Let's face it: Construction doesn't happen in a padded room free from all potential hazards. It happens in the real world, with very real hazards. Now, at its most simple (disregarding contracts, subcontractors and multi-employer worksites), the Code of Federal Regulations pertaining to employee health and safety clearly mandates the elimination of hazards.
But, as you know, not all hazards can be eliminated. Eliminating hazards might be the best way to protect workers, but doing so simply isn't possible. So must work stop? Do you scrap the project? Of course not. Fortunately, the OSHA regulations point the way toward a solution - one that allows the employer to maintain compliance and protects the employee from unreasonable danger and risk.
A Systematic Approach to Hazard Control
Your safety plan won't cover every potential hazard your employees face, but that doesn't mean you cannot adequately prepare for a variety of situations and adjust your response so as to provide the safest environment possible. After all, that's the essence of compliance: to make things as safe as possible, not to eliminate every single safety hazard. So we begin with the application of a systematic approach to hazard control, one that OSHA supports. You can grasp this systematic approach by looking at OSHA's "hierarchy of controls" below:
When Complete Elimination of the Hazard Isn't Feasible
When elimination or substitution of the hazard is not feasible (what OSHA says is most effective in terms of preventing worker harm), your focus will shift to engineering controls, in which you consider physical changes to the job site or project that would make the environment safer. For example, you could modify the sequencing of a demolition plan in order to avoid struck-by hazards.
When Physical Changes to the Job Site Aren't Feasible
When engineering controls are not available or feasible, employers should look to the application of administrative controls. For example, in the case of heavy equipment operators, you could put in place a comprehensive and regimented communication plan in order to ensure safety around moving machinery.
Note: Document Your Analysis of Proposed Safety Measures
Every step down OSHA's "hierarchy of controls" pyramid, starting at the top with elimination/substitution of hazards, decreases the effectiveness of any given method of hazard control. Therefore, it's important to make sure that you assess and clearly document your assessment.
This is not an all or nothing proposition. PPE, for instance, is usually necessary. PPE is one of the least effective means of hazard control, but it is a form of control nonetheless. And it is not uncommon for construction projects to require the entire hierarchy of controls from start to finish, from hazard elimination to employee-level administrative controls.