A group of seasoned tradesmen went back to school Thursday. They’ve actually been on site at Richards High School in Oak Lawn for a while now, but on Thursday they were joined by some Richards students for a day of learning.
Among the things they learned was a construction site hazard can be something as simple as a nail lying on the ground.
“Somebody steps on it, they get injured and it all could have been avoided if somebody had merely picked it up,” said Mike Hampson, executive secretary of the Chicagoland Associated General Contractors.
The construction workers and students spent Thursday learning how to avoid injuries and other mishaps during a Safety Stand Down program. Thursday’s event at Richards was part of a national effort in which workers at some 600 job sites took a day off work to participate in sessions on workplace safety.
The crews at Richards have been working throughout the current school year to build an addition that will include an auditorium for use by fine arts programs and classroom space for music programs, including the school’s bands.
Community High School District 218 Superintendent Ty Harting said the ongoing work, as well as the Safety Stand Down, provide an opportunity for the students thinking about working in the trades as well.
“(The contractor) has reciprocated in giving those students a chance to see up close just what it is they do,” Harting said.
He said the project, which broke ground in August, is expected to be completed this summer, with the new space opening up to students for the 2018-19 school year.
Harting said he has been impressed with the safety conditions at the site. That, he believes, is part of the reason the project is running ahead of schedule, even as work at the site came to a halt while roughly 75 construction workers participated in Thursday’s program.
Jim Arnett, a Tinley Park-based official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the No. 1 cause of deaths at construction sites is from worker falls.
Most of those cases were the result of safety harnesses either not being properly fastened or improperly attached to structures.
He said during his 21 years with OSHA, he has participated in over 100 investigations of construction site falls, five of them last year alone.
“Everybody wears the harness, but you really need to make sure you’re hooked up properly,” Arnett said, citing a case in which a worker died after taking a long plunge to the ground.
But one doesn’t have to take a huge fall for it to be fatal. Arnett recalled another incident in which a construction worker only fell 13 feet but died after landing on his head.
“It only takes a split second for you to fall, and you lose your life,” Arnett said.
Greg Marquez, a safety director for the Chicago-based Bulley & Andrews construction firm that is handling the Richards fine arts center project, said injuries also result from workers rushing to meet deadlines or even just hurrying to finish up for the day. Some of those mishaps included safety platforms not being properly secured, or tools not being properly used or maintained.
“You can have that saw blade that’s a little dull, but you figure there’s only one hour left to that day’s shift so you just go ahead working,” Marquez said. “That can cause a problem that hurts somebody.”
Marquez said there is one key element to boosting safety at construction sites – workers watching each other’s backs and warning everybody if they see potential problems that could result in injury.
“You need to watch out for each other,” Marquez said. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to do this. But I’m sure no one really wants to see any of their coworkers or fellow union members get hurt.”
Gregory Tejeda is a freelancer for the Daily Southtown.