Imagine that you’re visiting the doctor for your annual physical. The doctor enters the room with a checklist, briskly checks your pulse and blood pressure, glances at your throat, takes your temperature, and runs through the typical questions on his sheet. During the course of the physical, you mention an ache in your chest, expecting the doctor to ask a follow up question. Instead, he merely nods, flips your chart shut, and declares that he has completed all of the technical requirements for a proper physical before leaving the room.
Chances are, you, the patient, wouldn’t consider this experience proper medical care. In any case that involves health and safety, meeting the official minimum standards of care and precaution is simply not enough. Take, for example, the federal regulations set forth for construction sites. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor and defines the minimal guidelines that contractors are expected to follow in most states. These regulations include:
Placing guards on moving parts
Limiting chemical exposure
Mandating respirators, gloves, and coveralls when handling hazardous chemicals Mandating goggles, face shields and ear protection on construction sites
Setting up a confined work space
Communicating hazards to workers.
Unfortunately, these standards are difficult to enforce, and the language of the written guidelines is inexact. Moreover, these items only skim the surface of proper construction safety. They do not address the quality of barriers and protective equipment, nor do they account for incidental hazards at a given construction site. Most contractors, however, are familiar with common sense measures that should be used at any safe construction site, despite the fact that they are not technically mandated, in order to prevent accidents.
All workers should be properly trained in the use of equipment to prevent falls and other types of injuries to themselves, fellow workers, and the public. Ladders, scaffolds, and other equipment should be inspected before every shift to ensure their durability. Construction workers should also be conscious of the presence of dangerous chemicals, like lead in old paint; if working in a toxic environment, it is important for employees to have their blood lead level checked. Employers should be able to provide information about how to reduce lead exposure. Employers are also responsible for providing quality masks and other protective gear to prevent fume inhalation and damage to workers’ eyes, skin, and respiratory systems.
Other unofficial construction zone tips include balancing the weight of a tool belt to prevent back strain and muscle damage. Workers should always be cautious about the amount of weight they lift and the ways they move on the job. Standard practices like lifting with the knees and working with one’s arms and wrists in a neutral position can prevent back problems and carpel tunnel syndrome. Contractors should also make an effort to supply employees with up to date tools that are ergonomically correct. Tools should be easy to grip and should not cause numbness in the hands or arms from vibration. Most importantly, it is an employer’s responsibility to make sure that workers are given, and indeed take, adequate breaks in order to remain rested and alert.
When it comes to safety, both contractors and employees owe it to themselves and their co-workers to go above and beyond the minimum standards. A construction zone, like a patient in a doctor’s office, is full of countless variables and potential problems that must be conscientiously and thoroughly checked in order to prevent unnecessary accidents.
A Cum Laude Honors graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Alabama tort law expert Mike Roberts has successfully litigated cases covering civil litigation, personal injury, negligence, product liability, wrongful death and fraud. He is the author of six editions of Alabama Tort Law, and is licensed to practice law before the United States Supreme Court.