On a construction job site, accidents can happen. A number of contractors and subcontractors may be working on a building site at the same time, where there can also be multiple unknown hazards, so a plan can be invaluable in providing a cohesive safety strategy and minimizing the potential for accidents.
That potential is, unfortunately, high. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 20% of worker fatalities in private industry during 2019 occurred in construction. The most frequently violated OSHA standards occurred in areas such as fall protection, scaffolding, and ladders.
Accidents put the health and lives of workers at risk. Not only that, but they can also delay or shut down a project, creating cost overruns, missed deadlines, and rushed jobs that lead to more unsafe conditions. As a result, companies can be vulnerable to lawsuits and civil penalties, not to mention damage to their reputations. OSHA civil penalties can amount to as much as $13,653 per violation.
The goal, of course, is to minimize accidents (ideally to zero) and increase safety at a construction site. Because each job site is structured differently, with different projects, objectives, and construction equipment, it’s important to have a specific plan for each location: a site-specific safety plan, or SSSP. A site-specific safety plan is a risk management document written and maintained by the contractor to manage the health and safety of the construction site and those working there.
What is a Site-Specific Safety Plan?
A site-specific safety plan (SSSP) is designed to maintain a safe environment in light of a workplace’s unique risks, the people who are or may be on-site (both workers and others), and the project objectives.
The plan should be not only detailed but also flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions through different phases of a project.
What Should a Site-Specific Safety Plan Include?
Site-specific safety plans should include a variety of information designed to protect not just workers, but subcontractors, visitors, and members of the public from potential safety risks presented on-site.
Plan and Consult with Experts
Plans should be completed before work starts, but should also be updated on a regular basis as conditions on the site change. This should include a step-by-step analysis of each subcontractor’s responsibilities from when material is unloaded until the project is complete.
Plans should be written to cover all contractors and subcontractors at the site. Proof that subcontractors are adequately trained should be provided, and systems should be in place to make sure they’re in compliance with the general contractor’s safety policies. A disciplinary policy should be in place to address situations in which safety procedures are not followed.
A competent person responsible for the SSSP should be identified, along with a backup contact in the event that person is unavailable.
According to OSHA, an effective construction safety plan should ensure that general contractors and their employees are aware of:
- The types of hazards that may be associated with work being done on the site
- Procedures and measures needed to avoid or control exposure to hazards
- How to contact the contractor, subcontractor, or staffing agency with safety concerns or to report an injury or illness
- Previous work done at the site and hazards that may already be present
The plan should include guidelines for when and where personal protective equipment (PPE) — such as hard hats, respiratory protection, hearing protection, gloves, chemical splash goggles, and face shields — should be worn on the job site.
Explore whether and how modern “smart” wearable PPE might improve safety, and consider using virtual technology to increase clarity concerning site layout and components.
The goal should be zero accidents, and substantial reductions in accident frequency can be expected when safety programs and safety requirements are adopted on a project site.
In fact, a study of small employers taking part in OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, or SHARP, in Ohio found an 88% reduction in workers’ compensation claims; an 87% drop in the amount of time lost, on average, per claim; and an 80% decrease in the cost per claim.
Owners and project designers should be included in the process of formulating any plan. Their direction and planning are crucial in laying out the steps that will be necessary to complete the project. If these stakeholders decide to alter the parameters and scope of work, project managers will need their input at that stage, as well.
Construction workers should be consulted ahead of time and invited to provide input on safety procedures they believe would benefit the project. Many workers will have had experience with previous accidents and near-misses on construction sites and will be able to provide valuable insights on procedures and best practices.
Include Site-Specific Information
A good site-specific safety plan will contain the following:
- Project name
- Project location
- Description and visual diagram of the project
- List and description of site conditions and exposures
- Routes of travel and delivery to and within the site
- Building entries and stairwells
- Presence and location of any hazardous materials (such as asbestos) and protocols for dealing with such materials
- Safety standards and location of any potential hot work on the job site
- Hazard communication and response plan in case of accident
- Material safety data sheet (MSDS) for any chemicals or other potentially hazardous materials, and their locations on-site
- First aid protocols and where first aid can be obtained
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each employee and subcontractor
- Contact information for safety representatives and emergency contacts
- List of construction site safety rules, such as designated smoking areas or restrictions on operating certain equipment in defined areas
Identify Worksite Hazards
In considering potential issues that may arise, a plan should be developed that takes into account — and seeks to avoid — hazards such as:
- Equipment failure
- Operator failure of heavy equipment such as forklifts, cranes, etc.
