OSHA guidelines cover workers in the field environment at large but don’t drill down to some of the details of specific standard operating procedures for engineers operating within that space.
Maser Consulting develops safety training and communication programs specifically for its field activities.
By Lisa DeBenedetto with Maraliese Beveridge
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) website, its mission is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” This is a mission that is necessary, regarded by all, and vital to the successful wellbeing of everyone in the workplace.
Because Maser Consulting is a multidiscipline engineering firm, we have field staff working within a wide variety of jobsite environments performing very specific tasks. While OSHA guidelines cover workers in the field environment at large, they don’t drill down to some of the details of specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) for engineers operating within that space. Any violation they witness, that they haven’t formally designated, falls to the responsibility of the contractor/engineer onsite who can be cited by OSHA’s General Duty Clause. Our goal was to minimize our potential for safety violations through a system of onsite self-governance that we developed from the ground-up specifically for our field activities.
A Near Miss Newsletter added to the firm’s intranet displays near miss reports and corrective actions taken from employees monthly, both in the office and field.
Many industries have struggled over years of navigating through the ongoing development of technology and migrating data and workflow process from handwritten paper systems to ever-changing electronic platforms. We were no different. After investigating different platforms, our Safety Advocate Committee utilized Microsoft Infopath, a design application that enabled us to create our own customized, service-specific forms. But this was still generally a paper system that wasn’t user friendly, was time-intensive, and eventually became outdated. By today’s standards, this type of system might not be good enough to help the field technician who sustained an injury onsite requiring immediate directions to the closest hospital.
What we did
In 2016, I was hired as the first full-time, dedicated Health and Safety manager. One of my first duties was working with the committee to perform a complete audit, examining and assessing the history of our safety records, procedures, and near misses. Together, we took it upon ourselves to take our worker safety to a higher level by developing our own internal hazard assessment based on each department’s service and project site type.
After analyzing the collected information and many brainstorming meetings, we developed a two-fold process. It included development of a customized, internal website that facilitated a workflow enabling field personnel to access safety requirements and information about the project site in real time from the field. It also allowed them to feed data into the system about site changes such as additional hazards encountered. Because this information was live and accessible by all field staff, it increased communication between field team members themselves, as well as from field to office.
The other half of the program was creation of a designated Site Safety Leader (SSL) for each project. The SSL is a person identified by the project manager, as soon as the project number has been opened, to be responsible for the safety of our employees and our subcontractor teams on the site.
The SSL goes through specific training we developed for the program. The minute they open a checklist and pick the appropriate hazards, the system automatically uploads the associated SOPs and hazard controls. Once the team has been formed, every member is automatically notified that they’ve been assigned to a checklist that they are to review and acknowledge prior to the first day on the job. This ensures that the entire team has access to the same information.
The checklist is a web-based program that consists of fillable drop-down boxes containing a list of a variety of project site types, including buildings/structures, active roadways, construction sites, trenching/excavation, waterfront/bridgework, hazardous waste/chemicals, confined spaces, scaffolds, pipeline, large chemical/petrochemical sites, wastewater treatment facilities, etc. Each project site has a sub-checklist of many possible hazard types related to the site environment (waterfront, wooded, paved, etc.).
For example, if you are working on a pipeline site, you have potential to encounter:
- excavation/trench collapse,
- injured by vehicle/equipment,
- ionizing radiation,
- hot work/welding, and
- gas leaks/explosions.
Once in the field, if additional hazards are present, there is a check box that allows you to upload a new site hazard. Because the program is web-based, it is accessible from a phone or other mobile device anywhere in the field where a cell signal can be reached. Each time a new hazard or message is entered into the system, it generates a notification to all team members in real time.
The checklist also includes a section for personal protection equipment (PPE) required for each site environment, and emergency information including coordinator, contact, and signal, evacuation route, muster point, and medical facilities and addresses. All of this can be pre-loaded into the application.
