Ensuring safety on the jobsite is a vital component of a project manager’s responsibilities. As construction work is the most highly dangerous occupation in the US today, every aspect of the jobsite demands focused attention.

Jobsites can contain heavy machinery, catwalks, scaffolding, and uneven surfaces that change with the weather and as the job progresses. One day you may have steel decking, the next day concrete is placed, and the day after that it might rain. It is no wonder that slips and falls constitute a majority of construction accidents. Moreover, workers are always busy and often multi-tasking. Project safety relies on relationships, starting with the project manager’s relationship with the construction manager, who carries the day-to-day responsibility for project safety, and leading up to their relationship with the owner, who the project manager keeps informed regarding safety standards and worksite data. To learn more about this vital job, we interviewed PMA’s Karina Pena, Brian DeFilippis, Philip McAuliffe, and Bruce Stephan about their own experiences.

Karina Pena, Associate, PMA Boston
Brian DeFilippis, Director, PMA Boston
Philip McAuliffe Headshot
Bruce Stephan, Executive Director, PMA San Francisco

Given the many life-threatening hazards on the jobsite, the project manager plays a key role throughout the entire process to minimize these threats and keep the entire staff safe. Bruce laid out these stages, starting with the planning phase, where the project manager’s principal responsibility regarding safety is to identify areas of the project that will need safety certification, assuring that the proper precautions are put in place. Additionally, project managers verify that any documents submitted to vendors include requirements for safety submittals, minimum qualifications for safety personnel, procedures for performing threat and vulnerability and potential hazard analysis. Later on, they confirm that the design scope considers all safety regulations and that required safety submittals are made and approved.

Once construction begins, the project manager confirms that the contractor makes all required safety submittals so that the agency and construction manager can review them for compliance. From there on out, their main role is attending safety meetings, keeping documentation up to date, reporting safety violations to the contractor, and sharing the safety manager’s data with the owner. Finally, during startup and testing, the project manager verifies that the safety elements of tests are addressed to ensure the continuing success of the project. With projects like Bruce’s work in California’s railway transportation, where PMA drafted a readiness for revenue service report, we can see how the project manager is responsible for not only the immediate safety of those on the worksite, but anyone who will use the finished product.

In 2019, construction sites became the workplace setting with the highest number of fatalities, even with all of the standard precautions that leadership takes to keep staff safe. When fatalities and any serious injury happen, Brian says that he takes part in post-incident meetings to mitigate risks and ensure that the problem does not repeat itself. We have also taken more preventative measures, such as increasing our role as support for the construction manager, enforcing safety policy amongst workers, and creating a more open channel of communication surrounding safety violations. This way, dangers do not go unnoticed.

“Construction site safety is both a team effort and culture on site. There can be stigma with safety, but providing the proper education and building trust amongst the team is vital to keeping everyone safe and eliminating any potential uncertainty.”

—Philip McAuliffe

He also said that he has seen a change in site practices such as having more full-time safety managers. These managers aren’t just telling people what not to do, but also putting in preventative measures such as leading workers in daily stretches to increase agility and avoid internal injuries, according to Karina. These changes might not be something that every site can incorporate, though, so their overall advice to decrease fatalities and injuries is to not grow complacent in the work that you’re doing, making sure that you take stock of your environment and leave it clear for the next person that comes through.

Project managers were met with a new challenge at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding new safety responsibilities to their already full plates. For example, many sites needed to take precautions like supplying handwashing stations, deodorizing areas, putting gaps between workers, and providing other precautionary technologies, along with more universally common practices like wearing masks. However, in the past year, many sites have found that they can safely return to their pre-COVID guidelines without the impact of transmission on their staff.

Safety Equipment Icons

There are also many technologies to promote worksite safety, some of which came from COVID precautions. Most notedly, Philip used Triax Proximity Trace sensors on one of his projects. These sensors are assigned to each individual on the site and track if people are within 6 feet of each other for more than 15 minutes, then run reports on who should be notified or quarantined in the case of a worker testing positive. Beyond COVID, they can also be used to measure movement, heart rate, and body temperature, giving another layer of safety data that managers would not have access to otherwise. Even hard hats have gotten an upgrade, as seen in the Kask Work/Rescue Helmet that Karina and Brian are currently using. This helmet includes features such as chin straps for a snugger fit and other safety additions like earmuffs, eye protection, and a headlamp attachment. Both of these examples of advances in safety technology do add costs to the project in comparison to using typical technologies, but as more resources become available, they can hopefully become industry standard.

In summary, an excellent project safety record depends on sound project planning, the right equipment and, most of all, on the cooperative relationships among those who are charged with moving the project forward. The human and material costs of construction accidents will also impact timely project completion. A well-planned project with a good safety record will be a project that is most likely to be completed on time. PMA project managers know they must begin each day with safety in mind as they create and update the project plan.

Special thanks to PMA’s Karina Pena, Brian DeFilippis, Philip McAuliffe, and Bruce Stephan for sharing their experiences from the jobsite and beyond.