Construction projects are unique events. They have a beginning, a duration, and an end. Participants work to complete the project as designed, on budget, and on schedule. Planning for safety makes the project safer by decreasing job hazards, pressures, and tensions.
Both workers and the public need to be reasonably protected from injury due to construction operations. All involved organizations and individuals can influence safety on the project. However, the extent to which a party may be expected to contribute to safety on a project is in part based on the extent to which the party’s scope of work and responsibilities affect the safety of the workers and the public.
For many construction projects, the owner contracts with a single contractor. Alternatively, on some projects the owner contracts with several prime contractors, and each one is responsible for a specific part of the project. The contractor in charge may be referred to as the general contractor, the prime contractor, the construction manager-at-risk, the constructor, or just the contractor. This contractor assumes overall responsibility for control of their contracted work unless contracts or agreements stipulate otherwise.
The contractor in charge may hire subcontractors to perform certain portions of their contracted work. Subcontractors are specialty contractors, who take responsibility for safely performing their limited contracted work activity. However, this likely does not relieve the contractor in charge of all responsibilities.
On larger, more complex projects, the owner may also contract an agency construction manager to act as the owner’s agent and assist the owner in performing traditional owner responsibilities. Depending on the nature of the project, the owner and/or the construction manager may have varied levels of involvement in day-to-day activities.
The OSH Act of 1970 requires that each employer “Shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees…” However, compliance with OSHA regulations is recognized as the minimum that is required; safety practices should be project-specific and should go above and beyond the OSHA requirements as necessary to reasonably prevent injuries.
Construction planning starts with arranging the work through the contracts, which may be written and/or oral. Buyers of construction services, both owners and contractors implementing subcontracts, can benefit from evaluating their prospective contractors’ and/or subcontractors’ safety performance. Safety should be considered along with costs, schedules, quality, and other important job goals.
Construction job sites are very dynamic, changing environments. Plans change, and planning for safety is an ongoing process. The contractor should employ a competent superintendent and necessary assistants who monitor performance of the work. Subcontractors should employ competent foremen to direct and supervise their respective work crews. The type of planning that they do reflects their priority for safety with respect to production of work.
Safety on a construction site can be effectively achieved through cooperation among the participants. Therefore, when an injury occurs, careful consideration should be given of the parties in control and the limits of their individual responsibilities. Plan safe. Work safe. Finish safe.