Safety Update: Effective safety training, Part 2

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(Part 1 can be accessed by clicking here. ) /

Emphasis should be placed on issues relevant to your business /

By Gary Auman  Legal counsel for NFBA

In January 2012, I wrote a Frame Building News article on effective safety training. Because of the complexity of this topic and the amount of relevant information, I was unable to cover the entire topic in one article. In the earlier article I answered two questions: Why should you, the employer, provide training to your employees, and when should that training be provided?

The “why” is the more important question for most employers. Why should employers lose production time training their employees regarding safety? Why should they use their company’s valuable resources to attempt to train employees who may not really care? The simple answer is that safety is your responsibility. If you don’t press it, it won’t happen. The owner needs to be totally committed to training — from the standpoints of regulatory compliance, staff morale and economics. Concerning this last point, discussed extensively in Part 1, you are in business to make a profit and on-the-job injuries involve many hidden costs that can cause significant financial hardship to your company.

In this article I address the next question: On what topics do employees need training? The number of relevant training topics relates directly to the complexity of your post-frame construction business and the number of hazards to which your employees may be exposed, but training is generally required in several main areas. I attempt to cover most of these areas here; however, for a more complete list of areas in which safety has an impact on the post-frame construction industry, refer to NFBA’s OSHA Compliance Guide. This guide, made available to all NFBA members, contains compliance information for nearly every OSHA standard that affects our industry. The manual, which is currently undergoing a complete revision, outlines the areas related to safety training.

Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, §1926.21(b)(2) of the Construction Industry Safety Standards requires employers to instruct each employee to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions and to educate all workers on the regulations applicable to their work environment. The core message of this section is succinct: You must train your employees on the specific standards that regulate the industry, but you also must instruct them to recognize unsafe or hazardous conditions that may confront them on a jobsite.

As I defend employers around the United States in OSHA citations, I find more and more employers are being cited for violation of this particular section — not because they failed to train their employees on the safety standards that apply to their industry or to their particular job, but because they have failed to train their employees to recognize unsafe conditions. For example, you have trained your employees on the need to wear personal fall-arrest equipment and you have provided that equipment to them. During an OSHA inspection a compliance officer observes an employee working more than six feet above the ground without any fall protection. This conduct will result in at least one and perhaps two citations. You may be cited for failure to ensure your employees are wearing the personal fall-arrest equipment they should be wearing, and you will very likely be cited for a violation of 1926.21(b)(2) for failure to instruct your employees in the recognition of hazardous or unsafe conditions.

In our example, OSHA will look to see whether your employees are wearing the personal protective equipment required. If they are not wearing the required PPE, you will be cited. But the compliance officer also may conclude your employees have not been trained to recognize the hazards under the supposition that, if they had been trained, they would not be working in that location without the appropriate PPE. Citations of this particular section are frequently treated as serious and can result in penalties of more than $3,500.

In light of these realities, what should employers do? I emphasize to my clients and to members of the trade associations I represent that their initial safety training needs to be focused on both hazard-recognition training and training on specific safety standards. In fact, the first training an employee probably should receive is on the identification of hazardous conditions. Much of this training will be fairly straightforward. You need to instruct your employees that whenever they see a situation in which they believe they could be injured, they need to recognize that situation as hazardous and apply the training they have received concerning the proper way to protect themselves and their fellow workers. As an alternative, they need to report the perceived hazard to their supervisor, who will then instruct them on how to protect themselves and other workers from the hazard. Hazard-recognition training does not mean just training to recognize hazards not covered by specific standards; it means also training to recognize those hazards that might exist because or when the employee fails to use the safeguards provided by the employer.

Going hand in hand with fall-protection training is ladder safety training. Specific OSHA standards deal with ladder safety, encompassing such things as inspecting the ladder to make sure it is not damaged before it is used; making sure that safety feet are on the ladder to prevent it from kicking back or slipping; attending to the angle at which the ladder needs to be set up against each building; the need to extend the ladder above the eave or point to be reached with the ladder by at least 36 inches; and the proper and safe method for ascending and descending a ladder. Other aspects of ladder safety also require training, but the preceding are the more significant.

Scaffold safety training is necessary whenever scaffolds are going to be used on the jobsite. An increasing number of post-frame contractors are using scaffolds to provide fall protection when personal fall-arrest systems like catch platforms are not feasible or safe. Scaffolds may come under the exception to standard fall protection and require the development of a written fall-protection plan.

