Recently, we’ve noticed a trend in how some construction companies are identifying “life-critical tasks” or activities that could result in serious or fatal incidents. The “life-critical tasks” designation means that strict compliance is mandatory. One such critical task is fall protection, and when there are violations of fall protection rules, some companies quickly implement severe discipline, including termination.
Because falls are the number one cause of fatal injuries in construction, the “life-critical task” designation is well-deserved. What we must remember is that all disciplinary action, especially for safety infractions, must be investigated and the following facts determined:
- Was the worker adequately trained and did they understand the requirement?
- Did they have the required equipment and was it in good condition?
- What is their history of compliance?
- Did someone or something distract the worker?
- What was their state of mind? What were they thinking at the time of the infraction? Why did they fail to follow requirements?
- Let the worker tell their side of the story.
- Did they intentionally violate the fall protection rule?
- If the worker is retrained, do we expect that they will comply in the future?
Today, many construction companies and projects have disciplinary committees that assess the aforementioned questions and come to the right decision for the worker and the project. No one will argue that good craft workers are at a premium, and if one mistake is made, the worker is not the only one punished if they are terminated. My advice is to take your time when judging a worker and the infraction that, even though very serious and potentially life-threatening, might lead to a meaningful training opportunity that would make the worker and his crew safer and more productive in the future.
Even though a “life-critical task” is violated, good companies will not automatically terminate a worker. Rather, a thoughtful process to evaluate their training, behavior and potential for future safe work will be undertaken.