The Hidden Factor That Can Sink a Construction Project


Put yourself in this situation:

Excavation is underway at the construction site when a recently-hired laborer complains of an “odd smell” in the air. Nobody else on the crew senses anything unusual, so work continues.

The next day, the employee calls in sick with a severe headache. He says he’s afraid it’s related to whatever he was breathing on the job site, and he’s going to see a doctor “to get it checked out.”

The following morning, safety inspectors from OSHA and the EPA show up to investigate. They want to see the Health and Safety Plan. They want to see the environmental site assessment. More of the employees think they may be getting a headache too.

Work stops.

Situations like the one just described happen far too often and can produce many undesirable outcomes:

  • Construction workers may develop occupational illnesses
  • Work stoppages can lead to astronomical cost increases
  • Contractors and owners are left open to citations for failing to comply with environmental regulations
  • Companies can even face multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits that require expensive litigation

The worst news of all is that everyone of those problems have one thing in common:

They were easily preventable.

4 Risks of Environmentally Unfriendly Construction Projects

This article is for general contractors, subcontractors, construction project loan officers – for anyone who has a stake in getting construction projects completed on time and within budget.

We’re going to look closely at the hidden factor that can bring construction activities to a sudden halt and cause irreparable harm on a number of levels.

The solution isn’t expensive, and it isn’t complex. But it does require you to be aware of this one simple method of preventing environmental, worker, and public health catastrophes:

Include industrial hygiene services — under the supervision of a certified industrial hygienist (CIH) — in your construction budget.

5 Reasons Why You Should Always Work With a Certified Industrial Hygienist5 Reasons Why You Need a CIH on Your Side

Compared to the risk of inadvertently causing a hazardous materials release that threatens environmental, worker, and public health, the cost of employing a CIH to evaluate and approve your Health and Safety Plan is minor.

Hiring a CIH for an environmental exposure health assessment on construction sites is like keeping the insurance on your automobile in force – it’s a really good idea. Here are five reasons why:

  1. You reduce the chance of getting bombarded with worker’s compensation claims, since the likelihood of workers getting exposed to naturally occurring asbestos, soil vapor, contaminated soil, contaminated groundwater, and other environmental risks is much lower when a CIH has your back than when you proceed without CIH oversight. By keeping workers’ compensation claims low, your safety record gains credibility in the eyes of regulatory agencies and potential employees. Your claims rate may even make you eligible to bid on larger jobs where safety points are part of the eligibility criteria. Here’s an added bonus: When your employees know you’re doing everything you can to protect their health, their loyalty to you increases … and successful contractors know their employees are the most valuable part of their operations.
  2. You protect against getting blindsided by fines from regulatory agencies. As in the example we gave in the introduction to this article, you may get by with zero visits from state or federal safety inspectors for months – even years – but all it takes is one event to get you on their radar and cost you dearly. And by the way, those regulatory agents aren’t trying to ruin your day, their job is to protect the health of people and the planet. It shouldn’t take much thought to realize you’re actually both invested in the very same thing: Everyone involved wants to see a project that gets completed safely.
  3. You avoid unnecessary delays in the job. Even if the CIH you’re required to retain because of an incident after the work is in progress finds there’s no reason for concern, you’re going to end up with cost and time overruns because you failed to get the CIH involved up front in site evaluation activity before breaking ground. Why do that to yourself? Why risk it? If the CIH tells you the site is clear and ready for excavation, you’ll sleep better and feel less stress. Knowing what to expect is far superior to getting surprised by what you had hoped wouldn’t happen. You wouldn’t believe how often we’ve seen professional engineers and work crews standby (on the clock) while a hazardous materials abatement team deals with an issue that could have been addressed up front by using a CIH to review subsurface data for potential hazards and to develop site controls to control or minimize hazards to workers.
  4. You give lenders more reason to do business with you. Many lenders already require CIHs to evaluate subsurface data before they’ll approve funds for a project. Isn’t that a telltale sign that working with a CIH as part of your standard operating procedures is a smart thing to do? If the people with the money refuse to accept a risk, unless they’re certain subsurface environmental health hazards have been identified, evaluated and appropriately addressed, shouldn’t you take the hint and leverage CIHs to protect your workers,  money, company, and reputation? This point alone should be a convincer.
  5. You provide a barrier between you and litigation or other liability issues. Sometimes, all it takes is one home run to win the World Series. Likewise, one catastrophic lawsuit can put you out of business, run rampant through your assets, and maybe even land you in prison. That’s a horrible scenario that gets played out every year in the USA. Often, the defendants are unscrupulous owners and contractors who purposely cut corners even though they knew their actions could severely impact others. It’s tough to feel sorry for them. They should be caught and stopped.

It’s possible to be negligent even when you don’t mean to be. Due diligence is essential. Ignorance of hazards is unacceptable and no excuse for negligence. Check out our guide to pre-project surveys to learn more about what you can do.  The consequence of negligence can be painful for all involved parties. Don’t let that happen to you.

The Hidden Factor Can Sink You or Save You – Which Do You Choose?

The hidden factor we’ve been pointing to is the presence of a certified industrial health professional during your construction site pre-planning process.

Yes, the CIH may find issues that require assessments of hazards and additional controls before soil and during soil disturbance work. It’s much better, though, to voluntarily address those problems before the work begins than to have them rear up and bite you in the backside afterwards.

Bringing a CIH on board is a win-win idea: If no hazards are found, you can proceed knowing you’ve taken reasonable precautions lenders, safety inspectors, other stakeholders, and your employees will thank you for.

If hazards are discovered, you could’ve just prevented the inadvertent release of hazardous materials into the environment and saved yourself a bonafide nightmare.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t try to skimp on costs by neglecting to hire a CIH.

Need more info? Call FACS at 888-711-9998. Be smart. Work smart. Make bringing  a certified industrial hygienist on board a pre-construction checklist priority.