Point of Beginning

Safe and Sound

November 4, 2005
This is a safety picture.


Last year George Armstrong learned that one of the co-op students in his civil engineering technology program at Cincinnati State Technical and Com-munity College climbed almost 50 feet up on a steel beam while working on a building project-and was without fall protection. Armstrong knew immediately that a mandatory safety policy was needed in the program. "[A student] climbing up on steel really makes you think," Armstrong says, adding that a required safety course, designed by the Occupational Health and Safety Administra-tion (OSHA), is now required for co-op students with a major in surveying beginning this month. Students will undergo the OSHA 10-Hour Construction Industry Outreach-Trainer Presentation following their first 10 weeks in the program; this will coincide with the first two days of the students' first co-op program. Since each co-op student ultimately banks 200 hours, and many will work in roadways and other at-risk locations, the new requirement is a much needed addition to the program, Armstrong says. "We've talked about safety in the past, but we've never done anything as formal as this. This is the right thing to do." Students will learn about personal safety, confined space entry, climbing and harnessing, as well as some of the basics like responding appropriately to the alarms from bulldozers. "I know of two surveyors [who] have died by trucks driving over them," Armstrong says. And in an environment where bustling activity overpowers the senses, learning-or re-learning-to have a heightened awareness for safety precautions is never without merit. Lessons on safety cover numerous categories, and all are valuable. But while some institutions have installed safety measures in their programs, numerous schools, firms and associations have fallen behind in their task to protect students, employees and members. For this, a high price may be paid.

Common Sense Required

Surveyors are some of the most jeopardized professionals in the country. They enter confined spaces, work on roadways, work in remote areas, work in areas with animals and snakes-and even risk the attacks of property owners. For some, these risks are exhilarating and are catalysts for their continuance in the industry. Still, safety remains a topic of serious consideration. In an informal poll on POB Online in September, 41 percent of respondents reflected that employees are expected to use common sense to avoid injuries and prevent fatalities while on jobsites. While it is understandable that common sense is necessary for any job, employees in harm's way-such as surveyors-cannot be expected to perform on their own rationale alone. Further, individual firm managers must impress on their subordinates the obligations to uphold company standards, which can vary by specialty. The problem is that many surveying and mapping firms don't have such standards set. Without direction and expectation for performance, managers and employees are not as likely to take the necessary precautions needed to remain safe on the job. Larry Gerschbacher, PS, agrees. "[In] the specific disciplines of our profession, the people have to be trained to do that job safely. Having a written program is one thing, but you've got to implement that. Implementation of a written safety program is having safety classes for your employees." Gerschbacher began writing a column titled "Safety Check" in The Michigan Professional Surveyor, the official newsletter for the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors in the fall of 2002 with the intent to get surveyors to pay attention to safety issues. The sad truth is that Gershbacher hasn't received much feedback at all to his penned pieces. This may prove that surveyors discount the importance of safety topics-again relying on common sense for protection. But, common sense can't be relied on entirely, as fatality and injury statistics-and OSHA citations-prove. "I have seen a surprising number of fall protection citations for surveyors in the past few years-enough to realize that my classes mentioning fall protection are appropriate," says Ron Koons, co-owner of RoSaKo Enterprises, a safety consulting business serving surveyors and other professionals.

Images courtesy of Jackson Products Inc.

Categories to Care For

Roadway Safety "Roadway safety continues to be a major area of concern for all field crews," Koons says. "It is imperative that all field crews receive thorough training on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) Part VI; Temporary Traffic Control. Adhering to the information provided in this text will help assure compliance with OSHA regulations on traffic safety. Condensed pocket-sized versions of the manual are available and will fit into a vehicle's glove box." Koons says that basic roadway safety training for field crews runs between two and four hours, but if crews are consistently in higher hazard work zones such as interstate highways, a more extended training program should be considered a necessity. If crew members act as flaggers, the respective state departments of transportation in which the flagger will be working should be contacted to inquire if specific training on flagging is required.

Confined Spaces

Many surveying firms have established policies that prohibit their employees from entering an OSHA-defined Permit Required Confined Space. Unfortu-nately, sometimes field crews are given assignments that require them to somehow enter the space. "It is important to first look at what is expected of a field crew to see if alternatives are available," Koons says. "If the only way to retrieve the information is an entry, then don't hide behind the company policy of no entry. Plan for the entry and provide all required written programs, training and equipment."

Hearing Protection

All field crews should have some basic level of hearing protection available. If sound levels are high enough to require hearing protection, several OSHA regulations apply including base line audiograms, written programs, employee training and follow-up audiograms. "Most of the time when surveying field crews are exposed to high sound levels it is from the environment and not from their work," Koons says. "Since OSHA's requirement to wear hearing protection is based upon an eight-hour time weighted average, an employee would have to be at a specific location for a period of time to meet the requirement. However, it is always a good practice to voluntarily wear hearing protection at high sound levels even if it isn't required by regulations."

Other Protective Equipment

Different jobs require different equipment, and proper equipment prevents or lessens injuries on the job. To determine which Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required for various jobs, job hazard analysis forms can be completed (click HERE to access a list of PPE items). Protection for eyes and face, head, feet and legs, hands and arms, and full body should all be considered. Work done with or around hazardous waste, lasers, water, highrise buildings, heat-producing equipment (including all-terrain vehicles and construction machinery) and areas that produce substantial amounts of dust all require specific equipment to be worn or kept nearby.

