Avoiding OSHA safety issues when working with multiple contractors
By Painters USA Team
— Last updated January 10, 2023
Painters USA frequently ends up working alongside other contractors at a client site. With coordination and communication of plans and actions, the project usually runs smoothly and on-time. But with deviations like quick changes made onsite without communicating or coordinating with all the teams on a project, things can quickly go wrong, especially in regards to safety.
Private parking garage that turned into a confined space job site
Darren Lottes, Painters USA Safety Manager, describes a safety incident on a parking lot project involving an urban condominium building’s four-level garage, with two levels below grade. An engineering firm hired a contractor to do the concrete work, who in turn hired Painters USA to paint the walls and stairwells and stripe parking space lines on the garage floors.
At the pre-construction meeting, one of our safety team members inspected the job site for critical safety elements like access points, lighting, and ventilation and found everything in order.
Yet as our crews moved below grade, our job foreman sensed accumulating dust and fumes, causing eye and breathing irritation. It was also learned that the general contractors’ crews had started complaining among themselves about the conditions.
Using a hand-held monitor for detecting oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and combustible gasses, as our foreman descended below grade to the lower levels of the garage, the CO detector fired off an alert.
It was learned that the ventilation shafts and blowers were no longer working as some of the contractors’ crew members had boarded up the shaft openings, seeking a way to protect equipment from being coated with concrete dust. Without proper ventilation, the job site then became what’s known as a non-permit confined space as defined by OSHA.
Confined space training for tight spots
What do tanks, silos, vaults, tunnels, equipment housings, ductwork, and pipelines have in common? They’re all confined spaces with limited or restricted egress that creates hazards and complicates emergency responses. Painters USA follows OSHA guidelines for working in these settings by training and certifying our crews and foremen to work in confined spaces. Our clients appreciate this extra level of safety awareness and preparedness.
Quick resolution to safely complete the project on time
By coordinating with the general contractor (who had no confined space experience) and the engineering project lead, we implemented several recommendations to safeguard all workers and keep the project on schedule: removal of the ventilation shaft barriers;, installation of large industrial fans to move air more quickly and efficiently; and shift changes between the contractor and Painters USA so each could work undisturbed by each other's people and processes.
What can you do as the client to ensure safety on multi-contractor projects?
If your project involves various contractors working on your site at the same time, following are a few recommendations to ensure smooth, safe completion:
- Rather than treating each contractor as a separate entity, view them as one team and communicate and collaborate as such.
- You may have a general contractor that you expect to take care of all project issues, but as this example shows, that contractor may not have the necessary knowledge or experience for all aspects of the job. Tap into the expertise of all involved.
- It’s vital for teams to communicate all actions, even if they seem inconsequential. The decision to cover up some ventilation shafts without informing the rest of the team caused a problem that didn’t need to occur nor turn into a safety risk.
- If possible, split contractor-specific work into different shifts, which allows functional teams to work without additional people or activities to get in the way.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, always keep site safety and worker safety a top priority. When vetting contractors, include their safety record and how (or if) they properly train and equip their crews on OSHA safety requirements.
Read the full story here: Quarterbacking Safety When Nobody Takes Charge, as told by Darren for the Occupational Health & Safety website.
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