When I am hired to prepare written safety programs for surveying and engineering firms, I always conduct a safety audit for the company. This includes an inspection of its office and any storage facilities, as well as a sampling of its worksites. Most of the time the field crews and office staff don’t know that I am coming, so I get a true picture of what is going on within the company. This month I will cover a few items that I find on a regular basis while conducting these audits.

The surveyor’s utility safety vest by SECO meets the ANSI Class III standard.

Safety Vests

To me, the safety vest is more important than a total station, GPS unit or any other equipment surveyors and engineers use to make a living. The safety vest helps to keep employees safe so they can return for another day’s work. It is critical to purchase the correct type of vest. OSHA has waffled on the vest ratings published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and has left it to employers to decide which vests to outfit crews. I believe that all field crews should be wearing no less than a Class II vest and I always recommend a Class III vest (see sidebar for brief descriptions). A Class III vest offers the maximum protection short of additional gear such as pants and hats.

The most common problems I see are vests that are either too small or in very bad condition. Mud, tar and paint reduce the effectiveness of a safety vest. Today’s ANSI-rated vests are rated to withstand 25 washings before they need to be replaced. That’s right--I said they can be washed! I don’t believe that I have ever gotten a positive answer from a surveyor when I ask if his vests get washed. It makes sense to wash vests because this extends their longevity.

To keep vests in good condition, it is important to store them properly. Most workers throw their vests in the back of their vehicles along with their tools, rebar, stakes, safety cones, etc. It is best to hang a vest on a hanger in the passenger compartment of the vehicle where it will stay cleaner and not be subjected to abuse.


Storage is a problem for everyone. There never seems to be enough room to store drawings, reports and other paperwork. Almost every office needs some way for employees to get to items in high places. Most of the time this ends up being a household-rated step stool. Many times these are of the very light variety and are not intended for the type of use they receive in a commercial business. Commercially rated type I or IA ladders or ladder stools should be used; I recommend the type IA because it has a higher load capacity. A platform type ladder is probably the best for an office environment since it offers maximum foot resting surface. Additionally, there must be a place to store the ladder when not in use. It shouldn’t be left leaning against a wall in a traveled area.

Even though most surveyors have a small storage building for equipment, I still find gasoline cans and small gasoline engine-powered equipment in a lot of offices. Gasoline storage should never be allowed inside. If tools must be brought inside that use gasoline, they should be thoroughly drained of the fuel and allowed to air out.


During my audits, I also often point out a lack of exit signs and/or unlit exit signs. I use a simple test to decide where exit signs and emergency lighting should be located. Imagine that you have been blindfolded and brought into your office. If someone were to take off the blindfold, could you readily see how to get out in the event of an emergency? Today’s offices have more cubicles, which break up an area and make it more confusing to determine exactly where or how to exit. They also cut off some of the natural light from windows. It is important to ensure that exit lights are easily visible and that emergency lights illuminate an egress path or doorway.

Also, remember that you need to have a good path to a door for safe egress. Many times a surveyor’s office space swells into the aisles that were intended for egress.


Compared to 30 years ago, the usage of electricity in offices has climbed rapidly. It isn’t as much the amount of electricity that you are using as much as it is the number of items that require electricity. Each crew member has a radio and an accompanying battery charger, and sometimes an additional charger for extra batteries. Every work station has a monitor and CPU, and some have printers. Clocks, radios and dozens of other items also need electricity in an office.

The problem is that many firms haven’t kept up with the demand for electrical receptacles by bringing in a qualified electrician. They just add power strips onto power strips and end up with cords and adapters all over the office. Many of the handheld items have transformers that plug into the receptacle instead of being built into the equipment. These transformers become a problem because of their size. Space should be reviewed to determine if an electrician may be needed to add safe electrical supply points. Also, extension cords are not replacements for permanent wiring. An extension cord should be used as a temporary tool to get electricity where it is needed for short periods of time. Eight hours a day for 52 weeks of the year is not temporary use.

Fire Extinguishers and First-Aid Kits

Two items often forgotten in an office are fire extinguishers and first-aid kits. Every office should have a first-aid kit that meets the requirements of the types of injuries its workers may have. If corrosives or acids are present, an eyewash kit may also be needed. It should be located in a position that is easy for employees to get what they need.

In every office a fire extinguisher should be located at least once per 3,000 square feet, and there should be a distance of no more than 75 feet to walk to an extinguisher. There must be at least one per floor or elevation. Some local codes may require them even more frequently.

Field vehicles also need to have a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher. Both items should be of the size and type that are needed for the potential use.

These are just a few of the items I see when conducting surveyor safety audits. Look over your facilities to see if you may need to make changes in any of these areas. Good luck with your efforts.

Sidebar: Guidelines for Safety Apparel

A Class II vest is typically recommended for workers engaged in occupational activities with the following risk levels:

 Greater visibility is desired during inclement weather conditions.

 Complex backgrounds are present.

 Employees are performing tasks that divert attention from approaching vehicle traffic.

 Vehicle or moving equipment speeds exceed 25 mph.

 Work activities take place in closer proximity to vehicle traffic.

Examples of pedestrian workers in this class include:

 roadway construction workers

 utility crews

 survey crews

 railway workers

 forestry workers

A Class II or III vest is recommended where risk levels exceed those above, such as where:

 Workers are exposed to significantly higher vehicle speeds and/or reduced sight distances.

 The worker and vehicle operator have high task loads, clearly placing the worker in danger.

 The wearer must be conspicuous through the full range of body motions at a minimum of 1,280 ft and must be identifiable as a person.

Examples of workers in this class include:

 roadway construction personnel

 utility workers

 survey crews

 flagging crews

These guidelines and scenarios serve as an assessment tool only. Specific conditions such as weather, sight/stop distance, training, regulations, proximity, etc. must be taken into account in any final assessment. Vehicle speed in and around work areas should be considered as part of an assessment. In the event of extreme hazards, a performance level in excess of Class III might be needed. Apparel should always be selected to best achieve the contrast between the wearer and the work environment.

Source: “Summary of ANSI Suggested Performance Class Guidelines For High Visibility Safety Apparel” from RoSaKo Safety.