The cover story of Time’s July 14 issue is a 39-page special report, “The Smarter Home.” Naturally, I had to read it.
The Latest in Job-Site Safety
We take a look at common problems in home building job-site safety and give you solutions to tackling them
Problem: Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries in the construction industry and were responsible for 442 deaths nationwide in 2007, according to the federal U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “There is no way to understate the danger of fall hazards, which are the No. 1 killer in construction work,” says Diana Cortez, an OSHA area director. “Whenever employees work without adequate and effective fall protection, they are just one misstep away from death or disabling injury.”
Solution: Enter DBI-SALA's 15-foot Sealed Block Self-Retracting Lifeline (SRL). The company's marketing manager, Charley Bryant, says the sealed design keeps critical working components such as the brake, power spring and energy absorber free of debris. The anti-ratcheting brake stops falls within inches and limits arresting forces to 900 pounds for added safety. The lifeline system maintains a two-foot reserve for shock absorption when the entire lifeline is extended.
Problem: You'd think this one was a no-brainer (pun intended), but proper head protection is not always enforced — after all, it's hotter than blazes sometimes and the last thing a worker wants on his or her noggin is a plastic hothouse. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many supervisors noted that most workers who suffered impact injuries to the head were not wearing head protection. The majority of workers were injured while performing their normal jobs at their regular work sites. Half of the injuries occurred when the worker wasn't paying attention, but 3/10 of the time the worker was staring straight ahead!
Solution: Give 'em something they'll want to wear. Klein Tools recently launched a new line of hard hats and caps, including the V-Gard cap and hat; Skullgard cap and hat; and, for all you construction cowboys, the Western Outlaw Hat. Yeehaw! The V-Gard, in particular, has a polyethylene shell with the company's four-point Fas-Trac ratcheting suspension. The standard size fits head sizes 6-8, and it carries third-party certification from the Safety Equipment Institute.
Problem: Once your subcontractors' feet get cold, they're done. According to the “National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Environmental Cold Injuries,” by Dr. Thomas A. Cappaert, “Many cases of cold-related injuries are preventable and can be successfully treated if such conditions are properly recognized and appropriate care is provided in a timely manner.”
Solution: There isn't a perfect solution to this, but Grabber is one of several companies getting closer to keeping feet warm from heel to pinky toe. The company's Toe Warmers inserts are unique in that they're thin and have a rounded toe and adhesive backing, so they won't get in the way or bunch up during the day. The new warmers are designed to function in the low oxygen environment of boots and shoes and maintain a temperature of 100–107 degrees to keep blood circulating for up to six hours.
Problem: You're asking for trouble — in both dollars and manpower — if your subcontractors can't understand their supervisors. Foreign-born workers, many who are no doubt unaccustomed to the English language, accounted for 29 percent of the fatalities in the residential construction industry, according to “Residential Construction Industry Fatalities 2003-2006,” a recently released study commissioned by NAHB. “Residential construction sites can be very dangerous for any worker, regardless of their language skills or assigned task,” said Buck Roberts, president of A.B. Roberts Construction Co. in Anderson, S.C., and chairman of NAHB's Construction Safety and Health Committee.
Solution: Handbooks — the typical solution — are great, but they're often not nearly enough. Consider suggesting that new employees get some classroom time. For example, in the Milwaukee, Wis., area, your Spanish-speaking subcontractors can take a 12-hour, three-week basic language learning course to get up to speed with English phrases. The course is a direct result of a partnership among La Casa de Esperanza, the Metropolitan Builders Association and Waukesha County Technical College to teach construction industry workers to communicate with Spanish-only or English-only speaking co-workers. “Latinos are sweeping the nation in construction jobs,” said Hortensia Washington, director of operations at La Casa de Esperanza and instructor for the new language course. “This is about us respecting everyone no matter how limited their English is and cutting out the middle person.”
Hampered Vision During Welding
Problem: Welders know all too well the importance of protecting their eyes; auto-darkening helmets has been a Godsend for many acetylene jockeys. Some models, however, often confuse sunlight with the welding arc and automatically darken the visor when no welding arc is present. This can be a nuisance and downright dangerous when welders are preparing to ignite the arc and suddenly lose sight of what they're doing.
Solution: The X-Mode technology found in Miller Electric's Digital Elite Auto-Darkening helmet series — specifically the Digital Elite design, which features four independent arc sensors that respond in 1/20,000 of a second. It electromagnetically senses the arc and protects when the traditional arc sensors are blocked, a common occurrence in out-of-position repairs; pipe welding; or in obstructed or hidden-cavity welds. The helmets are lightweight (18 ounces), durable and surprisingly comfortable.