. With regard to safety, common sense was jettisoned for what could best be characterized as expediency, and OSHA regulations were blatantly ignored. With deep concern, Hoffner spoke to both the superintendent and the shop steward about his concerns – everything from a job-built ladder that was sure to break at any moment to missing perimeter guards that protect workers from falling from the edge of the building.
It was not the first time Hoffner had encountered a site like this. Usually, he’s visiting after a serious injury has already occurred. Hoffner feared he could be back at this job for that same reason, and he hoped that the contractor would accept his offer to help implement a strong safety and health program.
Approaching the third site, Hoffner braced for the worst when he saw that the job-wide housekeeping and site organization conditions were poor. But, then, something surprised him. The scaffolding was properly constructed, and all the Laborers and masons were wearing hardhats and other necessary protective equipment. The job was much safer than it first appeared.
The person responsible for the safe environment was not the general contractor or a sub contractor but the masonry contractor’s Laborer shop steward. The steward concluded that the GC and subs were not very interested in safety, so he took it upon himself to make sure things were done right. While the jobsite wasn’t perfect, the steward made sure that his part of the job, his responsibility, would be done in a safe manner.
“What if more people, especially stewards, stressed safety with greater frequency?” Hoffner asks. “Obviously, the best sites are those where the contractor has effective safety and health management programs and partners with workers to work safely throughout all phases of the job. Many contractors, however, have less evolved safety and health programs, but effective safety performance by stewards, Laborers and other trades can sometimes compensate. When a contractor doesn’t care much about safety, nor do the workers themselves, injuries are bound to occur.”
Hoffner has a message for Laborers, “If you are working for a contractor that isn’t effectively managing safety and health, make sure you are watching out for the safety of your fellow workers. Also, please let the contractor know that the NJLHS can provide free consultation to help them improve their safety and health management programs. The best programs are those that combine effective safety management with knowledgeable workers who look out for each other.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Division of the LHSFNA also provides worksite safety consultation. To get help, email the division at firstname.lastname@example.org.