By Bridget McCrea
It was a normal workday in October at what would soon be the new San Francisco 49ers football stadium. Workers moved busily around the site doing their jobs, supervisors called out orders, and drivers unloaded the heavy, bulky materials used to construct the new $1.2 billion structure. In a split second, tragedy hit when a 60-year-old truck driver was crushed to death by the steel rebar he was unloading from his truck.
The accident – the second construction worker-related death within four months at the stadium – was still under investigation when this article went to press, and is certain to impact both the general contractor and the worker’s employer. But the human impact on the worker’s family, friends and co-workers was immediate and devastating.
Reminders of the dangers lurking on construction sites, on the road and at manufacturing facilities are plentiful. While full-time employees may understand and compensate for the dangers that stand before them, the typical “visitor” may not readily recognize those threats.
Suppose a delivery person is hurt while unloading materials at your plant? Or, perhaps a subcontracted transport company drops your product on the highway? Even worse, what if that product topples onto another car? It has happened before.
These are all questions that companies like Jensen Precast of Sparks, Nev., ask themselves and address on a regular basis. To reduce such risks, the company has developed a workplace safety program that includes specific policies and directives around vendors and contractors. As part of the program, for example, a crane operator who is coming on site to conduct equipment maintenance must provide a certificate of insurance and complete an orientation program. Through the latter, Jensen Precast can determine whether the individual has the proper safety credentials to perform the work, inform that person about its lockout procedures, and ask that he or she sign an acknowledgement.
“We also use a prequalification process with vendors that spells out our requirements, and requests specific pieces of safety information before they can even do business with us,” says Donald Graham, director of safety. The program was implemented several years ago after a safety-related incident pushed Jensen Precast to more carefully examine its procedures. And while deliveries of office supplies are handled more informally (since they take place in the precaster’s “common areas”), those that are directed at the plant or yard fall under more scrutiny.
Graham says the program was modeled after several Jensen Precast customers who send out “prequalification managers” for all new jobs. As part of those pre-bid qualifications, Graham says the precaster is asked for its OSHA history, insurance experience modification factor, and copies of other safety-related documents. “We’ve basically borrowed a page from their book,” says Graham, who adds that all vendors who come on site need to comply with and follow the same procedures.
“We put all visitors, customers and vendors through an orientation program that tells about the hazards of the plant, ensures that the individual has a PPE, hardhat and safety glasses, and sets him or her up with an escort,” says Graham, adding that Jensen Precast’s workplace safety program has “gone pretty smoothly” since inception – with the exception of the errant vendor who refuses to attend the orientation and/or fill out the acknowledgements.
“When they refuse, we tell them that we’ll just contact another vendor,” Graham says. In regions where alternate vendors are not available, he says Jensen Precast works out negotiated arrangements with the suppliers in question. The program has received positive reviews from visitors, customers, vendors and even OHSA. “When you can create a positive experience with a regulator, it’s never bad,” says Graham. “The best news is that we’ve had no accidents or fines involving vendors, contractors or visitors since implementing the program.”
In our increasingly litigious society, preventing accidents, mishaps and deaths on your premises, at job sites and even on the road should be a top-of-mind issue. Take premises liability, for example. In “Premises Liability: Who is Responsible?” by FindLaw, a leading provider of free legal information (findlaw.com), in most cases the property owner is responsible for maintaining a “relatively safe” environment. This is known as “premises liability.” A courier delivering a package may sue you for injuries if he or she slips and falls on an oil slick in the driveway, for example, but if the same courier happened to be intoxicated or otherwise acted in an unsafe way, then he or she may not have a valid claim.
According to FindLaw, the legal theory of premises liability holds property owners liable for accidents and injuries that occur on that property. The kinds of incidents that may result in premises liability claims can range from a slip and fall on a public sidewalk to an injury suffered on an amusement park ride. Liability is determined by the laws and procedures of the state in which the injury occurred. In some states, the court will focus on the status of the injured visitor in determining liability. In other states, the focus will be on the condition of the property and the activities of both the owner and visitor.
For precasters and other manufacturers, the issue of visitor and delivery safety arises in relation to loading and unloading products. In the recent North American Transportation Association (NATA) article “Loading and Unloading, Who is Responsible?” the author points out that the person who loads a cargo-carrying vehicle can make the difference in establishing liability for loss or damage to the cargo; for injuries that occur during transport; and for problems that surface during delivery.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, the trucking company and the driver bear the ultimate responsibility for the safe operations of the trucks, but those regulations generally do not apply to people who ship or receive freight on trucks (consignors and consignees). OSHA standards state, “OSHA regulations govern the safety and health of the workers and the responsibilities of employers to ensure their safety at the warehouse, dock, construction sites, and other places truckers go to deliver and pick up loads throughout the country. While OSHA does not regulate self-employed truckers, it does regulate workplaces to which the truckers deliver goods and the workers which receive those goods.”
