Most construction projects require that all employees and personnel wear hard hats or helmets to protect them from overhead hazards. Jim discusses these hazards and describes the specific hazards presented by overhead power lines.
- I talked about the fact that we often work at heights on construction projects. So it stands to reason that if there's work going on above the ground, there may be some hazards related to things falling on us when we're working on the ground. Just like fall hazards, the hazards related to something falling on us from above, are constantly present on most construction sites. The fact is, if there's work going on above us, there's always going to be the possibility for something to get dropped. And when there's material constantly being transferred from the ground, up to the upper levels of a project, there's a risk of something falling, or of someone getting struck by a load, as it makes its way from the ground up to the work area.
This simple fact, and this ever-present hazard, is the reason that most construction sites these days require everyone that sets foot on the site to wear a hardhat or a helmet. Even a small piece of material, something like a small bolt, is going to cause an injury if it falls from 20 feet above you, and hits you on the head. Again, this is why we wear hardhats, it's one more way to keep those odds in our favor. Of course, a hardhat's not going to protect us from everything. There are heavy loads being moved around construction sites, and being hoisted by the crane to those upper levels, and this is where awareness and training comes in.
Many times, this training falls on the company, or the personnel that are moving those materials around the job-site. For example, crane operators: they're trained to plan routes for moving material that don't take that material over the top of people. Operators of equipment like forklifts, or reach lifts: they're also trained not to hoist loads over people. And when we have conditions, like people working on scaffolding, we train the scaffold directors to either install toe boards that keep people from kicking debris off and on to the people below, or we create controlled access zones to keep people out of those hazardous areas.
But again, this all relies on everything being done according to plan, and nothing ever going wrong. I feel like we keep coming back to those odds. Odds are, the people moving things around the job-site are trained, and they won't drop anything. But I know, for myself, I'm not really willing to bet my life on those odds. This means that we all need to be aware of overhead hazards on construction sites. And it means that each individual needs to be aware of the places that they should, and should not, be standing.
Sometimes we take this for granted, and we just assume that everyone knows where it's safe, and where it's not. But I'm here to tell you, people don't always know. This is why a little training, and a little orientation session, can go a long way. If you're a supervisor, and you have people arriving on your site for the first time, some conditions may really dictate that you take a few minutes, and orient them on things like, where the crane lifting locations and routes are, or how limited access zones have been marked.
And, speaking of those limited access zones, that would be something that's important for everyone to understand. Generally, when I mark an area with yellow caution tape, it means that all personnel need to be aware of specific hazards when crossing into that caution zone, and there should generally be some signs posted that identify those hazards. But when I put up red danger tape, along with signs that read Authorized Personnel Only, that generally does not mean that every worker on the site is authorized.
In fact, it generally means no-one's authorized to cross that red danger tape, unless they know why it's there, and they've coordinated with the people who put it up. Now, likewise, don't make the mistake of feeling like an off-limits area is common knowledge. And when it comes to safety, really don't make the mistake of telling yourself that something is just common sense. I've been on many construction projects throughout my life. I've seen things go right, I've seen things go wrong. What's obvious to me, is not going to be obvious to someone that's new.
For example, I would never decide that it would be a good idea to sit under the scaffolding to eat lunch; too many hazards overhead. But someone who's new, or without much experience or training, may very well decide, after half a day working in the heat, that the shady area under that scaffolding, does look like a good, out of way place to site and eat. Unless you spend a lot of time on construction sites, looking up as you walk just probably isn't second-nature. But on a construction site, it's a habit that can save your life.
Learn to pay attention to what's going on overhead, and teach that habit to others. While you're looking up, one of the things you're likely to see, is overhead power-lines. You need to be aware that the majority of these overhead power cables are not insulated. When you look up at these lines, you're generally looking at bare steel power cable. And if you touch it with something that's conductive, like an aluminum ladder, for example, that electricity is going to run through that ladder, and then through you, because you've formed a new circuit, a new path to the ground.
This can be a fatal mistake. Watch for those overhead power-lines. Stay at least 10 feet away from them. That means keep your ladders, your heavy equipment, your scaffolding, and you, at least 10 feet away. And if we're talking about a crane, you need to be even farther away: at least 20 feet, unless you make some fairly extensive special provisions to reduce the risk of electrical contact. I also want to remind you, that even though I said earlier that we teach those crane and lift operators not to route loads over people, please keep in mind, they cannot always see you.
The crane operator will try to plan, to fly their load around the site, using a route where people aren't working. But if you happen to look up, and you notice a crane load suspended overhead, remember to give it the right of way, stop and let it pass, regardless of who you think is doing things right. We've talked about being safe at heights, and watching out for what's overhead. Let's continue, and get back to looking at what's down on the ground.
Throughout this course, Jim highlights some of the most notable safety and health hazards in the industry—including fall hazards, traffic accidents, and respiratory hazards—and shares strategies for integrating safety, quality, and productivity. He also explains how to leverage technological advancements such as digital drawings to help your team work safer and smarter.
- Recognizing health hazards in the industry
- Integrating safety, quality, and productivity
- Creating a culture of learning
- Recognizing leading indicators
- Using digital solutions to improve safety
- Using BIM to identify hazards early