In 2020, there were 4,113 preventable deaths and 4 million injuries at work, with the majority of fatal injuries occurring in the construction industry, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).
This year marks the 26th annual celebration of National Safety Month, sponsored by the NSC. The NSC hopes to use its initiatives this month to spread awareness of safety hazards and injuries for workers to continue the drive for safer and healthier workplaces.
In the spirit of this mission, ATI Restoration (ATI) explores why safety matters for disaster recovery companies and how safety is a point of emphasis for its employees year-round in this month’s newsletter.
To emphasize safety this June, the ATI team is focusing on self-ownership, as reflected in its campaign called “Safety Starts with Me.” The campaign began with a letter from ATI’s CEO and video testimonials from employees at every level of the company that describe what safety means to them. In addition, every office has hung a safety plaque in a prominent location with ATI’s new safety pledge inscribed on it, reinforcing the company’s commitment to safety.
But at ATI, safety is not just a buzzword for a month: it is a habit that is top of mind all year. Every day, the company’s goal is for all of its staff to go home safely to their family and friends. The achievement of this goal is driven in large part by ATI’s culture of safety.
At ATI, the expectation is that every employee, whether working in the field or in an office, prioritizes safety. The goal is for safety to be a habit, not a burden.
ATI culture encourages employees to be forward-thinking rather than reactive. Employees are taught to identify and eliminate hazards, such as covering holes in the floor and adding guardrails, before an injury or illness occurs.
This proactive stance is also why every employee is expected to complete Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certified training courses, regardless of their role. The goal is for staff throughout the company to know how to be safe, whether they are walking through a job site or standing on a ladder and hanging Christmas lights in their home.
At a baseline, all ATI staff complete OSHA’s minimum 10-hour training course in basic safety and health hazards. And anyone at the supervisory level or higher must complete the OSHA 30-hour training course. But ATI’s commitment to safety training goes well beyond these two essential courses.
To reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, disaster recovery providers must follow all safety-related laws and regulations. To ensure compliance, ATI follows key industry best practices, including for emergency preparedness and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail in the event of an emergency. For disaster recovery services, the best practice is to ensure everyone is trained to recognize when an emergency action is needed so they don’t become part of that emergency.
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
ATI offers a wide variety of PPE to our employees, including gloves, fall protection, safety glasses, respirators, protective suits, face shields, hearing protection, and much more. While PPE is the last line of defense in injury prevention, it is still very important to team members’ health and safety. Every job site is different, so all ATI team members are trained to recognize the different types of hazards and try to eliminate them first. If they can’t be eliminated, we move on to other forms of hazard recognition using the hierarchy of controls, including using PPE.
Safety training is the foundation of a safe work environment. That is why ATI has invested so heavily in building the ATI University, which offers more than 1,000 courses to employees on topics including basic OSHA standards as well as site safety, fall protection, and construction safety. Employees can also take specialized courses on subjects such as water mitigation, demolition, lead and asbestos abatement, hazardous waste operations, bloodborne pathogens, and OSHA standards for military bases.
To encourage employees to learn continuously, ATI has also downloaded additional courses from OSHA, EPA, Cal/OSHA, and other agencies. This extensive training library ensures that ATI employees are prepared for any potential hazard, no matter where they work.
The company encourages employees to train when it is convenient to them with 24/7/365 course availability. ATI also strives to reinforce learning in a number of ways. Employees have weekly tailgate and toolbox talks that focus on a particular safety issue. The ATI administrative team can review which employees have completed training and give recognition and awards, such as points that employees can use toward gift cards.
ATI seizes opportunities to address emerging topics in safety and health. For example, the company recently spent a lot of time researching the best PPE for heat stress. As a result of its research, ATI has invested in cooling chamois and changed the required safety vest from Class 3 to Class 2, which reduces a worker’s body temperature by five to eight degrees without a decline in performance.
ATI also leads the construction industry in reducing fleet management risks. Last year, an insurance trend report observed that the construction industry had seen more driving incidents because of the labor shortage: firms had hired younger, less experienced personnel who were getting into more accidents. Before this trend emerged across the industry, ATI’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Team developed and launched a program to improve driver safety and decrease the likelihood of a driving incident.
The program consists of safety training, communicating safety expectations to staff, leveraging tracking mechanisms and reports, driving accountability, and conducting root-cause analyses to investigate accidents. A key feature of this program includes alerts for fleet vehicles exceeding the speed limit. These alerts are automatically emailed to ATI’s management team so that further training and corrective actions are taken as needed, promoting a safer and healthier workplace at ATI.
ATI also embeds safety into its processes using technology. Take, for example, ATI’s processes that reinforce safety when employees clock in and out, report injuries, and start new projects.
Whenever employees clock into a job, they have to answer a multi-question prompt: whether they are physically fit to do their job that day and whether they have the proper PPE to do their job. They also get a reminder that they have the authority to stop work if they feel unsafe. Only after progressing through these touchpoints can a staff member clock in. At the end of the day, they must answer an additional prompt before clocking out: whether they were injured during the day. If an employee replies that they were injured, an alert is immediately sent to ATI’s EHS Team.
Employees can report an injury directly to ATI’s EHS Team at any time. The EHS Team logs near misses, first-aid incidents, COVID positive cases, vehicle incidents, and recordable injuries. They also have injury tracking software that allows staff to monitor and report on trends in injury rates and response times through a dashboard feature.
When EHS learns of an incident, they contact the affected employee within five minutes. EHS focuses on the health and safety of employees, and based on their assessment of the employee’s injury, EHS can also dial in a nurse who is on-call 24/7 to address and, when possible, help mitigate the injury on the spot.
Technology also ensures that necessary safety paperwork is completed before employees begin work. For example, when a new project arises, ATI’s system prompts the field team leader to complete the mandatory job hazard assessment before the project can begin.
At the end of the day, the best contractors care about the well-being of their employees, clients, and communities. This caring aspect also translates into better business partners, because safe environments ultimately lead to projects being completed on time with motivated staff who feel valued. Having a trained, knowledgeable, and engaged crew leads to the highest-quality results for clients.
WHAT TYPES OF HAZARDS ARE THERE TO CONSIDER DURING DISASTER RECOVERY?
Asbestos, mold, lead, biohazards, and bloodborne pathogens are the common types of hazards you see in disaster recovery. However, ATI trains team members to also assess the hazards before they step onto the job site.
Especially with natural disasters, the trip to the job site can be just as hazardous as working on the job site. Many times, ATI arrives at a job site before FEMA and first responders. Early in disaster recovery, power lines may still be down. There may also be floodwater or damage from wildfires impeding the roadway. So, before ATI sends any team members to a job site, the first step is to make sure that everyone is prepared with a “go bag” that includes extra food, water, and any supplies they may need.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON INJURIES DURING DISASTER RECOVERY?
Although ATI is focused on preventing injuries, in disaster recovery, accidents tend to happen because of the nature of the work. Common injuries on disaster recovery job sites include lacerations, sprains, and strains. Many of these injuries can be attributed to the repetitive work associated with disaster recovery operations, including demolition, cleanup, and equipment placement. Tracking the most common injuries during disaster recovery enables ATI to implement preventative measures and customize training.