A near miss: the importance of communication on construction sites

During my first year as a safety professional before I joined Skanska, I was working for a concrete subcontractor in Houston. One morning, I received a phone call from one of my co-workers stating that a Linkbelt 248 mobile crane had dropped a load of wall forms from 45 feet up.  At that time, they could not confirm that no one was injured. My boss and I rushed to the area of the incident, to secure the scene and account for all involved. When we arrived, the crew was gathered at the top of the stairs going in to the work area. The foreman told us that his crew consisted of five carpenters and one rigger, and that he had accounted for all but one carpenter. Although we wanted to rush in to look for the missing carpenter, we first had to make sure the scene was safe to enter. We didn’t want to assume the worse but my heart was racing, worrying about the possibility of someone being trapped under hundreds of pounds of formwork lying at the bottom of the excavation.

Once the scene was inspected and deemed safe to enter, we rushed to where forms had landed to try and look for that missing carpenter. Those five minutes felt like a life time, after the initial search there was still no sign of him.  We turned around and from a distance saw him walking towards us. As it turned out, he had left the work area to take a bathroom and water break – just prior to the rigger flying the load in place – without informing anyone. I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life.

A thorough investigation was completed for the incident and it was found that the crew had followed all the procedures, including planning a path for the load. Although there were several people working in close proximity to the load, it did not pass over the top of them which kept them safe. The root cause of the incident was determined to be operator error.

UMC safety board -3

The biggest lesson learned from this near miss is that because all the safety procedures and protocols were followed, a big catastrophe was prevented. Still, we must always value the importance of communication within the crew: even something as simple as walking away to use the restroom needs to be communicated to others. We never know when a catastrophe could occur, and being able to account for everyone involved could keep someone else from being exposed to an unnecessary hazard.  It’s a happy ending to what could have been a disaster.

Analyn Nunez

Analyn Nunez

Environment, health and safety coordinator, Skanska USA

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • alan longoria August 29, 2013, 3:11 pm

    Great article. One must always work together with fellow employees to ensure a safe working environment.

  • Ajay January 28, 2014, 2:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing your near miss..


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