Best Practices, Feature, Operations, V7I6

Discussion of Importance: Safety

(Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Shed builders are focused on constructing, selling, and delivering quality structures to their customers.

But is the effort worth it if an employee is injured … or worse?

Shed Builder Magazine had the chance to discuss the importance of shed-building safety with representatives from three safety-related organizations who offer advice on how to create and maintain safer working environments. 

David Daniel is owner and president of The Centurion Group in Waverly, Tennessee, which provides safety, health, and security solutions for several businesses in the shed industry.

From CPWR-The Center for Construction Research and Training in Silver Spring, Maryland, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the construction industry: Jessica Bunting, director of research to practice; Gary Gustafson, director of the environmental hazards training program; Mike Kassman, director of OSHA and disaster response training; and Babak Memarian, director of exposure control technologies research.

Finally, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH): Scott Earnest, Ph.D., associate director for construction safety and health, and Doug Trout, M.D., who is a medical officer in the office of construction safety and health.

Why should the owner of a shed manufacturing company be concerned about safety?

DANIEL: There are lots of moving parts in the shed business. Owners should realize that the potential for injury and even death is high in this industry. 

I have conducted numerous hazard assessments for companies, and I have seen that when you have workers with saws, nail guns, ladders, heavy and awkward raw product, forklifts, trucks, etc., coupled with high-volume production, it can be a recipe for injuries. 

Ethically, owners should feel compelled to provide workers with a safe work environment. Regulatorily, owners are required to follow the laws and rules set forth by OSHA. Besides injuries to workers, there are so many ways owners are exposed to potential problems caused by unsafe practices. Civil and even criminal liability, increased insurance premiums, frequent OSHA inspections resulting in fines, interruptions in production, and even a poor reputation within the industry are a few examples.  

Companies with safe work environments are almost always very orderly and practice good housekeeping. Whether it’s a safety consultant like me, an insurance representative, or an OSHA inspector, one of the first things we notice when we arrive at a worksite is cleanliness. Clean work spaces are safe workspaces. I like to see floors swept regularly, cords and hoses properly stored, no food or drink containers in work areas, tools and materials organized, etc.  

Regardless of the type of work, every company needs a well-written and consistently enforced housekeeping program.

EARNEST: The answer to that is, first, is that it’s the right thing to do. And that’s primary to us at NIOSH, and to most occupational safety and health professionals, that’s what we like to focus on. 

But we really do realize that these are all workplaces and businesses, and there are bottom-line implications to health and safety. 

The important thing in terms of costs and return on investment, in terms like that, is that employers or owners need to go down that line item. They need to consider all the costs. 

In some of the economic literature about this, they talk about direct costs and indirect costs. Indirect costs, for example, are workers’ compensation fees but also payouts that might come from workers’ compensation or direct payouts, medical and legal, but then there are a lot of indirect costs that include things like lost productivity to training new employees. 

TROUT: I’m sure a lot of the businesses are small businesses, and it’s a pretty stark difference in the construction industry, in general, in terms of the safety performance of larger businesses versus small businesses. 

A lot of them don’t have the kind of safety record that a larger one does because they’re either unable to put the resources in or they’re just not paying enough attention to safety. If a small business has a fatality, they can go completely out of business because of the expenses and lawsuits and other things that can occur after having a serious injury or fatality to one of the workers. 

KASSMAN: I think they probably let their guard down because the project seems to be small, but the same type of hazards exist on a small shed like a house or residential building or commercial. They’re using power tools. They have electrical hazards. They have fall hazards.

GUSTAFSON: A worker responds positively to a safe work environment. Feeling as if the employer cares about their safety is important because it makes the worker feel valued and so that can go a long way to helping morale as well as productivity. 

In a construction environment, where are some of the more common areas workplaces fall short in terms of safety?

DANIEL: The shed construction industry is booming and the demand for production is high. I see lots of companies with good safety intentions, but they fall short with follow-through. 