The website also provides sections for Lessons Learned, office information, training opportunities, and Health and Safety documents:
- Health & Safety Documents H&S Plan
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Office Safety Coordinators
- Training Library
- Hospital Locator
- Incident Report Form
- Injury & Illness Prevention Program
- Return-To-Work Program
- Vehicular Accident Reporting Form
Once the SSL submits the initial checklist, it provides ownership of the project by making them responsible for site hazards throughout the life of the project.
In the office
The website is available to all personnel from any computer, smartphone, or mobile device with internet access. We also developed a Health and Safety section on our intranet that has a wealth of additional information that contains Emergency Action Plans for each of the firm’s 26 offices, fire drill information, floor plans, evacuation routes, Lunch and Learn presentations, office inspections, PPE, vehicle inspections, site inspections, SOPs, training opportunities, safety moments and tips, and meeting minutes.
The launch of the website also coincided with the roll-out of a mandatory internal Near Miss Training initiative that was presented to all employees. A Near Miss Newsletter has also been added to the firm’s intranet that displays near miss reports and corrective actions taken from employees monthly, both in the office and field. The competitive nature of many employees has contributed to an increase in awareness and submission of near miss events that have ranged from the location of poison ivy to bread left unattended in a toaster.
Creation of an SOP
While our near miss policy is at one end of the safety spectrum, creating an SOP to address a specific task is at the other. Recognizing the need for uniformity in his teams’ safety protocols, Clay Wygant, PLS, Geospatial/LiDAR manager took a proactive stance to develop an SOP for the entire mobile LiDAR scanning process focused on protecting the crew and a host of highly sensitive and costly survey instrumentation. This protocol addresses every step of the process from the deployment of the LiDAR equipment to the withdrawal and securing of equipment at the end of each scanning session.
Because this process is performed daily, it became apparent that rethinking procedures already in place should be looked at more closely. Working in accordance with myself and his team, we standardized every segment of the process. The program includes establishing a safety perimeter around the off-loading area, physically removing the high-level scan gear from inside the vehicle, staging it for use, lifting and securing the LiDAR unit to the top of the vehicle for deployment, then returning all gear (scanner, cameras, cables, antennas, tools, and fittings) back into the vehicle once the scan is complete, with no issues such as tripping and lifting hazards or damage to the apparatus.
These mechanics were broken down individually to identify any hazards and then eliminate them. Based in safety, this process also helped to confirm all inventory was intact, accounted for, and secured at the end of each deployment. As the firm has grown and more mobile LiDAR teams are working in the field, it was important to ensure everyone was trained to do the same job the same way.
Still in progress, all forms in the program will be fully electronic. Once complete, this last segment will give employees the ability to fill out and submit all forms, paperwork, and assessments onsite, feed them into the system, and send electronically to the health and safety manager and appropriate supervisor.
A company’s safety rating is a necessary indicator of a firm’s well-being and relied upon more today than ever before. As a multidiscipline design firm, our employees are faced with operating within a wide variety of working environments. It’s essential to be proactive in protecting them in the field through safety training and communication programs designed specifically for the services they provide.
Maser health and safety policy
Maser Consulting believes the health and safety of our employees is paramount to our business opportunities and success. Safety at Maser Consulting is everyone’s responsibility. Employees must actively participate in our Health and Safety Program to protect themselves, our co-workers, and our clients.
Lisa DeBenedetto, health and safety manager for Maser Consulting PA (www.maserconsulting.com), is an OSHA General Industry Authorized Instructor with more than a decade of experience developing and facilitating training courses for employees. She is responsible for employing standard operating procedures, training the firm’s employees, reviewing safety risk assessments, and performing office and field safety inspections.
Maraliese Beveridge, senior technical writer and public relations specialist for Maser Consulting PA, has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and is a nationally published writer within the engineering industry. Her expertise is focused on transforming complex technical ideas into comprehensible articles on trending subjects.