LOS ANGELES — Statistics smattered across the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s website make it clear that construction work is dangerous. In fact, it points out that in some years construction workers incur the most fatal injuries of any industry.
The employees in the Los Angeles District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are often involved in some aspect of construction, but Occupational Safety and Health Specialist Steve McCombs points out that there is a safety component in every function of every job, every day.
“Risks range from very minor to extremely high, depending on a person’s job,” McCombs said. “Regardless of the type of work performed for the Corps, the goal is to have that work performed safely.”
To that end, the District employs six safety and occupational health specialists, and one wellness coordinator, to cover its widespread area of operations. These employees keep tabs on myriad projects, like military and civil works construction, dredging, and operation and maintenance activities, as well as more routine workplace safety aspects like promoting ergonomic work environments, wellness activities and managing the Army Safety Program requirements. The section’s work is apportioned by Safety Chief Daryll Fust, who takes into account each person’s sub-specialties and the geographic location they are designated to cover.
McCombs, who covers some of the harbors, the Santa Ana Mainstem and VA hospital projects in Southern California, was at a VA Greater Los Angeles jobsite on March 4 to observe a high-risk crane operation at one project and a high-risk work-at-heights job at another. He said the first project came to his attention because of the proximity of the crane to the hospital building and the involvement of hoisting a person in a lift. The other job had people building scaffolding more than 50 feet high. In both cases, the VA Project Office had requested Safety Office involvement.
“I was pleased to see the sites were well prepared and cordoned off for public safety when I arrived and that the Accident Prevention Plan was being followed,” he said. “It was also obvious the projects had been fully coordinated with the VA’s safety office.”
Prior to beginning any project with the Corps, a contractor is required to submit an APP and Quality Control Plan before they are issued the Notice to Proceed. An approved APP defines how safety will be incorporated into the project.
McCombs took pictures, observed the work practices and documented the work for reporting purposes, but commented that, with limited safety staff, the District mandates that all field construction personnel take OSHA’s 30-hour construction safety course, which makes them safety aware and also promotes when they should call in a safety specialist for an extra layer of oversight. The Safety Office personnel are all OSHA-authorized construction safety trainers and provide this training on a regular basis.
Interestingly, during the course of observing the projects and just before lunch, a red-tailed hawk swooped near the crane operation looking for a meal among the pigeons roosting on the building. The sight reminded McCombs that safety hazards at a jobsite can involve many things, to include plants, animals and insects.
“There are many types of venomous reptiles, stinging insects and poisonous plants in our District footprint,” he said. “For that reason, we provide chaps for maintenance workers who may encounter snakes, as well as other types of protective gear.”
Fust’s section has the added responsibility of carrying out accident investigations, if a person is injured in the course of work. However, it is the Safety Office’s goal, McCombs said, to be value added and to help keep projects safe, continuously moving, and have a “Mission Complete” without mishaps.
“We have a very proactive safety program in the District,” McCombs said. “When programs are reactive instead of proactive is when accidents tend to happen. There were more than 8.5 million hours of construction activities monitored by the District in the past five years and only 15 incidents involving lost time.”