If OSHA adheres to its self-imposed schedule, next month we should see a final rule clarifying when an employer is required to pay for personal protective equipment for employees. Bear in mind, however, that OSHA’s ruling is not necessarily the final word on a subject. More important, consider that the discussion about PPE should center around much broader concerns than, “Who pays for it?”

What got me thinking about this is a report from another branch of the U.S. Department of Labor—the new occupational fatality figures published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction is No. 1 again in on-the-job deaths, with the number of construction fatalities rising about 3 percent in 2006.

If you play around with the numbers, you could point to a few industries with smaller work forces that suffered higher fatality rates per every 100,000 workers they employ (agriculture, fishing and mining, for example). But, any way you do the math, the fact that 1,226 construction workers lost their lives last year still is deplorable. Especially since most of the incidents resulting in death could have been prevented by the proper use of PPE and standard safeguards.

My point: You could buy all the PPE in the world, but it won’t protect your workers unless they use it properly and consistently.

While common human decency should be sufficient to compel us to protect our workers, also consider that safety has a direct impact on profitability for an electrical contractor, as addressed in the new ELECTRI International research report, “Electrical Contracting Best Safety Practices.” Aside from the obvious costs resulting from a job site incident, indirect costs also can take a substantial toll.

Think about schedule disruption jeopardizing contract completion. Think about lowered employee morale leading to decreased productivity. Think about tarnished company reputation leading to loss of future jobs.

The solution is to make a focus on safety excellence part of your company’s culture. Strategies might include providing regular “Toolbox Talks” to keep workers mindful of safety. (A resource to help you with this, as well as the aforementioned Best Practices guide, both are featured in the “NECA Notes” section in this month’s magazine on pages 165–168, and you can find dozens of other resources at www.necanet.org/store.)

Of course, providing in-depth safety training also must be central to the effort. I realize not all readers have access to the excellent courses offered to NECA members, but good programs are out there. The Internet makes them easy to find. One source mentioned previously in this magazine is www.trainosha.com.

You also might consult your local OSHA office or other safety organizations. And, before tackling a specialty project, such as wiring installations at a chemical plant, check with the client to see if there is any special safety training your crew should first undergo.

I further recommend you assess potential hazards and determine exactly what PPE workers will need to be safe at a job site before bidding on a project. Such a practice should be a key element in complying with safety regulations and making sure a job is completed on time and within budget.

If an accident occurs, it must be evaluated and the causes corrected as soon as possible. It should be discussed openly so that all company personnel can learn from it.

Of course, the focal point of an effective company safety policy must always be on preventing accidents in the first place. While “better late than never” may sometimes apply, “better safe than sorry” is a more appropriate motto—and one we can all live with.

Milner Irvin
President, NECA