January 21, 2009

Site-cast tilt-up construction is recognized as a reliable and safe building method if utilized in conjunction with good planning and a solid safety program.

Tilt-Up construction continues to lead in growth as a building solution due its advantages of efficiency, economy and effectiveness. In fact, Tilt-Up construction has grown at an annual volume of more than a quarter billion square feet of wall, outperforming the general building industry during the past decade. Market growth, however, means that people are entering this field at a rapid rate, requiring increased attention to safety — another long recognized benefit of Tilt-Up.

Despite the obvious safety considerations of erecting massive concrete wall panels with large mobile cranes, Tilt-Up construction offers great safety for crews. Since the floor slab is cast first as it is the primary casting surface for the wall panels, a sold dry work area is created for the building trades. In addition, constructing the framework on the ground eliminates the need for scaffolding, further increasing worker safety. Overall, site-cast Tilt-Up construction is recognized as a reliable and safe building method, if utilized in conjunction with good planning and a solid safety program.

Before a Project Begins

For Tilt-Up crews to take advantage of the benefits of speed and economy inherent in the site-cast Tilt-Up process, safety programs and guidelines must be enforced. Since a comprehensive safety program goes well beyond what to do and not do in the field, it must begin in the office before any workers even go to the field. For example, your safety program should include a review of all subcontractors, contracts and purchase orders — allowing you to address safety concerns and attribute responsibilities. Further, ongoing training is essential, which necessitates actually bringing the training to the crews in the field.

The key for a safety program in a Tilt-Up firm is a site-specific safety plan. A site-specific safety plan for each project should include the sequence of Tilt-Up activity. What panels are you setting first? Which will be difficult picks? The safety plan should cover crane selection and placement. The crane should be the right size for the job, inspected annually and handled by a certified operator. Be sure to address the critical lift plan with regard to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and obtain the crane operator’s certification and medical card before he or she arrives on the job. Also be sure crane maintenance records are updated and on-hand. The safety plan should also incorporate all known hazards and utilities surrounding as well as on or through the site. Items like power lines, fiber-optic cables, water mains and sewer lines all can impact the safety on the site throughout the process.

The Tilt-Up safety plan also should include a description of the special procedures required for hazardous non-routine tasks, such as design equipment, brace removal and inspections. Who determines when to remove the brace?

Another component of a site-specific Tilt-Up safety plan is a description of controlled access zones. For example, if a crew will be lifting a 30-foot-tall panel, how far away should everyone stand, not including the lifting crew? Most industry standards apply a safe distance equal to the height of the wall plus a buffer distance. What will your company determine as your effective standard? Many Tilt-Up experts suggest a controlled access zone of one and half times the panel height.

Next, the Tilt-Up safety plan should include a description of panel erection activities and procedures. These actions must follow design specifications without any modification. Remember, don’t:

  • substitute or interchange,
  • use expansion anchors,
  • use worn equipment,
  • ride on panels, or
  • alter rigging or strongbacks.

In addition to panel erection activities and procedures, a Tilt-Up safety plan must address fall protection. Although Tilt-Up has an advantage with regard to fall protection since the method eliminates much of the work performed off of scaffolding and at higher heights as common with under methods, falling is the second most common cause of work-related deaths on all construction sites. The numerous mandates for fall protection may be confusing to the Tilt-Up worker. For example, fall protection is mandated at 6 feet. For scaffold builders, fall protection is mandated at 10 feet. Steel workers must wear fall protection when working at or above 15 feet, but not tied on until upwards of 29 feet. Instead of workers trying to figure out each day if they are connectors or scaffold workers, make a rule that applies to all workers — such as, “Anyone working at 6 feet or higher must wear fall protection.” For the Tilt-Up industry, 100 percent tie-off is suggested.

Not only should workers be protected from falls but also from falling objects. When standing a panel, debris such as mud and rocks can fall off the panel. Hard hats and controlled access zones are two of the best ways of protecting employees from such falling objects.

Another important aspect of a Tilt-Up safety plan that shouldn’t be overlooked is certification for training workers who perform panel erection. Do you have specific people who only work on Tilt-Up projects, do you use a different crew each time, or do you subcontract your Tilt-Up work? How do you identify that all of these workers are trained? Many companies use different-colored vests or hard-hat stickers to indicate an employee’s training level.

For your safety plan, include emergency rescue and response procedures. These procedures should identify site-specific action plans. Who on the site knows CPR? Are employees required to give first aid? Do you have trenches? Does the volunteer fire department come to this site, or is it too far away? Be sure to answer these questions as part of your site-specific plan.

The Important Pre-Lift Meeting

The pre-lift meeting serves a significant role in addressing issues specific to Tilt-Up. As such, it is vital to have fresh eyes and ears at this meeting and to document the discussion. In addition to including details in the agenda and minutes, every member present should be required to sign off on these documents. Go over the Tilt-Up Safety Card — available from the Tilt-Up Concrete Association — sign and date it. Remember, the pre-lift meeting is only good for that lift. Even if you have thousands of lifts under your belt, don’t get complacent when it comes to safety. Be as safe on each job as you were on your first job. If you change any member of the project — for instance, a new signalman — you must have a new meeting. If you change the crew, hold a new meeting. Who should attend? The crew, signalman, crane operator, general contractor and anyone else who will be on that site that day. If possible, eliminate the presence of any other trades on the site on lift day so no one accidentally wanders into the wrong spot.