Weather Considerations

The weather can make or break a job. And though it has a substantial effect on most instruments, it also has tremendous influence on whether surveyors can work for long periods of time. Both cold and warm weather require specific precautionary measures to ensure continuous performance. To prevent frostbite and health problems from occurring in cold environments, workers should don warm hats, fitted gloves (waterproof, insulated, leather or wool), wool or cotton undergarments, warm socks and protective boots. In warm and sunny climates, hats with flaps and nets, light-colored clothing and sunscreen should be worn. "Special breathable fabrics are good for both cold and hot weather protection," Koons says. "This allows all body perspiration to evaporate, making the worker cooler in summer and warmer in winter." Water and fluids such as Gatorade should be continuously consumed for better hydration.

Critters and Creatures

Surveyors have all too many stories about various bugs, bees and wasps, disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes, biting ants and snakes as well as protective dogs and other territorial animals such as bears and alligators. While these critters and creatures often can't be avoided, knowing how to stay safe when encountering or being attacked by one can be the difference between life and death. With the increased focus on the West Nile Virus and Lyme disease, DEET has been getting equal attention for its preventive results. In high concentration, DEET can protect up to 10 hours. When working in the woods, it is wise for surveyors to wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, tall boots and pant legs inside boots. This prevention can help to identify any ticks that may have landed. "Protection to prevent insects from approaching is the best, but detection and treatment after they have arrived is critical," Koons says. Surveyors can avoid contact with unwelcoming pets and other animals by investigating the state's Right of Entry laws and informing homeowners and other property owners of intended entry. Overall, surveyors and their supervisors should have a working knowledge of potential risks in their area.

Allergies

First-aid kits should include the basics, of course, but also include specific items that may be needed depending on the geographic area in which workers will be. "If an employer has known of an employee with seasonal allergies and has sent him out in the field, and the employee hyperventilates, that employer could be fined by OSHA," Koons says. "If [employers] know about employee allergies, they should put proper treatments in their crews' first-aid kits." Surveyors' first-aid kits should include bee sting treatments, burn treatments, EpiPens and even oral medication for normal and seasonal allergies such as those to wood, dust, pollen and fungus. "If any of your employees have known allergies to flora or insects you should be prepared in advance," Koons says. "Employees should be encouraged to take allergy medication as needed."

Plants

Surveyors should remember the old mantra, "Leaves of three, let it be. Berries white, danger in sight. Stems of red will catch you dead." And this one: "leaflets of three, beware of me." Both will keep surveyors clear of rashes that result from contact with the oil in poisonous plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac. Other harmful plants native to particular locales should be recognizable by workers as well.

Tools

While it may be second nature for surveyors to carry machetes along with their other tools, these sharp tools are dangerous and have the potential to cause both minor and major injuries. Other types of brush clearing devices, such as the curved brush hook, are somewhat less dangerous since the area of cut is more limited. "Whatever type of tool is used for clearing it is imperative to safely keep it stored when not in use," Koons advises. "Some type of scabbard or case must always be used. It is important to make certain the tool cannot accidentally fall out of the case. When using a sharp clearing tool it is also a good idea to wear a cut resistant glove in at least the opposite hand or even both hands. While Kevlar and other synthetics offer cut resistance, the wire mesh gloves are nearly cut proof. Depending on your use and climate, you can decide which would be best for your employees."

Save a Buck"¦ or a Life

The items covered here are not a comprehensive list of safety risks for surveyors. Others do exist, and should be known and understood by those potentially affected by them. It is the responsibility of every worker, supervisor and company owner to be sure employees are safe while on the job. However, it seems that many-if not most-surveying firms do not have a safety program in place because of the cost it takes to implement one. "The competition between surveying and engineering companies is just ferocious," Gerschbacher says. "If a company can save five thousand dollars a year and have a competitive edge over the next company by offering their services at a lesser fee, they're going to do it. The risk factor is there, but they're willing to take that risk and not put the money forward to have an active safety program." And the result is that more employees will lose their lives. Will firm owners and managers take notice then? "I'd hate to be the one to walk up to a person's door and tell [a] man's wife, "˜I'm sorry but your husband isn't coming home tonight. He was killed on the job because we didn't have our signs up and he wasn't wearing a safety vest," Gershbacher says.

SIDEBAR: A Case for Safety

If a case needs to be made for safety, Joe Schrimsher is one. Schrimsher escaped death by an 80,000-lb 18-wheeled semi-tractor trailer in October 2004. Schrimsher, an instrument man for George F. Young Inc. of Gainsville, Fla., was working on a project on Interstate 75. The massive vehicle skidded more than 300 feet, lost control and slid off the roadway into the median where Schrimsher was walking. The rig made impact with Schrimsher's body, causing multiple fractures to both legs, a punctured kidney and a minor laceration in the liver. Schrimsher's chest bruises were evidence that the rig's tires had ran over him diagonally. The miracle of the story is that he is alive and well following some dedicated medical procedures. Safety precautions were above average on that I-75 site since the crew working had placed "all of the advance warnings," Schrimsher's boss Mike Harbert says. The crew exceeded the required signage of six in each direction by placing eight of the company-owned 48-inch mesh signs reading "Men Working" and "Surveyors Ahead" in each direction. All crew members wear safety vests on all projects, according to Harbert. "If they want to work, it's not an option," he says firmly. "From the corporate side all I can do is furnish the proper devices and get rid of the people [who] don't want to use them. And I do drive up on them occasionally. I can't say that 100 percent of the time they've got everything out there [but] the vast majority do." The crews at George F. Young have proven that even by exceeding the requirement for safety measures, injuries can still happen. But, the result of Schrimsher's calamity could have been far worse had those measures not been taken. More than a year later, Harbert says, "that is a phone call I don't wish to ever get again."