The leading candidate in post-frame construction safety training is probably fall protection. Not only is fall protection one of the more difficult safety requirements to comply with, it also is one of the leading causes of fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry. For OSHA it is a high-visibility item and violations may be accompanied by high fines (I have seen some fall-protection citations for the maximum fine available, with no reductions made in light of the company’s size, past safety record or evidence of good-faith efforts to maintain safety).

Fall-protection training should be very complete and should cover how you protect your employees from fall hazards in all aspects of their jobs. Fall-protection training should instruct your employees on all the permitted alternatives for protecting employees from falls.

Safety in using powered equipment is another important area in post-frame construction. On most post-frame job sites some form of powered equipment, from a Bobcat to a backhoe or an excavator, is used. You need to be sure the employees who operate this equipment have been certified and trained to operate it and that all employees are trained to be aware that powered equipment is being used on the jobsite and to protect themselves from being struck by that equipment. Part of the powered equipment training for the operator should address the necessary safety inspections of the equipment at the beginning of every work shift and the process for dealing with defects that may be found.

The use of powered hand tools — from nail guns to chain saws — also requires safety training. Specific training on each piece of powered equipment used must be provided. This training should include the necessity to inspect each piece of equipment at the start of each shift before it is used. Employess should also be trained on how to use the equipment safely and how the equipment they are using may pose a hazard for other employees in the area. Finally, they should be thoroughly familiar with any PPE that is necessary for safe operation of the hand tools.

Safety training on electricity is another important topic in post-frame construction. Even though your employees may not be trained electricians and even though you may subcontract electrical work, you are most likely using electricity on the jobsite through a temporary hookup or a gasoline- or propane-powered generator to produce the electricity needed to run powered hand tools and other equipment. Safety training should include, but is definitely not limited to, the need to use ground fault circuit interrupters on the jobsite, the need to ensure that all powered tools have ground pins and that the unit the powered tools are plugged into is effectively grounded and the way to test the polarity of receptacles. The proper use of extension cords and the way to inspect them should also be covered.

Another training topic is hazard communication. The amount of hazardous materials present on post-frame construction sites may be limited, but it is still likely that a few materials on any job are covered by the hazard communication standard. In addition, full compliance training under this standard has to be provided to your employees if for no other reason than to let them know how to deal with subcontractors who may enter the construction site with their own hazardous materials.

The proper use of PPE is another important safety topic. Your employees need to be instructed about every piece of PPE they may be expected to wear. On every job, all hazards need to be assessed with regard to the necessity to use PPE. PPE training should instruct employees on how to wear, care for, store and inspect the equipment to ensure it is effective each time they use it.

Other topics that may require training for some post-frame contractors are excavation, holes and trenches. Contractor training also should cover the use of emergency action plans, fire protection and prevention, if applicable to the jobsite, and the treatment of flammable and combustible liquids such as gasoline. If liquefied petroleum gas is going to be used on the jobsite, training should be provided to employees on that potential hazard. If you anticipate that your employees will be doing welding or cutting with an acetylene torch, training in that area needs to be given. If employees may be working in a confined space, confined space training should also be provided.

Your employees should also be trained on the need to maintain potable water on the jobsite, the use of disposable drinking cups and the proper ways to work in an extremely hot or extremely cold environment, depending on the season of the year.

Many employers ask whether they need to repeat all this training for a new employee who has had prior experience with another contractor. The answer is that you as an employer cannot accept any level of experience in safety for new employees until you have made your own assessment of their level of competence. To do this, you can either provide them with a written test or require from them a hands-on demonstration of their skill sets. Perhaps a better approach is to assume nothing and require all new employees to go through new-hire safety orientation and training. This approach will ensure they get the level of training you expect your employees to have and will also provide you with the records necessary to demonstrate that you have done due diligence and performed all necessary training.

As you can see, the number of safety topics on which employees should be trained is extensive. Every employee who works for you should receive training in each of these areas, at least on the basic points concerning each hazard prior to beginning work for your company. In a future article, I will address the remaining two issues involved in effective training: how to train your employees and how to assess the effectiveness of that training. FBN

Gary Auman of Dunlevey Mahan & Furry is legal counsel for the National Frame Building Association.

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