As you might expect, New York’s workplace safety code is comprehensive. In fact, safety rules for construction, excavation, and demolition workers only make up one section of the 21 code sections that protect workers in New York.
Although it is lengthy and detailed, the safety rules for construction can be boiled down to a few important safety tips for employees. Here are some of the more important safety tips for employees of construction, excavation, and demolition businesses:
Staying alert can help you avoid an accident that lands you at the orthopedic doctors, or worse. Danger can come from any direction on a job site, including:
- Above: Whether you are outside or inside, falling objects are not unusual at a job site. Two important safety tips for employees at construction sites are to always wear your helmet and be ready for “heads up” warnings from other employees.
- Below: Watch where you are stepping. Although New York’s regulations require temporary flooring to support at least 100 pounds per square inch, water, weather, and wear can cause planks to weaken.
- Behind: Be careful when stepping backward, slippery surfaces, tripping hazards, and openings in the floor can create accidents when you do not look before you step.
Monitor Air Quality
New York’s Division of Safety and Health (DOSH) is especially concerned about air quality. Air quality can be degraded by a number of pollutants, many of which are invisible or cannot be filtered by protective gear. These air pollutants can be deadly or cause long-term illness. Some of the pollutants monitored by DOSH include:
- Carbon monoxide: This gas is produced by internal combustion engines. One of the overlooked safety tips for employees is when you use gas-powered generators, tools, heaters, air compressors, or other equipment, you should make sure the engine is located in a well-ventilated area away from workers.
- Chemicals: Construction workers use many dangerous chemicals, such as glues and paints, that give off dangerous vapors and fumes. Ventilation and respirators can protect your lungs from these chemicals. However, one of the important safety tips for employees who work with dangerous chemicals is to limit exposure by taking periodic breaks.
- Asbestos: Even though asbestos is banned from use in construction, it was used for over one hundred years in New York. When working on old buildings for renovation or disaster restoration, make sure an asbestos inspection has been conducted and that you have the right protective equipment.
Make Sure Your Employer Provides Protective Equipment
Under New York workplace regulations, employers are required to provide protective equipment to employees. If your employer does not provide protective equipment that you believe you need, you could purchase it yourself and try to get your employer to reimburse you. However, one of the safety tips for employees without protective equipment is to report your employer to DOSH. You will probably be protected by whistleblower laws and could have a lawsuit against your employer if you are fired for reporting the problem.
Some of the safety equipment that employers are required to provide includes:
- Eye protection: Every employee who may be exposed to flying particles or other eye hazards must be provided goggles, safety glasses, or other eye protection approved by regulation. For example, a worker who maintains vehicles and provides automotive services for a construction company must still be provided eye protection because of the exposure to fluids that could damage the eyes.
- Respirators: Employees who are exposed to air contaminants must be provided respirators. The employer is responsible for inspecting and cleaning the respirator daily and must disinfect the respirators at least once per week.
- Head protection: Every employee subjected to work with risks to the head, whether by falling or from falling objects, must be provided a helmet. For employees who work in temperatures lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, such as employees of roof companies during the colder months of the year, must be provided with helmet liners.
- Foot protection: Workers who work in wet conditions must be provided with waterproof boots or overshoes to keep the feet dry while working.
- Waterproof clothing: During rainy or snowy conditions, employees must be provided waterproof clothing. Waterproof clothing must include a jacket, pants, and hat. If the workers are also exposed to head injury, the hat must meet safety helmet requirements. For example, workers who perform emergency tree work during storms must have waterproof clothing and a waterproof safety helmet.
- Chemical protection: When employees are exposed to corrosive chemicals, gloves, chemical suits, and eye goggles might be required.
The employer is responsible for keeping safety equipment clean and in good condition. Before transferring safety equipment between employees, the employer must disinfect it.
Sanitation and Drinking Water
Employers are required to provide clean drinking water for employees at the construction, excavation, or demolition job site. The drinking water must be kept in clean and covered receptacles and must have a tap. Although the drinking water source may be shared, each employee must be provided a separate cup. However, one of the important safety tips for employees working in hot weather is to make sure you bring a personal cup in case your employer runs out of disposable cups.
Employers are also required to provide one toilet for every thirty employees. Thus, if a roof replacement crew has 32 workers, two toilets must be provided. Toilets must be kept clean and operational.
If the job site has running water and sewer connections, the water closets must be provided. If no water or sewer connection is available, the employer may provide a chemical toilet. Whether the toilet is water or chemical, washing facilities must be provided by the employer with at least five gallons of washing water for every four employees.
Toilets must be within 1,000 feet of the job site except for remote construction or highway construction, where the employer must provide transportation to the toilet facilities. Moreover, if a construction site employees both male and female workers, separate toilet facilities must be provided.
Changing rooms must be provided if more than three employees must change their clothing on site. For cold-weather job sites, the changing room must be heated to at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inspect Your Tools
Employers are required to keep tools in good repair and cannot force employees to use damaged or malfunctioning tools. Thus, safety tips for employees include inspecting tools carefully and reporting any problems to your supervisor so your employer can repair or replace the tools.
Hand tools must not have burrs or mushroomed heads that might indicate the tool is close to splintering or breaking. Moreover, hand tools cannot have loose or broken handles.
