In February of 2018 when I became NAPA Chairman, one of the primary areas I focused on almost immediately was safety. Everyone knows that the asphalt industry can be dangerous. More than two roadway construction or maintenance workers are killed on the job every week. Another 40 workers are injured every day. Roadway accidents cost more than $500 million annually, according to data from the U.S. National Institute of Health. Each death in the construction industry costs $4 million in direct and indirect expenses, while each injury resulting in lost workdays costs approximately $42,000.
In the “old” days, safety was a topic that we talked about for a few minutes before each shift. There was also “paperwork” to complete — a piece of paper to sign representing our understanding and acknowledgement of what it means “to be safe.” Employees regarded these meetings as silly company policy and a waste of time. Also, during this time, many companies employed “Safety Cops” — safety officers who were responsible for spotting safety violations and writing up the offenders. It should seem obvious to most who consider it further that simply having an individual going around looking for violations worthy of a write-up isn’t the answer to improving a company’s safety record — or building a culture of safety awareness and proactive accident prevention for that matter.
In today’s world, the most successful companies recognize that safety is implemented and nurtured from the top down. If you don’t create a safety culture within your company, you will never realize a safe operation among your crews or at your plants. To quote the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “a safety culture reflects a shared commitment of management and employees toward ensuring the safety of the work environment.” If the leadership of the company is not 100% committed and willing to make the hard decisions required to implement a truly safe workplace environment, then it will be impossible to sustain this culture throughout the ranks of the company. The statistics are well documented and proven: companies that lack an active safety culture will end up with many more accidents and quite possibly every company’s worst nightmare — deaths.
Within our industry, work zone safety is one of our biggest challenges. Our safety personnel are responsible for setting up work zones according to the rules and regulations found in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTDC). We then put our employees, construction crews, inspectors, QC staff and engineers out on the road with only plastic cones and barrels as safety barriers between them and thousands of pounds of fast-moving steel. We routinely have people working within inches of vehicles traveling somewhere between 50 and 70 miles per hour. If you haven’t had the experience of standing on the white or yellow line at the edge of a construction zone with highway traffic zooming by, I encourage you to get out there with your crew and experience how this feels. It is the environment they live and work in daily.
There have been many advances in safety devices and technology over the past few years which help to sustain a safety culture in our work zones. Everything from remote/ automatic flagging stations to devices that keep traveling vehicles out of the work zones, and much more.
Everyone involved in our industry should be diligent and continue to seek out ways to create a safer work environment, whether through increased training or being aware of and incorporating advances in safety equipment and technology into daily operations. Not every new device or technology will be the right fit for every company, but striving to stay aware of what is available and discussing the advances in safety technology with company safety personnel, superintendents and paving foremen is critical. Everyone involved, from the company owner to the shovel hand on a crew, should have a voice regarding what safety measures are implemented in their company or at their job site. Safety should be considered by EVERYONE as their FIRST responsibility EVERY SINGLE DAY. Employees need to be empowered to speak up if they see anything that they feel could be a hazard or unsafe condition. It should be the responsibility of every person on every crew to pay attention to every other person working with or around them and speak up should any concern arise.
Our industry has come a long way where safety for our crews and plant personnel is concerned; however, we still have an overall unsatisfactory safety record for the industry. As a result, there is still much work to be done. We all want our employees to go home to their families at the end of every shift in the same way they showed up at the beginning of the shift. Be the manager or employee that leads by example. Don’t be that guy that says, “Do what I say and not what I do.” COMMIT to creating a true safety culture within your company today. You will sleep better every night knowing you have done everything you can to protect your most valuable assets — your employees and co-workers.
During NAPA’s 2018 annual meeting, the “WATCHFOR.US” campaign was introduced to the public. This campaign includes a 3-minute educational video on distracted driving. You can easily find this video on the internet at www.Watchfor.Us or www.blakemoreconstruction.com on YouTube.