On erection day, certain guidelines must be followed to ensure a safe lift. First, the Tilt-Up contractor should be fully in charge of the site. If you are a Tilt-Up contractor tilting panels on a site, you should own the site that day. Outline this responsibility in your site-specific plan. Next, review the TCA worker safety checklist. The lift crew should wear vests. In addition, the crane’s capacity reduction in wind must be considered. Going vertical, wind, weather and other uncontrollable issues should be taken into account as well.

Ongoing Training

Once the project is completed, the safety process should continue. Accidents tend to happen when workers become complacent or comfortable with a process and therefore skip steps. As such, even the most experienced Tilt-Up crews continue their education and refine their techniques through seminars and networking opportunities. The TCA offers several resources in this category, including seminars and published resource materials. For more information, visit www.tilt-up.org or call 319-895-6911.

About the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA: TCA was founded in 1986 to improve the quality and acceptance of site cast Tilt-Up construction, a construction method in which concrete wall panels are cast on-site and tilted into place. Tilt-Up construction is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, combining the advantages of reasonable cost with low maintenance, durability, speed of construction and minimal capital investment. For more information about the TCA, visit www.tilt-up.org.

Elements of a Safety Program

A good safety program includes the following:

  • Management Support
  • Hazard recognition and control
  • Communicating safety goals
  • Emergency action planning
  • Incident investigation
  • Job safety analysis and safety training
  • Safety orientation for new employees
  • Hazard communications (MSDS)
  • Safety inspections
  • Safety teams and committees
  • PPE
  • Ergonomics
  • Recordkeeping
  • Employee involvement

Safe Profits Result from Safe Culture

While many companies claim “safety first” as a motto, in reality, profits are often the first concern. Instead, a compromise between the two lines of thought — only a safe profit — must occur. How can a firm truly make a priority of safe profits? Indeed, for many companies a culture change must take place. But while a company’s climate can change immediately, a change in culture may take three to five years. Moving from an unsafe culture to a safe one requires time, but the result is well worth the effort.

Many factors can motivate management to adopt a safety-conscious culture, including humanity, legal, public image and employee/labor relations. Perhaps one of the most successful ways to obtain management buy-in for a cultural change is emphasizing safety’s importance to the bottom-line.

One of the primary areas in which safety can affect a firm’s bottom line is Experienced Modification Rating (EMR). The construction industry uses the EMR to qualify a firm’s safety performance and to determine whether a company’s claims are greater or less than average. A bad EMR can have numerous financial effects. For example, a general contractor is unlikely to hire a Tilt-Up subcontractor with a bad EMR. Further, a low EMR and a good safety record result in lower insurance costs and less risk of liability.

Communicating Safety Goals

As you prepare to communicate your firm’s safety goals to employees, keep your audience in mind. Your audience will consist of people who listen and learn differently, so tailor your safety program to the audience’s culture and educational level, as well as the audience’s learning style. A person’s learning style may be visual, auditory or kinesthetic, so determine whether your audience learns best by seeing, hearing or by doing. Perhaps an ideal approach to communicating safety goals would involve all three learning styles, thereby optimizing the material’s effectiveness with a variety of individuals.

Emergency Action Planning

Planning is one thing, but practicing is another thing. A firm must be committed to executing the emergency action plan. How good is your emergency action plan? An effective emergency action plan covers all eventualities.

Incident Investigation

If an incident occurs, respond to and investigate each one. Too often, a firm’s employees don’t want to involve the company’s safety manager, because they want to push the occurrence under the rug. However, if the safety manager isn’t involved, then the root cause is never found and corrective actions never taken, thus the lesson and chance to prevent a reoccurrence is lost.

The investigation process should follow certain guidelines to ensure appropriate action is taken. First, analyze the data and find the root cause of the incident. Next, inform all employees about the incident. Management should fight the any urge to sweep the incident under the rug. Each employee needs to learn from the incident — no matter how minor it seems — so similar incidents can be avoided in the future. Once employees are properly notified, then implement the recommendations from the investigation and follow up to ensure the recommended steps were taken.

A firm’s commitment to investigation should go well beyond incidents, encompassing every near miss as well. Too often, firms don’t investigate if everything turned out okay. But firms continually need to ask the difficult questions when something goes awry in order to prevent near misses from becoming future incidents.

Job Site Analysis and Safety Training

If a firm has an accident, OSHA will want proof of how employee training is conducted. Training can be a “Tool Box Talk” or formal training in a classroom environment, or job site training. All training must be documented by at least a signed attendance roster and any written tests and/or a trainer’s observation report kept on file. Products, such as the Worker’s Safety Checklist and Worker Safety Cards offered through the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, exist to serve this function.

