Dan Johnson, Managing Partner
From the humble tent that is secured firmly on the ground to the towering skyscrapers, the construction industry has indeed turned the wheel of innovation quickly. Many factors have contributed to the stunning phases of transformation. Technology and innovation, be it 3D printing, BIM, AI, self-healing concrete, or modular building, continue to play a key role in the booming industry. On an equal footing, a remarkable workforce toils on to build structures that stand the test of time, brick by brick. But an intangible and often overlooked factor proves to be a very crucial contributor to a construction project’s overall success—safety.
Unfortunately, behind the rosy façade, the construction industry remains one of the most hazardous to workers. Although everyone aspires to be injury-free, statistics on injuries sustained on site present a grim picture. Falls, trench collapses, and chemical exposure are just a few of the common hazards on construction sites, which result in numerous workers getting killed, seriously injured, or ill.
Even as builders and contractors strive to implement the stipulated safety measures, not everyone finds it easy. They face difficulties in drafting a safety plan, which mostly stems from lack of time or in-house expertise to precisely understand the areas of safety they have to focus on, and how the policy has to be written or the training needs to be conducted.
The door to finding a partner who can provide safety expertise and enhance job site safety with a proactive and well-managed program opens to SFI Compliance, Inc. This year, SFI Compliance, a safety training, management, and consulting firm, celebrates 30 years of assisting contractors and builders improve safety performance on their job sites and keeping them in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and requirements. With a local presence in Colorado, Texas, and Arizona, SFI is committed to helping clients anywhere in the nation.
SFI, with over 100 years of workplace safety and risk management experience, primarily works with general contractors, home builders, and subcontractors in four specific focus areas: safety programs, safety training, safety inspections, and emergency response.
Under the broad umbrella of safety programs, SFI helps their multitude of clients develop a brand-new safety program as well as update their current policies or revise them, if necessary. Most companies find it tough to write a safety policy when they do not have a safety manager. Here, the SFI team can step in to draft the policy and help them understand the safe work practices for their particular trade and the related OSHA requirements.
“Even in instances where companies have the resources to develop the safety plan, it is challenging to comply with OSHA regulations and industry practices,” says Dan Johnson, managing partner of SFI Compliance. In such a scenario, SFI can put together the right safety program and continually update that as and when industry practices change.
In the arena of safety training, SFI, for its sizeable percentage of clients who are general contractors, imparts training on how to manage safety during a project because their primary responsibility is to supervise at the job site. SFI’s experienced safety instructors, travel to client locations and conduct an OSHA 30-hour training or a safety management course, where the clients are trained on CPR and first aid to assist in case of an emergency. They also have a training facility in Englewood, where many of their Colorado-based clients attend training sessions.
For all their subcontractor clients that include framing contractors, steel erectors, drywallers and other trades, SFI conducts an OSHA 10-hour class, a shortened version of the 30-hour training, focused on the main hazards that the subcontractor and their employees deal with. The company also conducts training and certification programs to ensure that only trained and certified operators are on forklifts and mobile elevating work platforms. All kinds of safety training come under the purview of SFI, including fall protection training and scaffold training, among others.
A Robust Fall Protection Strategy
Johnson recalls a particular incident that happened when they had taken over the safety management for a subcontractor in Texas. The subcontractor worked on apartment projects throughout Texas, and the employees were required to perform various tasks on balconies where other contractors installed the guardrails. To ensure safety, the SFI team conducted safety training, performed frequent and regular safety inspections, and worked with the client to update their written safety and health program. About a year ago, an employee was leaning on a 2x4 guardrail system to cut back the flashing on the edge, when the guardrail gave way as it was not properly installed. Although he fell over the edge, the fall was arrested as he was wearing the proper fall protection gear, and the company was able to rescue him by instituting their fall rescue plan.
“We believe the severity of this accident was reduced because we helped institute steps such as imparting a full safety orientation for all new hires, conducting weekly safety meetings to reiterate the orientation and also discuss new lessons learned,” says Johnson.
Building a Positive Safety Culture
On the safety inspections front, the team visits job sites to ensure that the policies and programs put in place are effective and being followed. As opposed to adopting a checklist approach during inspections, SFI is focused on changing the culture of safety.
According to Johnson, there’s a concerning trend that commonly occurs. A lot of workers take shortcuts to do a particular job and increasingly become confident that nothing untoward is happening, which snowballs and one day results in an accident. During their inspections, SFI’s safety consultants identify such shortcuts and advise the workforce against taking these shortcuts by making them aware of the grave dangers lurking beneath.
“Our effort is directed toward convincing the employees that it is in their best interest to follow all safety guidelines and bring about a behavioral and cultural change where they want to work safely,” explains Johnson.
He draws attention to the recent trend of the younger workers wanting to adopt safer processes. Over the last few years, SFI has spent time teaching OSHA 10-hour courses to trade schools that train people who are looking for a career in the construction industry.
The fourth major element is emergency response. In the event of an accident or a near-miss, SFI determines the root cause to prevent any recurrence and also helps their clients in accident investigations when OSHA is involved. OSHA will wait a reasonable amount of time for SFI to get to the site to assist their clients and represent them during the inspection and after the inspection during the informal conference if necessary.
A Commitment to Safety
In the ensuing months, the company is all set to unveil an app for conducting safety inspections, safety observations, and toolbox talks for safety meetings. “We have completed the beta testing and are very much excited to roll it out,” says Johnson.
"As safety consultants, we are doing our part to keep everybody in the community, the construction arena, and the world safe"
This will perfectly dovetail with SFI’s goal of building a safety culture among the workforce, which, as per the feedback from OSHA and their clients, should follow a top-down approach. The app will enable SFI’s general contractor clients to conduct their own safety inspections and observations, and document and track everything that they are doing from a safety standpoint to help build a safety culture without SFI being on-site at all times. “General contractors can easily figure out which sites are conducting regular inspections and safety observations as well as document their toolbox talks with the workers on the site,” explains Johnson.
In a nutshell, SFI, with its purpose of improving lives by instilling a safety culture is the answer to the million-dollar question of how to empower America’s workforce to return home safely each and every day.
Today, as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, SFI stands true to its deeper purpose. The company has put in place numerous safety policies and procedures, created posters, and continues to carry out on-site safety inspections to ensure their clients and their workforce are safe. Their frequent in-person safety meetings have metamorphosed into toolbox talks on YouTube. These short video presentations in English and Spanish covering a variety of topics have elicited a tremendous response from all quarters. There is also a video to address workplace distractions due to the high anxiety level of workers in these trying times, which inadvertently result in injuries or mishaps. The topics include ladder safety, housekeeping, and COVID-19 Job Site Safety Stand Down, among others.
In addition, SFI has introduced screening verification forms that will help clients screen their workers and prevent those sick from entering the jobsite. A project safety checklist specific to COVID-19 is in place for their clients to ensure that all workers are following the mandatory requirements to stay safe. “We are offering a new service focused on COVID-19 safety inspection. Since construction has been named essential, we visit the jobsite and act as a third set of eyes for our general contractor and home builder clients to ensure that people stay safe,” says Johnson. In the event of a worker testing positive for COVID-19, the SFI team guides clients with sanitation processes, notifying workers on the potential exposure on the jobsite, and the numerous vital decisions regarding cordoning off certain areas.
“As safety consultants, we are doing our part to keep everybody in the community, the construction arena, and the world safe,” concludes Johnson.