Walk around any jobsite on any given day–even the ones with well-trained and experienced work crews–and you are likely to see some relatively unsafe setup or dangerous situation waiting for trouble. Workers who know better will overlook safety because they think "I'm just going onto the roof for a couple of minutes" or "I've just got to make this one cut" or "we'll have this framed in right after lunch–so let's leave it open." Then, during lunch, it starts raining hard and everyone rushes to get their tools into the trailer and head home, leaving an unguarded stair opening or uncovered chimney hole waiting for somebody else to step through it.

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Be aware of workers below you.

Think again. Develop an eye for safety on your site–and a team approach to looking out for each other. Make safety a team sport, because this is a game you play and need to win–every day.

Outside

Clean up the site. Just about anything can be a safety hazard on a construction site including metal banding from lumber deliveries, scrap pieces of lumber (especially with nails in them), even plastic wrapping from brick pallets. All of these should find their way into the dumpster at the end of each day.

Find the traps. Look for safety traps–and correct them. Are the basement window wells covered? Is there some framing sticking out at head height that needs trimming? Is that tangled mess of an extension cord really an electrical snake waiting to bite somebody? Did somebody lean some 2 x 12's up against the building–but now it's getting windy? Is that ladder set at too steep of an angle?

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Cover all hazardous openings.

Look up. Look up onto staging, roofing, ladders, and upper floors for tools, materials, and anything else that could hurt you if it fell your way. Before you work under another work area, make sure workers above you know you will be below them.

Look down. Look down to see if anyone is working below you and let them know you are there–and that you know they are working below. Use every precaution to keep tools, materials, and yourself from falling with secure work stations for tool storage, proper stacking and securing of materials, and use of fall-protection and fall-arrest harnesses where required.

Inside

Sweep the floors. A good crew keeps its floors and slabs clear of debris at all times. Not only will this keep you from tripping or twisting your ankle as you step off a ladder, it is the only way to move fast–especially during framing. Have your plumbing and electrical subcontractors clean up after themselves, too.

Provide safe access. Take the time to set up ladders, staging, ramps, and temporary stairs as if your children will be using them. This includes following the guidelines for installing handrails and guardrails around rough openings at every level and along temporary stairs and balconies.

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Mark off any open trenches and keep an eye on heavy equipment.

Inspect cords and electrical connections. Extension cords, power cords, and electrical plugs take a beating every day, so you should inspect them regularly to make sure you aren't headed for trouble. At best, they can cause delays due to bad performance. At the worst, they can electrocute somebody.

Ensure ventilation and fire safety. If you are working with spray paint, glue, or even generating fine dust particles, make sure the space is properly ventilated and the crew is wearing respirators. If you are using a gas or kerosene heater in a confined space you must ensure proper operation in addition to sufficient ventilation. And the combination of vapors or even wood dust with a portable heater could be explosive–and deadly.

Peter Kuchinsky