Safety posters, slogans on banners, and T-shirts do not create a safe work environment. Well-written safety programs and consistent training and enforcement create safe and productive workers.  

There are lots of safety three-ring binders covered in dust on office shelves throughout this industry. Many haven’t been touched in years. A written safety program should be what I like to call a “living and breathing document.” Workers must be regularly trained and refreshed on job procedures and safe practices. All training should be consistent and well documented to protect the worker and the company.

EARNEST: Falls are the leading cause of fatality in the construction industry. The second category is what is called “struck by” incidents. Electrocution is the third and then “caught by” or “caught in between.” Those are the four most common types of safety hazards that are often shortfalls in the workplace. 

GUSTAFSON: The hazards of falling off ladders or from heights is the No. 1 cause of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry. Owners need to be making sure that you minimize or use safe work practices when working at heights. Also, the safety of nail guns is another, making sure workers are trained on that.  

What are some of the less known areas of safety shortfalls?

DANIEL: Shed construction at a manufacturing facility is a controlled environment. We know who is present within the facility and we know what tools, equipment, and materials workers will be using. We should be able to control and even eliminate many hazards. 

I think owners and managers underestimate the amount of exposure they open themselves up to when they have a vehicle leave their property and travel on public roadways.  

Whether it is a company pickup truck headed to the local hardware store to pick supplies, a shed hauler out doing a delivery, or a semi loaded with raw material, the exposure and liability increases exponentially when we leave the controlled environment of the facility and enter the public domain. Driver safety training is essential, should be frequent, and well documented.  

TROUT: There are certain significant lesser-known areas, and the first category is things that might not have health effects or impacts that might not be immediately evident after a traumatic event or something. 

These include things different types of hazards, which can include things like chemical exposures. 

Exposure to noise is very prevalent. Exposure to physical work, which certainly shed building would be, repetitive physical work can lead to various types of musculoskeletal disorder. These are very common and very debilitating. 

There is a lot of concern currently about the excess of suicide and mental health issues among construction workers compared to workers in other sectors due to a variety of reasons. Substance abuse is also something that is more prevalent.

EARNEST: If you start looking at mental health issues and suicide, the opioid addiction, the total number of construction workers that are being impacted by this is significantly more than a lot of the other more traditional hazards. It’s something that oftentimes is overlooked, but it’s a really serious problem. Construction workers have some of the highest numbers and the highest rates of all the industries, unfortunately. It is something that we’re putting a lot of resources into and working on very closely with our partners. 

KASSMAN: Some sheds are being built off-site. In those cases, I think potential hazards are exaggerated or increased because there are more operations going on on-site versus having the shed built in a facility and hoisted in, fully built, on trailers.

GUSTAFSON: Sometimes the not-so-obvious workplace injury from exposure to a chemical gets overlooked because it’s not something that there is an immediate effect. I’m sure things like eye protection are not followed all the time. These hazards get overlooked.

BUNTING: The only other thing I wanted to add is about heat hazards. We know that both indoors and those who work outdoors in hot temperatures are more and more affected by heat-related illnesses and deaths.

With all the tools and activities involved, how can a shed business owner best train employees on safe practices, create a safety-minded work environment?

DANIEL: Companies can conduct a risk assessment to determine what jobs/activities are most common and have the highest risk of injury. 

Training should focus on those tasks as a priority. I recommend managers develop a training program scheduled with topics that cover the wide variety of hazards and encourage an overall safety culture.  

Well thought out safety training programs will cover OSHA requirements and focus on identified hazards. Before any new tool, equipment, or production procedure is introduced they should be assessed by a safety professional, and a training program should be developed. The worker training should be conducted prior to the new tool or job being implemented.  

EARNEST: It really gets to the underlying safety climate and commitment of the owner of the workplace and supervisors. We believe it should be at the top of the list for every workplace so every man and woman in the country should have a safe and healthful workplace. 

