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Prioritizing Worker Wellness: Combining Education and Technology for Injury Prevention

BY CHRIS L’ECLUSE
SOLUTIONS SPECIALIST
TELETRAC NAVMAN

Construction is risky business. According to OSHA, one in every five private sector worker deaths in 2017 (the latest year recorded) was in construction. That’s 971 fatalities.

Jobsite safety precautions can address the top culprits: falls, struck by object, electrocution and caught-in/between. However, there is another danger on jobsites that gets less attention but has a much higher incident rate: injuries.

For construction workers, performing basic job functions and daily motions incorrectly – walking, standing or lifting – can result in a serious or life-threatening injury.

The perception of construction as a dangerous job is likely one of the reasons the sector is in a talent crisis. In order to safeguard existing workers, attract new ones and protect themselves legally, construction businesses need to put an emphasis on safety.

A dedicated wellness program, with an emphasis on physiologically informed safety knowledge, is a smart effort for any construction organization. It helps with injury prevention and differentiating that company as an attractive employer. Here are the key elements a construction wellness program should include:

ANATOMY EDUCATION AND PRACTICING THE RIGHT POSTURES

It’s not a mystery why most construction workers have bad backs. The job is physical. But this issue is avoidable. Many workers either think “I know how to walk and carry – I’ve done it my whole life.” Or they just started picking up tips by observing when they started in construction. But how many have actual training on anatomy?

Offering anatomy education – combined with physical practice of the right posture for tackling different parts of the job – is the cornerstone of a wellness program. It should be part of any new employee onboarding and offered regularly to retrain existing workers on best practices.

A key point to teach is the difference between “precision” and “power” fingers and using the right ones for different tasks. Another mindful lifting, climbing and walking – information on which muscles protect your back and techniques to appropriately safeguard it, such as ensuring three points of contact (two feet and a hand, or vice versa) when climbing into equipment.

Unless people have in-depth understanding of all this, they’ll likely use their muscles wrong and injure themselves. And it’s not just the informational education that’s needed. Companies need to incorporate practice of these motions in a classroom-style setting outside the field, until they’re perfected.

AGC of America members consider safety and health on jobsites as a top priority in the workplace. AGC’s Safety and Health Services provides a wealth of information and services on construction safety and health through our numerous safety resources.

RESOURCES

AGC Safety and Health Newsletter [http://www.naylornetwork.com/ngc-safetyMatters/]. Receive the latest news and updates by subscribing to SafetyMatters the AGC Safety and Health Newsletter.

AGC Safety and Health Conference [http://meetings.agc.org/safety/ ] . Join more than 200 industry professionals and participate in the development of regulatory and legislative activity on both a national and local levels, assist in the development and creation of new safety training programs and products and hear the latest initiatives from OSHA and other industry experts at this semi-annual conference.

AGC Safety Publications & Products [https://store.agc.org/AGC/Store/StoreLayouts/StoreSearch.aspx?InitialText=100_105 ]. AGC offers more than 100 safety products, such as videos, publications and training designed to improved safety and health on construction job sites.

Safety Training [https://www.agc.org/learn/education-training/safety-training/safety-training]. AGC provides a variety of safety and health training courses for the construction industry. Our classes, which are offered live and online, offer participants instruction and training that will allow them to return to their firms understanding the paramount function safety plays in the workplace.

AGC Safety Awards [https://www.agc.org/about-us/awards-recognition-programs/willis-towers-watson-construction-safety-excellence-awards]. AGC recognizes contractor members for excellence in safety through two Awards Programs: the Construction Safety Excellence Awards (CSEA) and the National AGC Safety Awards (NASA).

ONLINE SAFETY TRAINING

AGC of America’s online training collaboration with ClickSafety.com includes a comprehensive library of courses, many available in both English and Spanish, covering a variety of construction safety and general industry topics. 

Save 10% on all courses by visiting: https://www.agc.org/member-benefits/online-training 

For additional questions or information, please contact safety@agc.org.

FATIGUE AWARENESS AND COMPLIANCE WITH BREAK TIME

Handling heavy equipment for long periods of time is not only physically demanding. It leads to mental fatigue too.

Companies need to educate workers on how to recognize signs of physical and mental fatigue: body temperature fluctuations, increased heart rate, lightheadedness, forgetfulness, inability to focus. These indicators of both physical and mental fatigue are often a precursor to the mistakes that often lead to a more serious injury or possible fatality.

In addition to training on the signs of fatigue, ensuring worker compliance with breaks is critical. That may mean putting a manager in charge of walking around and physically telling people to stop working if they aren’t already doing so at the appropriate times.

Rest and relief times are central to overall wellness, and that requires a top-down commitment to prioritizing the time where workers can unwind physically and mentally.

INTEGRATING SAFETY TECHNOLOGY

Physiologically informed knowledge is the basis for safety and wellness, but technology can be a big aid as well. Wearables are used in many wellness programs, often to keep desk workers active throughout the day, but can monitor vital signs for construction workers who perform physical labor in natural elements and intense weather.

Many organizations are also using GPS technology and geofencing to track safety hazards such as speeding (a major cause of “struck by” incidents) or equipment operating outside of its approved zone. They’re also using technology to manage maintenance and inspection schedules and daily reports, to ensure there are no outstanding repairs or dangerous equipment on site.

Monitoring the safe movement and operation of assets is critical, and that can’t always be achieved on the construction site, where it’s hard to see everything going on. This is why technology that provides in-office management visibility and identifies hazards has become so popular. Integrating it into a safety program greatly strengthens a company’s results.

In the mix of everything that needs to be addressed, worker wellness often falls to the wayside. Companies that don’t invest in physiology at all may be contributing to long-term damage and injury of their workers.

As an employer, focusing on safety through worker wellness and supporting technology is the right thing to do. It will also help prevent on-site mistakes and injuries, boost your reputation as an employer amid this talent shortage and create a more productive workforce that keeps projects on-track and completed with the highest standards of quality.