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Jumping in – When safety is on the line.

Safety First – No. Matter. What. 

I like to believe that most people would intervene if they saw a family member or a friend doing something unsafe.  But what about a stranger?  What if you saw a competitor doing something so ridiculously unsafe that it made you question the sanity of everyone involved?  Would you pull out your iPhone and upload their actions to YouTube in hopes of becoming the next internet flash-in-a-pan, or would you intervene? Yesterday, I tried to intervene.

Late afternoon, my construction crew and I were wrapping up for the day when I looked down the street and spotted a family who had gathered to take pictures of the renovations occurring at their home.  A crane had just arrived and big equipment means exciting times for kids and adults alike.  The crane crew was about to lift what had to be a W24x104 or larger steel beam.  It was about 40’ long.  For those of you that don’t know steel, that’s a big beam – a REALLY big beam for a house. 

At first glance, I did not see  a single hardhat, or a single pair of gloves. What I did see was a family standing with crew and most everyone wearing sneakers and shorts.   As I moved closer, the ill-prepared crew proceeded to wrap the beam with two metal cables and “secure” them to the crane.  I wondered if anyone on site had ever had any training with rigging.  Sure enough, as they lifted the beam, it began to slip and slide through the rigging.  They lowered the beam and tried again – and again it slid in the rigging.  The third time was the charm – they found the center of gravity, but the beam was never secured with guide lines.  As the beam reached five feet off of the ground, a crew member ducked and walked under the beam and that is the moment I attempted to intervene.  Lives were now in danger. The beam clearly was not secure and could slide off, and a beam that size would crush an adult. I yelled and attempted to approach the job site but was waved off by the foreman.  He was not interested in my concerns and was clearly irritated at the interference.  I watched in dismay as the family and crew ran around to the back of the house to watch while they boomed this massive beam over the top of the house in one very quick motion, with no guide ropes to aid them.  By sheer luck, the beam was placed with no injuries.  As I turned and walked back to my own jobsite I asked myself what I could have done differently or what I should do about what happened.  I am responsible for the safety of everyone on my jobsite.  Do I also have a responsibility to keep others around me safe?  I believe the answer is ‘Yes’.

Now, after more than two decades in the construction and engineering fields in both the residential and industrial arenas, it is apparent to me that many subcontractors that work in this space have no safety training and are just not aware of how their actions can impact their lives and the lives of others around them. The residential construction market does not have as intense regulatory oversight that commercial and industrial markets have and therefore it is up to those of us in charge, the GCs and owners of companies, to set the example and keep our crews and site visitors safe.  It is also our responsibility to be the extra eyes, ears and voices for those around us to keep each other safe – and we should all receive input from others without taking offense.  You tell me. I’ll tell you.

At DENTONBUILT, we focus on safety by requiring each subcontractor to sign a Safety Acknowledgement Form before work begins that states they have read and understand our safety requirements and expectations. But responsibility doesn’t end there.  We must continually remind our contractors about safety and safety concerns. If they do not improve over time, they put their future with us at risk. Culture change is hard and it takes a long time, but we need to do this.  Jump in – help others understand the risks and the right way to get things done.  Let’s make the residential construction market safer and avoid those “Hey yall, watch this” moments.  Be my extra eyes and ears and I’ll be yours. Together we can keep our workers, site visitors and neighbors safe.

–Don Denton

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