Five questions for Guido van Engelen

No quick fixes for safety

Fall hazards, protruding objects and rotating circular saws are just a few examples of what construction workers are confronted with on a daily basis. It goes without saying that workplace safety is enormously important, but according to Guido van Engelen, Foreman - Carpenter I, it is sometimes ‘easier said than done’. A discussion at the construction site.

February 24, 2016

What strikes me on this construction site is that there is a lot of mud; is that safe or not?

I have recently started working on the Groene Oever project in Lent. The ‘mud-bath’ was indeed immediately noticeable. Mud is not unusual on construction sites and it creates unsafe situations. On the one hand, we hear a lot about the GO! safety programme, but at the same time there are cutbacks on materials that could prevent accidents. Installing steel planking on the site could prevent back strain and the ground becomes firm enough to erect scaffolding.

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Guido van Engelen at the Groene Oever construction site in Lent.

Steel planking also looks more client friendly. Recently, the future occupants had a viewing afternoon. To ensure that they could enter their homes safely we made some walkways with wooden planks. It costs time to make these walkways, and time is money. These are unnecessary costs. If this had been more carefully considered at an earlier stage we would not have incurred these costs.

Have you already reported this situation via the GO! app?

You can report unsafe situations quickly and easily via the GO! app. I have not yet reported this situation because I want to discuss it with my project leader first to find out what the reasons have been for certain decisions. I want to understand the choices so that I can discuss them with my colleagues. After all, the safer we work the better the atmosphere.

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I want to support the safety programme in the future even better and in this way be of added value to the company. After all, I am partly responsible for safety on the construction site. My supervisor gave me that responsibility last year. He offered me the opportunity to develop myself even further so that I can finally progress and become a foreman. I am seizing that opportunity with both hands. To promote the safety programme, I have to do more than just abide by the rules, call colleagues to account, and motivate them. The total process goes hand in hand with good work planning, costing and procurement. If you do not buy the right parts, you run the risk of creating unsafe situations. Before I can fulfil such a role, I need a lot of experience. At the age of 25, I have not acquired that experience yet.

Where do you see improvements for the GO! programme?

Despite the situation with the mud, we try to work on this project as safely as possible. We also work safely on many other projects. I think that Heijmans has taken many steps throughout the years where safety is concerned. Partly through means of communication such as the GO! app and the monthly GO! Update and toolbox meetings, working on a construction site has become much safer.

There is always room for improvement, of course. For example, not everyone has a smartphone with which they can report an unsafe situation and there are enough people with a smartphone who still do not report unsafe situations via the GO! app. They need to know that they can also report an unsafe situation via the foreman or via www.geenongevallen.nl. These unsafe situations should subsequently be discussed each month during the toolbox meetings. In addition, the safety info could be expanded even further with project-related info through, for example, hanging up sheets in the site hut with safety tips on standard project activities. Sheets about the danger of working with saws would be a good example for us as carpenters.

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Communication about safety frequently takes place in the site hut through safety tips and updates.

Do you receive sufficient feedback from your supervisor?

Perhaps the most important feedback is hearing that you are doing something well. Construction workers go from project to project. You are still finalizing one project and the next one is already waiting for you. It is standard practice to do what you are ‘used to’ doing, which sometimes makes me wonder ‘when are you doing it right?’. We almost never hear afterwards whether the client was satisfied. A supervisor, for example, who speaks to his team when a project has been carried out safely and tells us that we must keep that up when carrying out the next project says much more than a dinner voucher that you receive for a valuable GO! app report. That kind of feedback and appreciation is the greatest improvement in my opinion.

And do you call colleagues, young and old, to account about their behaviour?

I may be only 25 but I am not afraid to call colleagues and subcontractors to account. There are sometimes one or two people who are unhappy about it. They see me as a ‘rookie’ and care little about regulations. That is something you have to overcome and show them that everyone has to abide by the regulations. Whether they are old or young, it makes no difference to me.

Everyone is familiar with the safety regulations. The biggest pitfall is doing something ‘in a hurry’. Recently, I went to the hospital with an apprentice. He had been working with a grinder when he managed to get a steel splinter in his eye. Fortunately, it was not serious and he suffered no permanent injury. That ‘doing it in a hurry without safety glasses’ changed into a lengthy visit to the hospital. It is better to take more time and do your work safely than facing the consequences that may arise when you do not work safely.