Pneumatic and electric tools must be equipped with a cut-off switch within reach of the operator. Electric cables and pneumatic hoses must be protected from damage and abrasions. Thus, one of the most important safety tips for employees who use pneumatic or electric tools is to inspect the lines, cables, and hoses too. A broken line, hose, or cable can be even more dangerous than a broken tool.
Make sure you check all safety guards on power tools before operation. Employers and other employees sometimes remove or disable safety features on tools so they can work faster. However, disabling these safety guards can expose operators and bystanders to injury or even death. Any disabled safety features on power tools should be reported to the employer because the employer is required by DOSH to ensure all built-in safety measures are used.
Protect Against Electrocution
Employers are required to protect employees from electrocution. This includes deactivating any electric circuits in an active work area so accidental contact with live wires cannot happen. To minimize the risk of electrocution, a few safety tips for employees include double-checking that the electricity is turned off and that any live wires are not broken or exposed.
For employees who are specifically tasked with electrical work, employers must provide safety equipment, including gloves, aprons, and footwear. Likewise, anyone performing tasks that might result in accidental contact with power lines, such as excavation, must be provided with electrical safety equipment.
Job sites with portable generators must include a grounding pole connected to the generator. When moving a generator, make sure that the grounding pole is also moved and that the generator is properly grounded before starting it.
Practice Fire Safety
Construction sites can be susceptible to fires and explosions. For example, construction can damage gas supply lines, resulting in gas explosions and fires. To minimize the risk of gas explosions, safety tips for employees include watching for markers or flags that identify the location of underground gas lines whenever you are excavating.
Some additional sources of fire risk include cigarettes. Remember to only smoke off the job site. Construction materials, chemicals, fuel, and other materials found on job sites are flammable and can ignite with a discarded match or cigarette butt.
For tools and vehicles that use propane for fuel, fuel lines and fittings should be examined carefully before use. Moreover, fuel cylinders should be stored in a separate area where gas leaks will not create an accumulation of vapors, gas, or fumes that could ignite. At worst, an explosion will require a new door from a garage door sales company rather than burning down your entire construction project.
Request Safety Harnesses if Necessary
Falls at home and on the job are the most common reason for visits to the emergency room. Falls from heights can result in serious injuries requiring a visit to a doctor or chiropractor. While not all falls are preventable, serious falls from heights might be reduced with safety harnesses and lines.
Under New York’s workplace safety regulations, employers are not required to provide safety harnesses for workers in elevated workplaces. If you believe you are in danger of falling injuries, you should request a safety harness from your employer. Although your employer can reject your request, you will have created a record in the event that you are injured in a fall.
In most situations, damages for worker injuries are limited to worker’s compensation. However, if an employer has been found to be in violation of New York’s worker safety laws, the employee may be allowed to file a lawsuit against the employer. By documenting your attempts to obtain safety equipment for your job, you might be able to establish your employer’s liability for your injury.
Require Adequate Lighting
DOSH requires employers to provide adequate lighting for work and movement in a construction site. According to New York’s regulations, work areas must be lit with lights providing at least 10-foot candles of illumination, or roughly the amount of light in a typical office. Similarly, passageways must be lit with at least 5-foot candles of illumination, or roughly the amount of light in a typical hallway.
This makes sense. Dim lights increase the risk of slips and falls. Moreover, without being able to see obstacles in the work area, unprotected areas of your body, such as your face, could be injured in collisions. Preventing a trip to the oral surgeon by adding a few work lights is worthwhile.
Since measuring light using the naked eye is difficult, some safety tips for employees who work in lighted areas include buying a light meter to measure the exact illumination in the area and notifying a supervisor if lights seem too dim. Employees are entitled to a safe work environment with adequate lighting and employers are required to provide it.
Keep Your Work Area Clean
Although there is no clear standard for cleanliness in New York’s regulations, DOSH does require employers to store equipment and building materials safely. This includes:
- Storing materials and equipment so they do not obstruct any passageway, walkway, or stairs.
- Keeping materials and equipment away from floor, platform, or scaffold ledges where they might fall off.
- Ensuring materials and equipment do not exceed the weight-bearing capacity of temporary flooring.
- Clearing construction debris away periodically so it does not endanger workers or passersby.
During demolition projects, the job site should be surrounded by barriers to prevent unauthorized people from entering the site. Debris and waste should be secured so that it can be disposed of safely.
Talk To Your Employer About Safety
If you spot any areas of concern about worker safety, speak to your employer. Even if your employer is not required to remedy the safety hazards by DOSH, your employer also has obligations under workers compensation law, insurance law, and personal injury law to maintain a safe job site.
As a result, your employer will often be grateful if you can do your part to help keep employees, clients, and bystanders safe. Keep in mind that if a building catches fire, workers are not the only people at risk. Your employer could be exposed to millions of dollars of liability if an unsafe condition at the job site injures people and damages homes or businesses. The average home in New York is about $330,000, so one destroyed building could place your employer’s finances in jeopardy.
On the other hand, by identifying safety risks and pointing them out to your employer, you help your employer keep you safe and protect the employer’s interests.
Employee safety, particularly in the construction industry, is a complex job with many risks, including fires, falls, and electrocution. However, using the DOSH regulations, a business in New York can maintain legal compliance, keep employees safe, and protect their financial interests.