Jobsite Safety Goes High Tech with New Tools and Technologies

Safety in the workplace is going paperless with mobile applications and software. Glazing companies are also finding other ways to keep employees safe through various preventative measures.

“The old ways of addressing safety just don’t cut it anymore,” says Rob Dahl, director of global environmental health and safety for MiTek, the parent company of Benson Industries, based in Portland, Ore. Mobile devices and software programs, for example, provide fast and efficient ways to collect data in the field after an incident. “More and more of what we do has become data-driven so we can focus [on preventing injuries],” Dahl says.

Companies are now finding opportunities in new digital tools and technologies that allow employees to report an incident in the field easily, and for management to respond quickly and provide up-to-date information for training and to help prevent future injuries.

App That

Mobile software is available on any smartphone. At MiTek, employees use iReportSource to input information and submit photos of an incident that can be used during safety audits. Dahl says that corrective actions are assigned through the application when a problem is detected. The action is then tracked to ensure the problem is corrected. Dahl says this provides accountability for correction of the problem.

Information for employees is also available through the application, such as First Aid recommendations. “There’s just a lot of ways that mobile devices in the workplace can enhance safety,” Dahl says.

A mobile application on employee cell phones is also part of Salt Lake City-based Steel Encounters’ jobsite safety plan. Tom Jackson, president and CEO, says each employee has access to an employee application that includes a safety section. With the tap of a finger on their phones, employees can access the company’s safety standard, First Aid information and other safety information. In addition, all employees must take safety training.
Employees can report a safety incident on the mobile application, and attach a work plan that includes the safety precautions taken. Jackson is immediately notified of the report. This also applies to incidents created by employees of other contractors that involve Steel Encounters’ employees.

Harmon Inc., headquartered in Bloomington, Minn., has offices across the United States. Until two years ago, however, the offices had no way of readily communicating and sharing safety information. They have since started using an online program called Donesafe, which they can use for submitting injuries.

Safety manager Jon Liesmaki says that, previously, and with limited communication, the company was unable to learn from safety incidents. For example, he says if an employee was injured in Baltimore, the incident wasn’t discussed with the office in Dallas, where a similar injury could be prevented. If information isn’t shared, he says, “it makes it difficult
to know what programs are going to keep your employees safe.”

Two years later, “we continue to track and make improvements to the system.”

With the Donesafe program, managers and employees can access and enter information on computers and mobile applications. “There’s immediate communication to corporate and the regional leadership team,” Liesmaki says. If an employee gets a laceration from steel banding, the employee receives treatment and the information is shared on Donesafe. By sharing the information with other locations, the intent is to avoid similar injuries happening in a different region.”

Liesmaki says the company has been tracking safety audits since mid-2021. Prior to that, results were retained locally and trending of audits within the company was unavailable. Donesafe creates corrective actions after an incident, which hold the location where an injury happened responsible to correct the incident by a specific date.

From Up on High

Contract glaziers also face a number of other concerns on jobsites, particularly those involving highrise towers. In Salt Lake City, Steel Encounters is finishing three highrise structures that are more than 20 stories, as well as a 40-story highrise in downtown Honolulu. “One of the serious concerns that can happen on one of these towers is, if a tool falls, it becomes a projectile,” says Jackson. “It’s the third leading cause of injury on worksites,” he says of workers being struck by falling objects. He shares Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that of 50,000 workers in the United States were struck by falling objects in 2020. That is one every 10 minutes. In 2016, 255 employees were killed in the U.S. because of falling objects; 217 were killed in 2020.

Falling objects create injuries to humans and damage to property, equipment, and the structure under construction. The impact force of a dropped object is heavier than the actual weight of the object because the object gathers speeds as it falls from a building. Jackson says that hand tools, bolts, even a measuring tape that falls from a highrise can seriously harm anyone below. “We make preparations to avoid and mitigate this,” Jackson says.

OSHA standards state that employees are responsible for their behavior if an item falls from a highrise. “So everyone is responsible,” Jackson says. “It’s not an OSHA standard, though, and it should be.” The current standard is ANSI/ISEA 121-2018, American National Standard for Dropped Object Prevention Solutions.

“We believe that prevention is better than protection,” Jackson says of how dangerous dropped objects in the workplace can be. A hardhat may provide protection, but having standard procedures and policies in place are the measure needed to prevent incidents from happening. Steel Encounters formed a safety committee in 2004, followed by its Drop Prevention Program, which includes a three-step standard to which all employees must adhere:

No. 1: Maintain a standard policy/procedure to follow to an expected outcome, such as tethering all tools on a highrise jobsite.

No. 2: Train all employees to prevent dropped objects.

No. 3: Keep accountability. Find out what happened and why, and how to prevent it from happening again.

Once a month, Jackson says a safety representative and a member of human resources meet to discuss safety procedures. The company’s safety committee has 10 representatives. “And we review anything that happened the month before.” The individuals in the monthly meeting take each incident, go through the three-step standard, and determine if new
prevention methods are necessary.

Tethered Up

As part of Steel Encounters’ Drop Prevention Program, employees on highrise jobsites must use tethering kits. When attached to hand tools and other equipment, tethering lanyards prevent objects from falling off a highrise building if an employee drops them.

Employees are tethered to safety cables. When installing curtainwall, Jackson says that employees move the product on carts, and even the carts are tethered to avoid falling off buildings. The carts assist the employee in pulling the window to the edge of the building, and, while the window goes into place, the cart remains on the roof with the employee.

Numbered Up

New technologies also enable companies to track data about jobsite safety, and see the results of preventative actions.

“We started seeing a change immediately,” Jackson says of the use of metrics to collect data about employee safety. He says metrics help his company identify when it’s necessary to create a new policy or procedure. For example, if the company is not getting the desired results, it may be time to make a change.

Liesmaki says that Harmon Inc. has seen a 50% reduction in injuries since the implementation of Donesafe. The industry average is 3.49 injuries per 100 individuals per year, according to OSHA. Before Liesmaki joined the company, its OSHA rate was 4.0, then 2.5 in 2020 and 1.22 in 2021.

Liesmaki says Harmon is working on the next level of Donesafe: leading indicators for OSHA’s environmental health and safety performance index. From September to December 2021, the company conducted a pilot program about OSHA-reportable injuries, or injuries that require more than just First Aid. Liesmaki says the pilot program will help Harmon determine possible leading indicators, which the program’s results will highlight. Harmon’s locations have seen improvements and now the company is working on setting benchmarks for the 100-point-scale of OSHA’s index. The scale measures up to 20 points for each of the five following categories: OSHA reportable rate, incident reporting within 24 hours, closing out corrective actions promptly, entering audits in Donesafe monthly, and safety committee monthly meetings.

Rebecca Barnabi is a special projects editor for USGlass magazine. Contact her at rbarnabi@glass.com.

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