In the construction industry, nothing is more important than safety.
In the construction industry, nothing is more important than safety. There’s no shortage of safety rules and procedures, usually memorialized in a hefty employee manual. And you’re probably also holding regular safety meetings. But there’s something else you can do to make the jobsite safer: Institute a stop-work authority (SWA) policy.
In a good SWA policy, employees have a right to stop work if a task presents a danger to themselves or others on the job. In fact, it's typical that SWAs make it an employee responsibility to do so.
Having a SWA policy in place does one better than relying on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard that covers an employee in the event he finds himself in a situation he considers risky. According to the OSHA standard, an employee can refuse to work if the employer has been informed of the hazard and doesn’t move to fix it; if the employee sincerely believes there is imminent danger in attempting the task; if a reasonable person would consider the task dangerous or deadly; and if there's no time for an enforcement agency to perform an inspection and make a determination.
There are two serious limitations to the standard. One, it doesn’t provide a process for the employee to stop work when he is not the one in danger. Two, just because OSHA has a provision in place for stopping work doesn’t mean employees will feel comfortable acting on it. For this reason, many companies have a SWA policy.
A good SWA policy makes it especially clear that there will be no punitive consequences for employees who stop work, including docking of wages and limiting duties.
The SWA process should look something like this:
- Employee — Stop the dangerous activity in a calm manner, and make it clear to other employees that you have the authority to do so.
- Employee — Alert the employer and any other affected employees.
- Employer — Investigate the danger.
- Employer — Eliminate the danger.
- Employee and staff — Go back to work.
- Employer — Review the stop-work incident and ensure that the dangerous condition is not repeated.
As with any corporate policy, top-down promotion is key. If upper management doesn’t actively support the SWA policy, no one else will, either.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.