Driving up I-75 on my return trip from Florida last month, I slowed my pace as I entered a construction area. Drivers behind me were less than thrilled, but I knew I was not only obeying the law but helping to protect workers from possible tragedy. At one point, I looked over to see a most effective sign, that of a young boy’s picture and this message: “Please slow down. My mom works here.” Needless to say, it caught my attention and I was happy that I had been crawling along.
But although I felt I was doing my part in helping to save lives, I didn’t feel the same about the workers on the side of the road. Though signage and cones were ample, few workers had on safety vests. Flaggers were absent as were “watchdogs.” I just shook my head and hoped for the best for them. I guess safety isn’t a priority for some—and I know for a fact that this includes many surveyors.
It’s quite understandable, though. Safety isn’t highlighted strongly on a national, state or local level, nor is it a topic of importance on the national exams. While Section IV of the Principles and Practice of Surveying exam, subsection C, does include a focus on risk management including questions on safety measures, it also includes the topics of liability and insurance. And this section of the test (which, incidentally, includes five other subcategories) comprises a mere 15 percent of the entire test. Broken down, that might amount to one, maybe two questions of the 100-question examination that are specifically focused on safety for the surveyor. (I should note, however, that other sections of the PS exam might cover safety aspects within other categories, such as project planning or field procedures. Still, I think it’s slight.)
In conversations with James R. Riney, PE, PS, 2004-05 chair of the Committee on Examinations for Professional Surveyors for the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), I learned that my persistent requests for safety aspects to be included in the PS exam have led him to “raise that level of awareness” with his committee members. Safety measures, it seems, have not held particular importance on the test because they aren’t considered directly linked to professional business practice. I disagree. I believe that surveying practices shouldn’t exist without implementation of safety measures. Riney vows to “create a focus on safety” in future test questions. But you can help in this regard, too. The national examinations are written according to feedback by working surveyors who are called upon to complete Professional Activities and Knowledge Studies (PAKS), a formal process that defines the relevant practice areas of professional surveying as identified by the current professional practice population. “The tests reflect on what people do,” Riney says. So, get involved. Request a PAKS in the next round, complete it and send it in. In the meantime, volunteer to be a member of the committee that oversees the writing of the test. Participate in question-writing workshops held regularly through industry associations.
I also encourage all individual and company members of their state societies to push for safety courses to be included in the roster for the annual shows. On more intimate levels, push for the same in your chapters and with your crews and supervisors. Each step toward a safer workplace is a step in the right direction.
To aid owners, managers and supervisors in implementing safety on the job, the National Society of Professional Surveyors Foundation will be producing a safety video. The video will include general aspects of safety that are included in OSHA-approved courses and will also drill down into specific areas in which surveyors should apply safety measures such as traffic control, confined space entry and working at heights that require fall protection equipment. The video is expected to have an accompanying workbook for viewers to complete. The video, the workbook and the focus on safety is far overdue.
Joe Dolan, NSPS president-elect, says most surveyors are “too busy” to focus on safety. “It’s like a lot of things—you just don’t think about it. We preach safety and we buy [equipment] and that’s about it.” The completion of the safety video and workbook may be one step to help improve upon that mindset. “We’re going to get it done,” Dolan says.
But there’s a lot more to be done. A sincere concentration on safety in this profession needs to be kicked up several notches. Those being recruited into the profession need to know that their lives are considered valuable. Those in the profession must push for an increase in safety education through more safety seminars and improved (or in some cases, established) company standards. That education and those protocols must not only be instituted but implemented for change to be seen. Productivity is not more important than safety.
Until the necessary action is placed on safety in the industry, you are all at risk. You can make a difference—whether it be for yourself alone, your crew, your entire business, the members of your local chapter or your state, or for the national group of surveyors. Step up for safety!
If you’d like to help with the funding of the surveying safety video, or have suggestions for its content, let us know here at POB, or contact the NSPS Foundation at 240/632-9716.