Because firms are required to protect employees from known hazards, companies must train employees how to recognize how to protect themselves from those hazards. So, where do you begin? Start by looking at your injury and incidents for the last few years; this is a list of areas you need to focus on. For most companies, fall protection is always high on the list. Fortunately, the Tilt-Up contractor minimizes the risk of fall protection through the very process of construction where most, if not all, work is conducted on the slab.

Safety Orientation for New Employees

Communicating your company’s safety culture should begin with each new employee. Make safety the first impression of your company by including your company’s safety director in the interview process. What’s more, showing your firm’s commitment to safety in the interview process can be an excellent recruiting tactic. Candidates will be more interested in working for firms that are committed to their well-being.

When new employees come on board, you’ll need to help them understand your firm’s approach to OSHA compliance. Be sure to review company-specific rules. For instance, how to report a hazard and how to report injuries. Above all, make your company’s safety expectations clear. One manufacturer reported that their safety program is tied into an incentive known to the employees as “Safety Bingo.” Through this incentive plan, each division shares in a pot that grows as safety is maintained. At the end of the time period, those employees split the money given to the safest division.

As you begin your training process, don’t begin your presentation with, “I know this is boring, but we have to go through it.” Instead, convey excitement about your message. Be professional and show how seriously you take safety. Don’t just read your safety manual — sell it. Likewise, don’t be a safety cop or manager, but think of yourself as a safety sales manager. The product you are selling is that your employees get to come home safe every day.

An important part of safety training involves hazardous communications including Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Ensure that your employees understand their right to know the MSDS book and container labeling. These items must be part of your safety-training program. Identify what chemicals you have, and make sure your employees know where to find the MSDS book.

After conducting initial training, further safety instruction should continue as necessary throughout an employee’s tenure. Any time an employee incurs an injury, even as minor as a cut on a finger, put the employee back in training — without exception. Every single employee needs to go through it.

Safety Inspections — Two Options

When it comes to safety inspections, a company can approach such scrutiny either as if the safety police were taking control of crime and punishment or as a learning opportunity to educate employees and reinforce your training. Choose the latter mindset, as it helps build the culture of safety. When you use inspections as an opportunity to educate and reinforce, your firm and its employees will experience empowerment.

Safety Teams and Committees

Safety teams and committees are an integral part of a company’s safety culture. The committee must take ownership for safety issues within the firm. To ensure the committee takes ownership, it should consist of all employees from all levels — mid-level management, senior skilled employees and new hourly laborers should all be represented. However, a safety committee should not include the firm’s president or safety director. If the president and safety director are on the committee, employees won’t take ownership. Instead, they’ll consider safety as an issue for the president and safety director. Employees in the field must have ownership of safety — it is after all their future!

A safety committee should have a budget, vision, strategy, goals, etc. To get ideas on where to start, consider a survey of all employees to see what their concerns are. Other aspects of a quality safety program that should be considered include:

Subcontractors

Do you make your subcontractors comply with your safety rules? Is it contractually required? You can’t reinforce if it isn’t in the contract, so make sure it is on the contract.

Recordkeeping

With regard to OSHA 300 versus workers compensation, OSHA record ability does not necessarily mean workers compensable. However they can and do affect each other and the company’s bottom-line. Don’t make the mistake of using one (OSHA 300 log or Worker’s Comp rates/EMR) as a gauge of your company’s safety health. Both are indicators of a company’s safety programs effectiveness. Use both.

Employee Involvement

Getting employees involved in safety comes down to a question all want answered. What’s in it for me? Employees want to know how you are you going to reward them for safe behavior. Whatever the reward, it must fit the culture. Some companies use gift certificates. Some use bingo cards, hard-hat stickers or a point system. If the reward system isn’t tied to the culture, it won;t work — no matter how good the gimmick.

Cost of Safety/Investment in Profit

What’s the bang for your buck for your safety personnel? Sure, they do your toolbox talks and your worker’s compensation costs go down, but is it worth it? Safety is a good investment, but you can’t easily calculate employee satisfaction and retention immediately. However, the numbers do show up over time. When accounting for safety’s financial impact, remember to consider safety’s positive affect on employee productivity. A good safety program also instills pride in the workplace, which contributes to productivity and retention. To put this in management language, loss control has economic factors — possible losses, returns from insurance, cost of insurance and cost of accident prevention. If accident prevention is based on economics alone, the rate of return on investment is low.

Determining the cost of safety is very simple. Use the amount of sales that must be generated to pay for an incident. Use your BLS incident rates, average costs per incident and direct safety and health costs. When we think about a preventable incident, we must examine: medical costs; lost wages; worker’s compensation insurance; death; hospital treatment; job delay; permanent disability; overtime on the job to get back on schedule; damage to buildings, vehicles and machinery; legal fees; stopped production; third-party investigation; fines; cancelled contracts; hiring replacement staff; litigation; loss of experience and expertise; lower morale; loss of image and goodwill; and business interruptions. Clearly, preventable incidents are costly.

Safety plans are necessary. Yes, they are a legal requirement, but firms that make a conscious effort toward creating a positive safety culture will find their safety programs go far beyond fulfilling the letter of the law. Companies committed to the long-term process of an outstanding safety program reap big dividends over time — and that’s a benefit no firm can afford to ignore.

Originally posted on ForConstructionPros.com