But what happens when someone gets injured due to the shifting and/or falling of a large precast piece while the cargo is in transit – or while it’s being unloaded? According to the NATA, if the shipper loaded the freight and secured the cargo, the trucking company generally is not liable for injuries caused by shifting or falling freight.
However, if a trucking company driver witnesses and/or participates in the loading process, secures the freight for transport and could have made changes to the load to make it safe for movement, then the trucking company and driver could be liable for any shifting or falling freight damages. “If the shipper assumes responsibility for the loading process without the driver or an agent of the carrier observing the process, or if they could have offered input on how to properly load the cargo vehicle, then they may be liable for any shifting or falling freight damages.”
In most cases, the truck drivers, vendors, delivery personnel and clients who visit your premises will not understand the exposures and dangers associated with your facility like you do. One of the best ways to offset this lack of knowledge, says Gary Murral, construction consulting director at CNA Risk Control in Chicago, is by controlling physical access when such individuals are on site. If you have the space, for example, consider separate “visitor” driveways, parking areas and common areas where you can feasibly keep exposure to a minimum.
“The idea is to keep them away from production and heavy-traffic areas,” says Murral. “Steer them out of having to make these decisions for themselves. Make it clear this is their entrance and that they need to report to the office.” Signs that emphasize messages like “Unescorted visitors must report to the office” can also help keep visitors safe and accounted for, says Murral.
The same care should be used at gates and entrances designed for truck ingress and egress. Clearly mark entrances and exits with signage, Murral advises, and use a similar tactic to remind drivers to “stay in their vehicles unless otherwise directed.” And, if you do decide to allow them to exit their vehicles, be sure to designate and communicate where they can and cannot go once they are on foot (for example, use signs that state “Non-employees are not allowed beyond this point”).
Murral says precasters can take their commitment to on-site safety a step further by requiring drivers to wear visibility vests once they exit their trucks. “Even if they aren’t walking around in an area of exposure, you want to make sure they’re seen by all,” says Murral, who notes that all of these steps are designed to create a controlled environment – even outside in a large yard area where dozens of workers are going about their daily tasks. “The key is to communicate your message and enforce it.”
As a precaster, your own employees are one of your best lines of defense against a visitor injury, accident or even death. Break-ins, thefts and other threats can also be thwarted by attentive employees who understand the rules and know what to look for.
“Empower your workers to be your eyes and ears and to be on the lookout for potentially problematic people and/or situations,” says Murral. “When your workers exhibit this behavior and thwart problems, be sure to give them an ‘Atta Boy!’ This will help change behaviors and make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to site and individual safety.”
Changing the rules
Precast manufacturers looking to roll out improved visitor and driver safety policies should expect some pushback, says Murral. After all, it’s just human nature to be resistant to change, he says. Much like Jensen Precast ran into issues with a small handful of vendors who didn’t want to comply with its workplace safety program, your company will likely face some resistance when asking, say, a longtime vendor to suddenly wear a reflective vest and not visit his longtime friend over on the shop floor without an escort.
“Vendors and drivers that have been visiting your site for 10 years may assume that they know what’s right and wrong,” says Murral, who advises precasters to emphasize the safety aspect of their programs and campaigns when dealing with pushback. “Tell them that you’re trying to ensure that you have the safest environment possible through posted signs, communicated safety rules and related policies. If they can’t follow those, then you’ll have to work with someone who can. Period.”
On a final note, Murral advises precasters not to miss the trees for the forest when developing site and on-the-road safety procedures. Much like the longtime vendor who feels he knows the ins and outs of your premises, you too may be blind to the possible threats that are lurking around the next corner. “You may be so familiar with your property that you’ve become immune to the hazards and exposures,” Murral warns.
One effective method of overcoming this “halo effect” is by walking through your plant and around your premises with an imaginary 10-year-old child by your side. Not only are people more protective of children as a whole, but children also tend to be more curious and mischievous than the average adult. “This exercise will raise your awareness, because people know that children lack knowledge and experience,” says Murral. “Look at the hazards and exposures that exist from that perspective, and you may be surprised to find out that what you think you have covered is not very well covered at all.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.