The Little Things

The saying that the little things make the biggest difference cannot be more true when it comes to safety.  When it comes to safety inspections, the little things are often referred to as low-hanging fruit.   What do the little things look like on a job site?  One of the more important little things happens well before the first shovel hits the ground. 

A critical determining factor in how well a project progresses is the pre-planning involved before any boots hit the ground.  Every project has a kickoff meeting with the controlling contractor (GC/CM).  The site-specific protocols and procedures are reviewed, and the schedule is discussed.  One meeting that is even more important than that is the internal one with the estimating department, operations, safety, and the project supervisor.  That meeting is the handoff between what was planned for the project and how to execute that plan.  During that meeting, the project team walks through the project from beginning to end to identify potential safety hazards and bottlenecks and discusses solutions to issues that arise. 

Once boots hit the ground on a job site, the first few days and weeks establish the routine for all.  Starting each day with a pre-task discussion for the activities that are planned to be accomplished is essential.  The pre-task discussion is just that, a  discussion.  The supervisor leads the crew through the tasks scheduled to be completed, the hazards associated with those tasks, and how to mitigate the dangers and protect themselves so that they all go home safely at the end of the day.  Framing this in the form of a discussion allows anyone to speak up and ask questions and even chime in if they have a better idea of how to do something or notice that something was initially missed.  Often when a project begins, the risk of falling objects may not be present.  However, everyone wears their hard hats because it is a site requirement.  The same goes for safety glasses, boots, and even gloves (many projects are including gloves to their list of minimally required PPE).  Set the bar high to start, and everyone coming on board work to meet that bar.  If that bar is set too low and things are allowed to slip, then the effort it takes to make everyone change to meet the minimum standards is so much that you will always be playing catch up instead of being out in front of things. 

One of the easiest “little things” items is paperwork.  The project must have a well-written and throughout site-specific safety plan.  The JHA’s should be reviewed with the project team and available for all to see.  We already discussed the daily pre-task (daily huddle, whatever it’s called for your company).  The weekly toolbox talks, checklists, worksheets, permits; any paperwork generated on the project must be documented and submitted to the appropriate parties.  Most contract language requires the GC/CM to receive copies of all safety paperwork as it is completed, get in the habit of ensuring that everything is written out and those in attendance are documented.  Remember, if it’s not documented what was discussed and who was there, it’s hard to argue that it ever took place. 

Do it right the first time.  If something happens and paperwork was required, it is impossible to go back in time to complete it.  With paperwork turning to digital documents and time/date stamping, you cannot simply go back and complete it.  The opportunity to do it right the first time is lost. 

Lastly, it is in these little things that change happens.  Lasting change occurs incrementally.  The little things add up, and over time they become the drivers for significant change.  Get in the habit of taking care of the little things that you can control.  Safety is everchanging, and to ride the wave; you need to be out in front of it with change.  I like to think of it as steering a boat; it’s a rough ride if you only look at what’s ahead of you and make changes quickly.  However, when you planned well and did the little things right initially, you can look ahead and make minor adjustments to maintain your course.  When people talk about traveling to the past, they worry about how small changes would make a big difference later on.  The problem is that barely anyone in the present thinks that they can radically change the future by doing something small.  Do the little things right now and see what you can change. 

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