- Fire hazards, through the careful storage of flammable material
- Chemical exposure through touch or fumes
- Poor air quality
- Improperly stacked or handled material that’s likely to fall
- Excessive noise that could damage hearing
- Lack of cleanliness
- Electrical hazards
- Hazards that can lead to tripping, slipping, or falling
A checklist detailing how such incidents are most likely to occur, and a site map detailing potential problem areas such as blind spots, can help workers prepare and take the proper precautions. Of course, where possible, such situations should be avoided and locations where they might occur adjusted to improve safety.
Establish Weather Protocols
Establish clear protocols for work procedures and/or suspension during inclement weather. Construction sites are particularly prone to damage and unsafe conditions during severe weather, simply because not everything is “nailed down.”
High winds can wreak havoc with material that isn’t properly secured, in extreme cases sending it flying with the potential to injure workers. So it’s a good idea to monitor weather reports and have contingency plans in place for securely storing loose materials and equipment in the case of bad weather.
Make sure workers know how to recognize dangerous weather. Know when to delay work in case of severe cold, lightning storms, and other extreme weather conditions that can pose a threat to workers on the site.
Why Some Site-Specific Safety Plans Fail
Many site-specific safety plans fail because they’re not specific enough.
It’s easy for general contractors and construction managers to simply follow a standard template that’s passed along to subcontractors for routine “sign and return” approval, but this will not address particular issues specific to a given site. It’s also not enough to just pass along OSHA regulations and industry standards without stating how they apply specifically to the work at hand.
Safety plan templates fail to take into account project specifics, such as the site layout (blind spots, trenching, etc.) that can affect things like traffic control and worker and subcontractor safety. Templates may also leave out important details including any hazardous chemical components specific to the project, an accurate visual diagram of the site, and information about the location of the project in relation to its setting — all of which may inform workers of potential dangers and thereby improve overall safety.
While a template SSSP may be better than no SSSP at all, neither a template nor a simple restating of OSHA guidelines without consideration of the unique elements of a given project is the best option. Templates will often fail to address essential information specific to the project at hand. This failure can leave necessary safety protocols unstated and put worker health and safety at unnecessary risk.
The American Society of Safety Professionals Standards on Safety Planning
The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) has adopted a series of A10 standards to provide “best practices for identifying, assessing and controlling” risks that can lead to “worker injuries, illnesses and fatalities” on construction and demolition project sites.
The organization, formerly known as the American Society of Safety Engineers, adopted a variety of standards on 50 subjects, including:
- Concrete and masonry construction
- Construction in confined spaces
- Debris nets
- Demolition operations
- Hearing loss prevention
- Highway construction safety
- Material hoists
- Public protection
- Steel erection
- Tunnels, Shafts, and Caissons
What is the Purpose of the ASSP Safety Standards?
The ASSP safety standards were adopted to help work site owners, contractors, and construction workers incorporate safety and health planning as standard practices in their preparations for any project.
These standards define a foundation for creating site-specific safety plans. They’re a starting point, not an end in themselves, but they do provide guidelines that those in the construction industry can adapt to specific situations on the ground.
Knowing about potential hazards, safety procedures, and the specifics of a given work area before a job begins can improve project safety.
Safety meetings and safety orientations can be held prior to the beginning of work to familiarize everyone involved in the project with safety measures, signage, and the scope of work ahead.
Check each employee’s OSHA certification to ensure they’re qualified to operate the equipment they’ll be using, and provide additional safety training wherever necessary.
Maintain clear and frequent communication between contractors, subcontractors, project managers, construction workers, and safety representatives throughout the process.
Evaluation should be ongoing and adjustments in your plan should be made as needed during the project itself, but that evaluation shouldn’t end with the project. When the job is complete, review it to see how well you’ve done, and look for areas of potential improvement. Go over the data on accidents, near-misses, and employee feedback to determine what you can do better, and implement those ideas the next time you undertake a project.
An effective site-specific safety plan can help contractors and subcontractors avoid accidents that can lead to injury and even death while saving money and ensuring deadlines are met safely.