As our population continues to live longer and requires increased health care services, our nation’s hospitals are responding with plans to expand, renovate and construct state-of-the-art healthcare facilities. The expansion of existing healthcare systems while medical services are being provided requires planning for the safety of both patients and construction workers. Just like healthcare facilities’ missions, when working on renovations or expansions in an active medical space, the priority should be to “do no harm.”
Preventative Treatment: Enhancing a Safety Climate
Each healthcare facility has specific upgrade requirements to better treat its patients. These renovations bring unique challenges that can present potential safety hazards to the health of the workers and building occupants. Like we keep our bodies healthy through preventative and ongoing care, a project’s safety wellness requires proper implementation of good preventative treatment practices early and often throughout the project life cycle.
Through detailed planning and engineering solutions, project teams can create layered and comprehensive approaches to identifying safety risks and preventing accidents before they happen. These steps are a project’s first line of defense. When done well and combined with personal protective equipment — the last line of defense — they result in a project that benefits the health and wellness of everyone at the facility.
Tread Softly (Or as Softly as Possible)
Progressive general contractors consider all possible outcomes, even before breaking ground. Keeping everyone as safe as possible and the project running efficiently requires planning and the procedural methods for project delivery. Plan for everything. Train workers in patient safety and comfort, use noise-reduction technology, implement separate worker entrances and manage material delivery flow to ensure that construction traffic doesn’t pose any risk to emergency room access, for example. Additionally, it is imperative to assign dedicated MEP personnel to ensure that plans and actions will not interrupt the facility’s power source.
Keeping It Clean
On any construction project, safety is paramount. In healthcare construction, however, this concern for safety becomes even more acute as the wellness of current and future patients must be considered. Protecting patients, who often have compromised or weakened immune systems, requires meticulous attention to detail. One way to do this is to isolate construction areas from active healthcare operations. This process involves taking every possible precaution to plan for and execute strict contaminant control procedures to protect building occupants, including, but not limited to, the use of portable dust containment units, noise reducing technology and separate worker entrances.
Temporary partitions are an important component to effectively isolate construction spaces from active patient areas. Conventionally, temporary drywall partitions are erected, and later demolished and rebuilt as the work progresses. In addition to this solution being costly and time consuming, it also increases the risk of infection due to the dust generated during assembly. New temporary wall systems, such as the Edge Guard panel system, integrate ICRA barrier requirements, including pressure monitoring, notices, security and filtration. These temporary walls are easy to reconfigure when necessary and allow for greater ongoing patient protection during construction.
Planning for the Prevention of Common Accidents
In the United States, construction is one of the most dangerous industries. We protect patients, but we also want to ensure that construction workers don’t become patients. The first step to worker safety — minimizing exposure to safety risks in the first place — is essential to accident prevention. Safety teams should examine the overarching plan of construction with strict attention to detail. Once a risk is identified, take steps to engineer the hazard from the project; find different solutions that remove possible safety dangers from the jobsite before they ever come into play.
Most common construction site injuries can be traced to just a handful of causes. Education, awareness of fall hazards, and a reinforced climate of safety are the hallmarks of a safe project. While proactive employers require mandatory safety preparatory meetings at the start of each shift, these meetings are only effective if the foremen and crew are engaged and focused on planning of their work. When done correctly, these meetings provide a great opportunity to capture the crew’s attention at the beginning of each shift, update workers on what will be happening that day, answer questions, and communicate if any new equipment or machinery will be used within specific work areas.
Fall Prevention & Protection
Even on the safest construction sites, there are still uneven surfaces, ladders, elevated work areas and scaffolding — all that create the potential for dangerous falls. Unfortunately, as careful as workers are, gravity wins every time in the event of a slip, trip or fall.
Exactly 879 fatal injuries occurred in the construction industry in 2015, with a rate that triples the overall U.S. workplace fatality rate. Falls and struck-by incidents were the most common injury mechanisms in the construction injury. A 2016 study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine concluded that Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) accounted for 25 percent of all construction fatalities, and that a large percentage of TBIs in the industry were due to falls.
In addition to permanent injuries and lost lives as the result of falls, businesses lose billions of dollars each year from significant increases in insurance premiums, workers’ compensation claims, product liability costs, and other related expenses. Additionally, the low morale of seeing a severe injury to a coworker can be traumatizing and decrease productivity from the remaining workers. These factors make the impact of even one fall from a relatively short height extremely high, and their prevention extremely valuable.
Researching & Implementing the Latest in Certified Safety Equipment
While the focus of safety programs is clearly aimed at preventing all falls, forward-thinking companies are investing in more technically advanced safety equipment to provide better protection for workers who do slip, trip, or fall. Head protection may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering fall protection, but given the data on TBI’s as result of falls, it makes sense. Researchers recommend that safety interventions must be emphasized in the construction industry. Prevalent industry standards for head protection uses equipment designed in the 1960s. To that end, new high-tech construction safety helmets with chin straps are being used to prevent TBIs by early-adopting companies.
The new rated helmets with chin straps — which look like helmets used in adventure sports such as cycling and rock climbing — still protect employees from dropped objects and flying debris while offering enhanced head protection if a fall occurs. The helmet weight is evenly distributed across the wearer’s head making the headgear more comfortable and offering more protection against impacts on the head. Most important, these new helmet designs include chinstraps that make it less likely to come off if a worker falls.
While technology will continue to develop and change the shape of how healthcare construction projects are completed, a responsible company aims to create a higher standard of safety for both patients and workers. A multi-pronged approach that focuses on a job site’s safety climate, elimination of risk, and adoption of research-based, innovative PPEs, will lead to fewer injuries and a safer work environment. The need for innovative ways to prevent workplace injuries is crucial. Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, recently stated, “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.”
The healthcare industry provides care for communities and saves lives. We understand that purpose with the greatest sense of respect. As contractors, we honor this duty in a number of ways: by keeping impact low, by proactively preventing patient risk and by ensuring workers don’t become patients themselves. We strive to bring and reinforce a climate of safety every day at job sites for workers, clients and patients.
Kris Manning is vice president of safety with Clark Construction Group LLC and has been with the company since 1998. He is an Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) and has a Lean Enterprise Certification.