#HazardSpotting is a community safety initiative that helps raise awareness about dangerous workplace safety violations. Our audience submits pictures, and we write an article with insight from featured safety professionals. In our ninth installment, we’re highlighting the sidewalk scaffolding hazards in an urban construction zone.
A few years ago I worked on an urban construction housing project in New Orleans, with about 60 volunteers all alongside each other on one site. No one should have been surprised, really, when one novice volunteer on the roof dropped a hammer onto another volunteer’s bare head.
Stepping out onto the street in New York this week, I got déjà vu when I looked up to see construction workers leaning out across half-constructed scaffolds to pass each other tools over my head. Piles of supplies were scattered across the sidewalk and passersby had to duck under steel girders as workers put the scaffolding together. Given how little attention the workers paid to their own safety, let alone the safety of onlookers, it may as well have been a team of amateur volunteers playing with power tools.
The photos we took might remind you of those picture puzzles in magazines challenging you to “spot everything that’s not right”— except in this version, the stakes are higher. Safety ignorance and negligence can cause serious injuries, especially in such a dense urban construction environment.
To understand these hazards, we enlisted the help of Frank B. Fox Jr., a safety expert who has worked in the industry for over 40 years.
Frank caught quite a few hazards. How many can YOU spot?
Worker safety and PPE
Sure, the workers in these photos have hardhats, safety gloves, and harnesses. But it’s not enough for every worker to have the right personal projection equipment–they need to actually use it, and use it right. Apparently wearing your hardhat backward is the latest trend, except that the hats are only designed to fit securely to the head facing forward, and they’re likely to slip off or even injure the worker if worn incorrectly. A handful of workers are wearing gloves, but anyone handling sharp steel beams should have them on.
The harnesses on several of the workers seem like a comforting nod to safety, except that the builders on top of the scaffolding aren’t even using them. If anything, the loose strings dangling off a harness just strapped on for show can become a safety liability. Moreover, it’s not clear whether the harnesses are even usable. As Fox puts it:
“The body harnesses look suspect. They have to be inspected by the wearer for any obvious wear or defects daily as well as the brake lanyard. Most jobs require dual lanyards for moving off the ground, attach one move the other. The harness should have an annual inspection by a qualified inspector. A harness can look brand new but could be past the five year expiration date.”
Meanwhile, there’s no sign of any safety glasses or face shields, which are even more crucial when interacting with builders working above you at chaotic urban construction sites.
Pedestrian safety at urban construction sites
Again, some of the important safety supplies meant to protect passersby are visible onsite, but when they’re not used effectively they become part of the clutter that makes the urban construction build even more dangerous. A few stray cones dot the sidewalk, but they’re used so sparingly that they fail to signal any clear direction to pedestrians. Safety expert Frank B. Fox Jr. suggests that barrier tape would be much more effective here. “The cones,” he says, “may as well be poodles, for the good they do. No one ever knows what they mean.” As a result, pedestrians ended up sidestepping piles of planks, nails, and tools. The steel girders scattered on the ground, Fox quips, “can become skateboards if stepped on.” Given that this is urban construction, the pedestrians are creating a hazard for the workers. Why isn’t the flagman paying attention?
Maybe the most alarming for me was to watch this pile of safety hazards rolling along the sidewalk toward me. Even as some workers leaned over the scaffold, others on the ground were rolling the entire unit into a new position. OSHA has a long list of conditions that must be met before moving a scaffold, based on the levelness of the ground, the stabilization of the scaffold, and the positions of any employees on the scaffold during movement. It was apparent that at least several of these regulations were being overlooked here.
What other urban construction hazards do you see? We’ve just gotten the ball rolling!
We have a lot of photos of this #HazardSpotting site! Check out our Tumblr gallery to see more images of this urban construction work site.
Meet Frank B. Fox Jr., guest safety expert for this urban construction #HazardSpotting
Fox has worked at a large chemical plant on the Texas coast for 40.2 years, and has “just about seen it all.” He hired in operations, and did Six Sigma on reduction of defects on Safe Work Permits. Fox taught Safety Standards at the local community college to new employees in two-year associate degree programs. Since he wasn’t issued a door knob with his name on it, Fox worked his way into EH&S and was effective with operations because of his extensive experience. As Fox himself says, “I wasn’t just someone in a pair of Dockers being a pest. I rather liked safety, and it seemed funny I was paid for something I enjoyed.”
A huge thanks from MySafetySign to Frank Fox for his invaluable help!
More about #HazardSpotting
Think you’ve seen an unsafe work condition? Whether it’s construction, manufacturing, or food safety, we’ll investigate the hazard. Snap a picture and share your story with us by sending an email to the editor at Krissa (at) smartsign (dot) com. We’ll write a post and consult a safety expert. Did we miss anything? Comment below.