Safety that will not let you down.
By Dean Werner and Joan Shirikian
Being preventive in anything is extremely rewarding. Some label it as proactive vs. reactive. With regards to safety, the obvious reward is personal health. A distant second is the manufacturer’s and the customer’s personal satisfaction of a job well done with no safety surprises.
Precast production facilities are deceptively difficult working environments and the delivery and installation working environment is just as if not more difficult. The installation site is generally not under the exclusive control of the manufacturer’s delivery and installation crew, so this makes the job – and safety – even more difficult. This is especially true as the complexity and uniqueness of the quoted product increases. Safety must be addressed from start to finish, from product development and sale to delivery and installation.
The total customer package must be considered. The customer relishes new, state-of-the-art, flawless workmanship and expects the product to be delivered on a timely schedule. The precast manufacturer is looking to satisfy the customer, develop a lasting relationship and make a fair profit margin; all this and more while providing its employees with a safe working environment. The task of ensuring that all employees remain safe throughout their workday may be extremely frustrating, especially in the field, unless a program for total safety preparedness is in place.
Consider any flood that you may have witnessed or read about. The fact that people were killed or injured is not the result of the last few minutes of vast amounts of rain. Nor is it due to the first drop of rain that fell from that particular storm. It rarely is exclusively due to inadequate dam construction.
Rather, it almost always is a combination of all these and more. Safety preparedness, in this example, requires a sincere and thorough safety interaction and planning with each of the many individuals involved – before the actual flood, even before the rain. The discussion and action on safety needs to be part of design, planning, construction and every other aspect of the flood prevention plan. Failure to develop all these areas as a package will result in an unacceptable flood prevention program. Safety in the precast industry is no different. The entire project must be coordinated and safety must be integrated into every step: design, sales, manufacturing, transport and installation. The relation that each area has on the others and how that relation will impact the safety for the entire project must be considered.
As proponents of safety, health and the environment, precast manufacturers should educate all those involved in the project on the importance of safety. Engineering, sales, manufacturing, quality, trucking, prospective customers and site contractors – no one is exempt from safety planning. Each profession must utilize safety as a critical “ingredient” to keep its employees safe throughout the entire production and installation process.
The safety director must be empowered to guide, assist and energize key people throughout the sales, design, manufacture, transportation, installation and start-up processes. Smaller precast manufacturers who do not have a dedicated safety director may need to seek assistance from a reliable and knowledgeable safety consultant or another precast manufacturer. Each precast manufacturer should build a quality safety program. The safety program must be applicable to both the production and field installation personnel.
For many precast facilities, the majority of contracts are special designs and/or installations. Many jobs are considered “value added.” One value added service is ensuring that the customer receives detailed installation procedures along with the quotation contract. This generally is the responsibility of sales. This document should be reviewed, signed and sent back to the precast manufacture along with all other contract materials. This helps ensure that safety will be part of the entire project – including installation – and that there won’t be any safety “surprises.” The customer will be on notice that the safety of the precast manufacturer’s employees from engineer to set-up crew will not be compromised.
Engineering and sales need to fully understand the commitment to safety and make sure it remains a value throughout the entire project. It is essential that engineers design safety into the customer’s requested product. The design will have an effect on the many other employees involved in that same product. The engineer can design safety into all aspects of the product from production to finishing to transport to installation. Engineers should constantly monitor product size, center of gravity, lifting hardware requirements, weight of the cast product with and without accessories.
Most precast manufacturers are familiar with “production” safety. However we often overlook the important roles that design and sales play in the transport and installation of the product. If the product cannot be transported safely to the site, it is worthless. Likewise if the product cannot be installed safely it is useless. Safety dialogue must involve the customer, engineering, sales, production manager, project manager, transportation manager and site contractor.
During one installation, in order to ensure proper product alignment and seal contact, the set crew was forced to take position in a confined area on the interior of one segment of the product. The other segments each had the baffle placement so that the confined area was eliminated. The engineer was asked why the baffle on that one segment was positioned differently from the other segments. Surprisingly it was determined that all the baffles could be positioned so that the confined area would not be a factor during installation. The customer hadn’t required the special placement, and the system would function properly if all the segments had the same design. This design change eliminated the need for the crew to be placed in a confined area, adding an important safety element to subsequent installations.
With any project, as the installation date approaches, many key questions will need to be asked and answered to ensure safety during the product installation. Site conditions pertaining to geography, wet areas, hole shoring, fall prevention, trailer access, grading, overhead wires, deadlines and other project operations that will be going on simultaneously with the install must be considered. Safety issues that could arise relating to any of these areas must be identified and planned. This may require one or more predelivery site visits.
Each site condition will be different. There are some issues that will need to be addressed for almost all projects. Access to the installation point is one of those issues. This must include fall protection for employees hooking and unhooking the product to lifting devices. During installation, many projects will require placing an employee in a trench area. How that trench will be shored to prevent engulfment hazards must be preplanned. Will the contractor’s employees meet with the precast delivery employee to assist in unloading the product?
If not, a second precast employee will be needed. Preplanning is essential since working alone must be avoided. What special personal protection equipment will be required to access the site and to work safely? These are just a few of the issues that should be addressed.
Even after planning all the issues to ensure that the product can be delivered safely, unloaded safely and set safely, it is still important to stay abreast of any changing site conditions. A rain storm the week of the install can easily turn a safely planned install into a deadly situation.
The field crew must be included in the company’s safety program and training, even though they may rarely be seen in the production plant or office. Additionally, they need to have their special safety needs addressed. They also need to be empowered to identify unsafe conditions and take necessary action. Because the field employees are at a different location for each job, they need to know how to deal with unsafe situations. Unfortunately, this may mean stopping an installation and going off schedule. To keep such situations to a minimum, preplanning for safety is essential.
Dean Werner is Director of Safety at Oldcastle Rotondo Precast, and Joan Shirikian is Northeast Regional Safety Manager for Oldcastle Precast Inc. Joan is a member of the NPCA Safety, Health & Environmental Committee.