Eliminating unsafe conditions and behaviors will go a long way toward eliminating incidents and accidents on the job site. The construction site is a dangerous place. Much has been accomplished in recent decades to make it a much safer environment, but due to the work’s nature, construction always will be dangerous.

Dangerous equipment operates on any construction site, and hazardous substances are stored and handled there. On most jobs, working conditions involving being high in the air, beneath others, on the ground or in confined spaces exist. And there always are distractions. A recent study concluded that even with all the mitigations, construction workers operate in a dangerous environment and, therefore, must be constantly attuned to working safely. Of fundamental importance is that each worker take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others.

Eliminating job site hazards is best approached through a three-step process: recognition, identifying the hazard; evaluation, analyzing the hazard; and control, eliminating or mitigating the hazard.

Before work can begin on a hazard, it must be identified. Hazards can be identified in several ways. The first method is observation. The supervisor always should be on the lookout for unsafe conditions. The supervisor also should enlist the help of workers to be vigilant in looking for existing and potential hazards and encourage them to immediately report any unsafe condition. Such reporting should be rewarded but never criticized, even if it turns out after analysis that a dangerous condition does not exist.

Another way to identify hazards is through monitoring devices, which can detect many unsafe conditions. Examples of monitoring devices are air sensors to detect various types of air quality issues, sound monitors to alert when noise reaches dangerous levels and many types of electrical testing equipment to which the electrician has access.

Finally, communicating is very important in identifying hazards. Communicating with those involved in work site activities often will reveal potential safety problems.

Once identified, the hazard needs to be analyzed. Three critical questions must be asked. First, how likely is an incident to result? The second question is how destructive could the resulting incident be? Finally, how imminent is an incident? As the response to one or more of these questions rises, the supervisor should begin to take the hazard more seriously. Obviously, if all three questions result in high-level responses, the supervisor must immediately take action to eliminate or mitigate the hazard and to protect anyone in the vicinity.

If, after analysis, the supervisor decides the hazard must be dealt with, it will be eliminated, if possible. If the supervisor cannot eliminate it, mitigation techniques can put in place protections for people and property and minimize effects if an incident occurs.

The supervisor must design the solution by asking a series of questions. For instance, what are potential ways to eliminate or mitigate this hazard? Identify as many potential solutions as possible, given the various constraints to seek solutions, such as time, money and resources. Do not just use the first solution that comes to mind.

Next, the supervisor must evaluate the solutions by considering how effective a solution will be, what the cost of the solution will be, what the cost of not applying the solution might be and what potential side effects there might be for this solution. Based upon this analysis, the supervisor must select and implement the best solution.

In considering means to mitigate or remove hazards, a number of solutions are available. A designer might develop engineering controls to create a less hazardous installation. Managers or supervisors who define safer ways to work within the hazardous environment may impose administrative controls. Isolation is a method very familiar to electrical workers exemplified by the lockout/tagout procedures employed when working around a circuit that could be energized. Substitution looks for alternative tools or equipment that would be safer. Work practices can be changed to employ safer methods to accomplish a task. Process change could improve planning and execution all through the project to create a safer environment throughout the job site and the project duration. Training should be provided for any work or any equipment that is unfamiliar to the workers. Finally, a great variety of personal protective equipment is available to guard against a multitude of potential injuries, and it should be used whenever possible.

Next month, our focus will be on workers—rather than the work environment—when we talk about eliminating unsafe behavior.

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at jlrounds@unm.edu. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at rsegner@archmail.tamu.edu.