Once you have that commitment or as you’re developing that commitment, the workplace really needs a total safety and health program. General categories that the program needs to include are elements of what we call hazard identification and determination. What are the possible hazards? Where are they? You can’t control a hazard if you don’t recognize it. Hazard identification ,then hazard elimination and control, and complying with standards, whether it’s OSHA standards or local standards, or NIOSH guidelines or guidelines of other occupational, health, and safety professionals. 

Both supervisors and workers need to be trained. Not only initial training, but also periodic training. So, once someone is trained—if they come on to work for a shed builder, they should have some initial training—that’s not the end of it. It needs to be periodically repeated. There’s no necessarily firm time period on that, but it is important to recognize that everybody needs refresher training. 

The last part of a health and safety program should include record-keeping—in other words, keeping records of the trainings that have occurred, keeping track of exposures or hazards for control. 

MEMARIAN: We have a process called pre-task planning and job hazard analysis. I think that is also important for shed builders to, before they start to work in the morning, to huddle and then   go over their daily activities to identify the hazards and try to proactively address those hazards and implement some controls. 

What steps can a shed business owner take to evaluate (and improve) his/her work environment in terms of safety?

DANIEL: There are all sorts of safety data available for various industries. OSHA and insurance providers are a great source for statistics specific to the shed industry. 

I recommend using industry data compared to site-specific numbers to get a baseline as to how your company rates compared to the industry as a whole.  

Zero injuries is the goal for all of us. Companies should recognize and document “close calls” or “near misses.” Progressive safety programs will use all data available to develop the most effective training possible.  

Businesses are encouraged to get a third-party or independent audit of their safety program and performance. Take advantage of free services offered by OSHA and/or your insurance companies or hire safety professionals to conduct the safety audit and provide written findings and recommendations.

EARNEST: We at NIOSH emphasize a written health and safety program. Some people may think that’s excessive, it’s important to write things down. So, even if it’s an outline, the shed business owner should take the time to write their version of a health and safety program, applying it to their workplace. 

BUNTING: I think our hazard alert cards are an easy place to start, and we have pocket-sized cards that can be handed out to workers. 

What types of insurance should a shed business owner have in order to be protected financially (as much as possible) from safety shortfalls that might occur on the job?  

DANIEL: I’m sure most businesses already have the standard coverage such as workers’ compensation, general liability, and auto coverage.  

I recommend companies talk to their insurance agents about umbrella policies that can provide them another layer of protection. Umbrella policies can often extend coverage for a fraction of the cost of the primary plan.  

Also, if changes occur with your equipment or processes during your coverage year, be sure to let your insurance provider know. New trucks, trailers, and equipment must be added to the policy throughout the year to guarantee coverage.    

Do you have any final thoughts on shed-building safety?

DANIEL: Safety does not have to be expensive. Don’t be afraid to get help.  

My company, and companies like mine, work with the shed industry every day. We can help you as little or as much as needed to get your company headed in a safe direction without breaking the bank. We often work directly with clients’ insurance providers to share expenses while looking out for everyone’s best interest. 

Finally, I would encourage businesses to do everything they can to protect themselves and their workers. Don’t just rely on your insurance company. 

Prevention is priority No. 1. Preventing injuries will benefit the company and workers. It will also help keep insurance rates as low as possible.  

Documentation is priority No. 2. Have a written safety program that includes hiring practices, safety practices and procedures, and training. Shed companies will enjoy the most protection by having a good, active safety program and sufficient insurance coverage.

I tell all my clients, “Every day that we don’t have an incident puts us one day closer to the day we will … let’s be prepared.”    

Safety Resources for Shed Builders


Small Business Safety and Health Handbook

Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction   

Nail Gun Safety Resources


Toolbox Talks

Safety Culture and Safety Climate Resources

Management Resources, including for small businesses

Best Built Plans

Construction Solutions

Foundations for Safety Leadership (FSL)

Hazard Alert Cards


Prevention through Design

S-CAT for Small Contractors (S-CATsc)


Safety Climate Assessment Tool (S-CAT)

Stop Construction Falls

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