Safety and Efficiency, Can They Coexist?

Words: Sarah Hurtado 
Photos: iQ Power Tools 

We’re all looking to be more efficient in our daily tasks, but safety is just as paramount. Every business owner wants their company to run efficiently to maximize profits, while every employee wants to work in a safe environment to ensure their wellbeing. Too often, the safety aspect becomes compromised when there is a push for more efficiency. Consequently, operations often blame safety for slowing down production. The push and pull between safety and efficiency is something that many business owners deal with daily.  

But what if we started thinking about them as teammates instead of competitors? I sat down with our President, Paul Guth, to get a better understanding of how the two could coexist.  

Sarah Hurtado: Do you think efficiency and safety could coexist in harmony on a jobsite?  

Paul Guth: Definitely. But it takes work to achieve that harmony. Being prepared, organized and well equipped is the way to get it done. The best intentions do not alleviate disaster.  

While Guth and I spoke, I learned that there are three key steps to implementing a safe and efficient jobsite – preparation, organization, and cleanliness.  

“Preparation is imperative in laying the groundwork for a safe and efficient jobsite. Think and plan ahead,” expressed Guth.  

Before you start the job, think about some of the following issues that could come up that day:  

  • Are raw materials stored as near as possible to the work area?  
  • Are your tools and supplies readily available where they are going to be used?  
  • Does your site have the proper scaffolding? 

Not being prepared and organized can actually slow down your workflow. For example, improperly erected scaffolds are not only dangerous, but they also slow down the production of those on it and those working around it, as they are forced to navigate slowly and cautiously. 

S.H.: How would you organize your jobsites when you were in the field? 

P.G.: “Having pavers, blocks, bricks, saws, setting material, etc., all delivered and/or staged where your team is working was a must on my jobsites. The less a worker has to walk to reach something, or a forklift has to lift and transport something, is clearly a best-case scenario”. 

Know where the product needs to go and put it there… BEFORE you start work, was a great tip. Whenever you are going to move something by hand or with equipment, know where you’re going to set it down, know that the delivery area is prepared and ready to receive whatever you are moving. By organizing materials and tools, it will create safer work practices when using cutting stations, handling material to place on a pallet, or raising materials up and down with a forklift. Less traveling back-and-forth to get materials and equipment results in saved time with less exposure to injury.  

Having your tools and equipment prepped and in the correct area is a time saver as well. Using cutting tools where he or she is making the cuts, can save a tremendous amount of time, and again, help to avoid potential hazards of added trips up and down the scaffold or across the jobsite. iQ Power Tools produces a line of saws and tools that are compact, lightweight, easily transported and can be used almost anywhere… even on a scaffold. They allow workers to cut and install right where they are. 

The more we chatted, the more Guth opened up about his time in the field. He gave me three tips/examples of how being prepared and organized creates efficiency.  

1.   Take the time to organize your jobsite, organize your materials and tools just like a good mechanic organizes his workbench to work efficiently and quickly. 

2.   Make sure the work area is as smooth as possible by eliminating trip hazards. Example: before starting a job, if the area and work surface is particularly rough, rent a skip loader for a day to smooth out the work area. This will help to keep the job moving quickly, while eliminating trip hazards, making the job safer and more efficient. 

3.   Every step you can eliminate, whether it be a person walking or a faster process, reduces exposure to hazards. Example: clean up the big pile of trash on the jobsite instead of walking and/or driving around it, this will save time and make for a more efficient jobsite. 

“If you organize a jobsite or work area so a person only has to take 2 steps instead of 3, then you lessen that hazard exposure by 1/3 and you’ve increased your efficiency by a 1/3. That is the basic principle of making your jobsite safer and more efficient.” Guth added.  

A much-overlooked work practice is cleanliness. The Cleanliness of a jobsite directly contributes to productivity. A cluttered, dusty and debris-filled work site creates hidden hazards and definite time-wasters. Workers can’t navigate through the mess, let alone find needed tools and materials to complete the task at hand. Cleanup shouldn’t just happen at the end of each day; it should happen as the day goes along. Place waste containers where you are cutting, and dumpsters nearby to streamline disposal of unwanted materials to avoid tripping hazards. “Cleaning on the go” improves overall safety and absolutely helps productivity. Everyone knows where everything is, and as a result, they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand, not side-stepping trash and other hazards.  

Dust is a big factor when it comes to jobsite cleanliness. You can see it at nearly every construction site – that thick dust cloud hovering over the workers. That dust is Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS).  

RCS forms when construction materials containing silica, such as bricks, concrete, granite or tiles, are cut, drilled, crushed or abraded. RCS can be inhaled and may reach the deep lungs, where it can scar the delicate tissue (silicosis). This, at minimum, can cause difficulties in breathing, and long-term exposure to RCS could increase the risk of lung cancer.  

Containing that dust cloud has many benefits. When you are not working in a dust cloud, you can see what you’re doing. Your coworkers can see and are not trying to avoid the area. Now everybody can work more efficiently. Avoiding the use of water to contain your dust reduces slip hazards and sidesteps the process of slurry cleanup.  

S.H.: Speaking of dust and debris, most contractors are using water to mitigate the dust. What is the most efficient way to stay safe and compliant with the new OSHA PEL? 

P.G.: “Using water and following ‘Table 1′ does make the jobsite compliant. However, it does not eliminate the dust and is not always as efficient as you think. For example, if you have to set up a masonry saw with a slurry containment area, this can take 20-30 minutes or more. Think about where you have to set up that wet saw… usually, it’s away from the work area where you can make a mess because there’s going to be mud and slurry everywhere. And in the winter time, it’s usually not even an option.” We tell our customers set the IQ saw right where you are working inside or out, this is how the tool makes you money and creates a jobsite that is safer and more efficient. 

Preparation, organization, and cleanliness might sound obvious, but they are great steps that all business owners and contractors can improve on. There are measurable gains to be made in both safety and efficiency everywhere we look. Take a look around your jobsite, your facility, and operations; plan ahead, practice preventative and effective maintenance, and form good housekeeping habits. Ask yourself if you and your coworkers are adequately trained to safely and efficiently perform the duties required. If there are questions, it is incumbent upon you to research new tools and technologies that unite safety and efficiency together. Cutting corners to complete a job under budget, or to finish a project ahead of schedule, isn’t worth a human’s safety, or worse, their life. A brick, a paver, a stone or a tile can all be replaced. Taking the time to reevaluate today’s practices, will maximize your safety AND efficiency tomorrow.