Do’s and Don’ts for a Design Accident Prevention Plan

by Joe Leysath, P.E., PSP, LEED AP

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

Engineering field work can be hazardous, especially when working around utility infrastructure like electrical generation and distribution equipment, piping with 200+ degree steam and condensate running through it, underground utility tunnels, or cramped mechanical rooms. Safety for all personnel in these spaces is paramount. A Design Accident Prevention Plan can help make sure project team members have the knowledge, training, and specific plans of action for addressing hazardous conditions and safety incidents.

What is a Design Accident Prevention Plan?

The Design Accident Prevention Plan establishes project-specific safety and health instructions and procedures, including accident prevention and reporting. It’s a requirement for military projects, and Wood Harbinger develops a lot of them for our work with the Navy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For military work like this, our accident prevention plans must adhere to a federal guideline, Safety and Health Requirements Manual, EM 385-1-1, 2014 edition.

As consulting engineers, the Design Accident Prevention Plans we write and execute are specifically tailored for the design phase of the project. Construction brings a whole other realm of safety hazards and concerns; general contractors develop their own accident prevention plan for this phase of a project. The design phase and the construction phase components become part of the full, project-specific accident prevention plan that is managed by a Site Safety Officer, generally a member of the general contractor team. All contractors and consultants follow the same procedures, and all must sign that they have read and will adhere to the plan.

What Information does the Accident Prevention Plan Include?

The accident prevention plan provides specific instructions to employees to promote safe working conditions. For the design phase, the plan establishes the physical boundaries of where field investigation will be performed, what specific equipment will be investigated, and who is authorized to conduct the investigation, if applicable. For example, only licensed electricians are allowed to open electrical panels, so if that is part of the scope, an electrician must perform that part of the work.

Another key element of the Design Accident Prevention Plan is the activity hazard analysis. For the plans that we write, we have our project principal in charge and project manager identify and document specific concerns along with the appropriate safety measures, which are included in a form with a risk assessment component. See the example activity hazard analysis chart below:

In the Event of an Emergency

The plan also includes procedures for what to do in the event of an accident. If an accident does occur, that is not the time to figure out the next steps. This is particularly true on a military base, where everything is governed by protocol.  The design-phase accident prevention plan includes information on where medical support is available, emergency phone numbers, the proper sequence of who to call first, next, and so on, as well as first aid and CPR training requirements.  Fun fact, electrical engineers that work on a military base are required to have CPR training and conduct site visits with two or more people, so that we are prepared in the event of an emergency. It’s just the nature of the equipment we work with.

Reporting an Incident

There are specific steps to follow to properly report an incident if an accident does occur on the job site. For military projects, the first step is notification within 24 hours of any mishaps, including recordable accidents, actual incidents, as well as near misses. The EM 385-1 document defines all these types of scenarios.  If you stub your toe it may not be a big deal. But if you stub-your toe because a loose tool came crashing down from the top of a building, well, that needs to be reported.

Why Are Accident Prevention Plans Important?

The military’s construction project safety program was born in the wake of serious accidents and deaths, most of which were likely avoidable. Consultants like us are guests when we visit the bases.  As a guest, we must follow the owner’s requirements to maintain a high level of safety as we perform our work.

Most, if not all, facility owners have safety plans to which a project team must comply. The concept of documenting project specifics and having everyone formally sign off on a written accident prevention plan takes the enforcement of these measures to the next level. Both military and non-military clients and their project teams benefit when everyone is on the same page about safety policies, procedures, and requirements. Successfully avoiding or dealing with an incident so often just comes down to knowing what to do and who to call. The purpose of the accident prevention plan is to assure that all people on a project site have the information and training that will help them stay safe on the job and know what to do in the event that an emergency occurs.

Do’s and Don’ts

Here’s my go-to lists of do’s and don’ts related to accident prevention plans. If you have others, please let me know!

  • Do take safety seriously.
  • Do include a Design Accident Prevention Plan on your projects! Even a one-page summary of calls and procedures will go a long way to preventing an accident.
  • Do prioritize training for all personnel that might be on a project side. Basics like CPR or other safety training classes can be provided for any and all. It’s a good policy to have. Wood Harbinger has a safety policy signed by a firm principal that is provided as part of all our accident prevention plan documentation. It may seem like a formality, but it emphasizes the importance we place on safety.
  • Do incorporate general safety information like PPE requirements, eye wash, ladder safety, etc. An accident prevention plan includes some of the obvious things, like personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses, reflective vests, flotation devices for overwater projects, etc. But there are also some more obscure or abstract elements that are included in the name of creating a truly comprehensive safety plan. Examples include guidelines like a requirement not to consume alcohol fewer than 8 hours before being on site. The goal is a comprehensive document of safety and accident prevention information that applies to the project.
  • Do be prepared with your Personal Protection Equipment (hardhat, vest, gloves, eye protection, hearing protection, steel toe shoes) tailored to the job site requirements when you go on the job site.
  • Do have the right mindset before going to a job site. Be aware of your surroundings, aware of the people around you and the colleagues that you are with, and cautious around any and all hazardous equipment.
  • Don’t assume 911 is the first call to make. On a military base, often 911 can’t get to the scene first. It’s important to know if a project site requires procedures that aren’t typical.
  • Don’t forego an accident prevention plan (or any kind of safety plan) just because one is not formally required. Even if you don’t have a formal document, have a plan and make sure personnel know what it is.
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