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When approaching hazards and risks on jobsites, safety professionals view the job through the eyes of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Hierarchy of Controls (HoC). 

The most effective solution is to eliminate the risk or hazard by physically removing it. While there has been serious disruptive innovation in PPE over the last decade, and more coming every day, the construction industry has made leaps and strides in NIOSH HoC through “engineering controls.”

As defined by NIOSH, “Engineering controls protect workers by removing hazardous conditions or by placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions. They typically do not interfere with worker productivity or personal comfort and make the work easier to perform rather than more difficult.”

Taking it even further, NIOSH also says, “Engineering controls are favored over administrative and PPE for controlling existing worker exposures in the workplace because they are designed to remove the hazard at the source, before it comes in contact with the worker. Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions to provide this high level of protection.”

Manufacturers recognize that the ramifications for injuries on the job impact more than just the worker—they also have a domino effect on the company itself. Therefore, these manufacturers are actively developing and implementing new safety technologies into tools.

Stopping Tool Over-Rotation

Tools, such as rotary hammers and core drills, often bind up when drilling through rebar or hard aggregate. This can often cause the tool to rotate up to 360-degrees, resulting in loss of control and potentially serious injuries to members of the crew. Take, for instance, core drilling—no matter how experienced a user is, the process is almost always dreaded. The sheer power of the machine and unpredictability can make for dangerous situations, particularly when coring handheld.

A new technology aimed at decreasing that risk of injury utilizes a sensor to sense that the tool is bound up, and an electromagnetic clutch to shut the tool down. Through this AUTOSTOP™ Electromagnetic clutch, the tool is prevented from over-rotation, minimizing potential rotation to only 45° versus the typical 360°. 

The Cost of an Injury: Though preventable, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other acute injuries are unfortunately common across the construction trades. These injuries typically affect muscles, tendons, joints, bones and tissue in the form of sprains, strains, inflamed tendons, dislocations and broken bones that can require costly surgery to resolve. For example, the typical rotator cuff surgery can cost more than $15,000 with indirect costs greatly exceeding that. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, more than 20,000 annual MSDs require days away from work in construction and, on average across all construction, a rate of 37 per 10,000 full-time equivalent workers. 

Stopping AcCessories

Grinders are some of the most commonly cited tools for jobsite injuries. These tools are often used, set down momentarily and then picked back up. The safest way to set down a grinder is to bring the wheel to a stop—but on many grinders this can take up to nine seconds. This leads some workers to simply set the grinder down even with it still running, which risks causing tool could jump. Additionally, some workers can even release the trigger with the wheel still spinning, potentially leading to finger injuries.

New technologies are working to decrease the time it takes for that grinder wheel to stop. Some grinders now feature RAPID STOP™ brakes that stop all accessories in under three seconds. This feature ensures the accessory comes to a quick and complete stop, allowing the user to set down the tool and move on to the next task without having to wait for the wheel to stop. 

Engineering Controlled

 AUTOSTOP™ and RAPID STOP™ are just two examples of many new ways manufacturers are engineering controls to improve safety on the jobsite. Here’s a glimpse at a few more noteworthy ways:

  • Dual-Trigger Designs – Some companies and safety managers are starting to request manufacturers design their band saws with dual triggers, ensuring operators are keeping both hands on the tool during use.
  • Noise Mitigation – According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, every year, thousands of construction workers suffer hearing loss from excessive noise exposure on the job. Noise-induced hearing loss affects workers’ quality of life and increases the risk of injury. Some manufacturers, such as Milwaukee Tool, are starting to conduct product sound power tests in fully isolated, hemi-anechoic 
    sound chambers. 
  • Self-Cleaning Vacuums – Some HEPA vacuums feature automatic filter cleaning mechanisms that make them Table 1-compliant with OSHA’s regulation on respirable crystalline silica dust (29 CFR 1926.1153). These filtration systems capture 99.97% of all particles greater than 0.3 microns and do not require the user to spend downtime cleaning them. 
Cost May be High, But the Benefits Are Higher

It’s not surprising that the upfront cost of new solutions can be an initial hurdle for some contractors and companies, but the long-term cost savings, productivity improvements and overall impact on worker morale can provide significant savings. 

As NIOSH reaffirms: “The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than some other control methods, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower and, in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.” 

Joe Kopko, executive vice president of client services for HUB International, also believes in this approach. “A contractor who purchases tooling with active safety technology and includes their skilled workers in the education and adoption of it can expect a multi-faceted return, including on their insurance spend,” he says. “Engineering controls provide more than just a nice safety feature to prevent injuries; they become a cultural grounding point for an organization to say, ‘We recognize the work you do is dangerous, and we value keeping you safe; let us show you how.’ Preventing an injury will always save you money on your insurance; you eventually pay for your claims.”

Bottom Line

While elimination and substitution have a more effective place in dealing with hazards and risks, innovative new offerings focused on engineering controls are often some of the most impactful because they physically change the way your workers risk of exposure with very little change to their workflow. 

Unlike a seatbelt, where the operator still must actively think about putting it on, the safety technology designed and built into the next generation of many solutions will protect contractors anytime the trigger is pulled. 

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