Enhancing Safety and Coordination Before the Job Begins
John Knight, CHP, CHST
In nearly every construction site, multiple groups of craftspeople handle their own tasks and timetables, all built around larger project objectives and schedules. However, none of those groups works in a vacuum. Even when they aren’t performing their tasks in the same space as another group, their tasks and timelines may cross over one another.
Excellent coordination among trades and tasks is one of the signs of a well-managed construction site. So is carefully planned focus on safety. In fact, one of those most important elements of a safety program can also enhance coordination.
The job safety analysis (JSA) is known by a variety of different names and acronyms – from AHA, to JHA, to TAP and more – but the basic concept remains the same, no matter what the process is called. A JSA is simply a formal effort to identify and document the hazards associated with a specific task, so that workers can take the proper actions to protect themselves. It’s a critical first step in ensuring site safety.
While it may be easy to suggest that the JSA is just another duty for the site supervisor, the reality is that it’s everyone’s responsibility. Management needs to be involved to ensure that employees are aware of hazards and that supervisors have the expertise they need to monitor safety practices. Front-line supervisors need to be involved, because it’s up to them to verify compliance with those practices and spot potentially dangerous situations. And the actual workers also need to play a role, because they’re the people who are most aware of the potential hazards.
Not for All Tasks
Does a JSA need to address every task on a worksite? Not necessarily. If a company has created standard operating procedures (SOP) for specific tasks or as overall rules, there’s no point in duplicating that. For example, if a company’s SOP says that workers using a grinding tool must wear proper eye protection, that doesn’t need to be added to the JSA for a task that involves grinding.
Typically, companies will develop JSAs for high-hazard activities, or for tasks that fall out of the normal scope of work for some reason. They could be tasks the workers don’t normally handle, or familiar tasks in unfamiliar locations. For example, a worker may hang dozens of sheets of drywall or run many feet of conduit every day, but one part of a project may require that he perform those tasks from a high manlift. The JSA could address the aspects of the job related to the height, such as fall protection, preventing other workers from walking below the task, and similar issues.
Communication is critical
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when developing a JSA is that they don’t do a good job of communicating with the workers who will ultimately be affected, so they don’t get the buy-in they need to make the effort successful.
What happens all too often is that a supervisor hands a blank form to a worker who has been performing a task for 30 years and asks him to write down every step of the task. The worker doesn’t understand why he has to take time to do something so obvious – or doesn’t sense that there’s any value in it – so he either does an inadequate job or sarcastically goes overboard. (“I pick up the screwdriver with my right hand. I pick up the screw with my left hand.”)
A better approach is to take the time to help workers understand that you’re going through the steps to reduce their risk, and that nobody appreciates the potential dangers better than they do. Instead of asking them to fill out a form, ask them questions about what they do. Where do they think someone could get hurt? What types of accidents have they seen? What types of near-misses have happened to them? Then ask them what could prevent those things from happening again, and you’ve developed the essence of the JSA.
I mentioned that a JSA can enhance coordination between trades and with the workflow. If JSAs for each trade and task are posted in a central location, craftspeople can review the others trades’ JSAs for the area in which they’ll be working, and become aware of hazards they might not have considered. They can work with the other trades to coordinate tasks to minimize the risk. There’s also the opportunity to engineer the hazard out of the task, perhaps by making a slight change in the schedule.
Documentation is key
As with so many other aspects of safety, it’s important to properly document JSAs. Besides minimizing the chance that something will be missed or misunderstood, documentation allows supervisors to audit the site and ensure that workers are capturing and aware of all the hazards to which they’re being exposed. That extra layer of accountability provides additional protection to workers, and will give management confidence that everything possible is being done to reduce the chances that something will go wrong.