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  Promoting Construction Safety in Small Business
OSHA's Springfield Area Office is reaching out to local contractors to increase awareness about workplace safety and health.

by Ron Morin
About 150 construction contractors and workers recently poured into an aircraft hangar at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Mass., to see displays and demonstrations involving a variety of construction equipment.

The exhibit, presented at the OSHA Springfield Area Office's third annual Small Business Forum, included a 60-ton crane, on which an OSHA compliance officer conducted a mock inspection, explaining what compliance officers look for during an actual inspection.

The forum, presented in partnership with the Safety Council of Western New England and the Massachusetts Consultation Division of Occupational Safety, focused specifically on construction safety at small businesses. Participants attended classroom presentations on ladder and scaffold safety, fall protection, electrical safety, personnel platforms, and cranes, then filed into the aircraft hangar to see the exhibits and demonstrations.
Massachusetts area small business construction contractors and workers squeeze in for a closer look at equipment demonstrations showing safe work practices.
These included correct scaffold setups, with a discussion of frequently encountered problems that lead to violations; ladder safety; and hoisting operations when using slings. One demonstration, on fall protection, used harnesses attached to a tripod and force meter to demonstrate the impact and amount of force on the human body when a worker falls while attached to different types of belts and harnesses. Demonstrations also included several types of lift platforms that could be used for workers, as well as materials needed for working at elevations. A miniature overhead line setup showed exactly what happens when a boom from mechanical equipment such as a bucket loader or backhoe accidentally hits or comes into contact with an overhead power line.

"This was the Springfield Area Office's third Small Business Forum, and each one gets bigger and better as the staff builds on the previous year's success," said Marthe Kent, regional administrator for OSHA's Boston Regional Office. "The contractors and workers who attend spread the word about how good it was and encourage others to attend."

The attendees appear to agree. Many said that "hands-on" demonstrations, coupled with classroom presentations, are exactly the type of help OSHA should provide to small businesses in the construction field that don't have fulltime safety professionals on their staff. "This is the best way for OSHA to get its safety message out," said one participant. "It would be great to see more of these presented, and more often."

Kent said the forums are a win-win for the sponsors as well as the industry. "It's an inexpensive way for OSHA to get the word out about construction safety and it's free for employers and their employees to attend," she said. "But the best part is the interaction and personal touch that takes place when contractors meet CSHOs [compliance safety and health officers] in these types of settings. Everyone learns and everyone gains something." JSHQ

Morin is the area director of OSHA's Springfield Area Office in Massachusetts.