Smart Labeling for Construction Projects
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published January 08, 2021
Construction signs and labels are necessary for projects for workers and building hand-off. With multiple contractors, workers, and a list of operational tasks that change daily, construction sites are busy. Missing or wrong labels and signs can happen. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if a plan is not in place, or poor planning can result in over spec and delays in necessary purchases. But planning and starting a construction labeling project doesn’t have to be tedious.
Top construction project priorities focus on job site cleanliness and general safety, which helps get the job done on time and within budget. Communication needs to be as fluid and flexible as possible. So, it is understandable why labels and signs are important in any workplace. Construction saw a record year in 2019 for injuries and deaths. In response, the American National Standards Institute and other safety groups aim to improve health and safety programs for shared construction projects. Not all construction sites are the same, and neither is its leadership.
“Risks on construction and demolition sites are dynamic and continuously evolve as conditions, technologies, and participants change,” said John Johnson, a safety professional who chairs the ASNI/ASSP A10 committee. “Enhanced safety performance is achieved when the entire project hierarchy—from the owner to the craft workers—engages in an identified safety process.”
Once a plan is in place, construction crews can get to work on mitigating known hazards and improving safety. A common issue is knowing a project needs labels and not knowing where to start. When a company mandates safety communication at the start, it establishes a foundation and safety boundaries. It saves time and later sticker shock or over spec.
“The whole project incorporates the finalization of the building, where signs and wayfinding, and labels are part of the completed project. They must be tracked in the budget from the beginning,” said Clark Vermillion, a longtime construction safety professional in Portland, Oregon. “Consideration of signs and labels should always be at the beginning.”
Vermillion says during the construction phase of a project, there is always a need for wayfinding, keeping the public out, among others. Later, he said, there are owner requirements that need labels, such as for a heating system, confined spaces, and especially for drains and wastes. That labeling is so important that if it’s missed or forgotten, it is costly.
Focus on Communication
Construction safety regional director Joseph Addlesberger in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, agrees. He says signs and labels also help prevent injuries and accidents. “Have life-saving actions well defined,” Addlesberger said. Some of the top dangers in construction are: not having in place the correct fall protection, dropped objects, hot work, and control of hazardous energy.
“As always, depending on the scope of construction, your life-saving activities will change,” he said. Signs and labels help reinforce conduct. “After those activities are established, understand human behavior: what makes them tick and what ticks them off. It’s about relationships.” He suggests construction teams stay mentally fit for duty and to stay on top of hazard recognition and hidden hazards.
Making hidden hazards known are crucial to improving construction site safety. Once a construction project has a system onsite, it will become very evident everything needing labels. This activity is also a part of the lean construction method and sustaining 5S. Signs and labels for construction site hazards include identification and instructions. Use signs to warn workers of power lines, instructions for tools and electrical equipment, emergency information, and more. Creating a daily checklist can help construction workers stay on task and keep pace with project labeling needs. It is worthwhile to include signs and labels as part of training and awareness. Frequently examine the worksite from top to bottom, inside and out to make sure labels and signs are on pipes, wires, and other areas.