TAILGATE TALK – Pre-Inspection Safety Brief

A Safety Checklist for Construction Engineers

Commitment – Am I committed?

A lot of times, I find myself in situations where I am at the tip of the spear. Where I’m sitting in a meeting, or standing on a jobsite, and the spotlight finds its way to my direction. The people I’m surrounded with are looking to me to have an answer. There is a problem to be solved. I’m expected to deliver.

Sometimes, I have the right answer. And sometimes, I have just an answer.

Sometimes I have the solution to the problem. Other times, the solution unfolds itself on its own with no input from me.

Am I any more or less of an engineer, a leader, a respected member of a project team if I don’t have the right answer?

Of course not. That’s just my ego messing with the right side of my brain. What matters most is that the problem gets solved. I didn’t let anyone down. I didn’t fail. I simply might not have had the right answer.

So what happens when I haven’t executed a task in a timely manner? Is that considered a failure? Did I let someone down by NOT finishing something I committed to doing?

In my brain, that’s a fail. I didn’t prioritize and execute. I failed myself.

I got sloppy. I let other “more important things” move to the front of the line, even though, I know full well, they weren’t as important as this thing I failed to do.


Why start an article with a “Big Red X” on it?

Well, I should have written this article months ago. I kept writing it on my list of things to do. And I kept pushing it off. Not because I didn’t want to write it, but because I was looking for the perfect time. I was wanting to add more research to the work I’d already compiled.

It’s in the moments when we think that, had I only done this, or had I prepared better for that, that I wouldn’t be looking backwards and thinking about how I missed an opportunity. I could have been better prepared. I SHOULD have been better prepared.

Everyday, we have a chance to beat failure. To push ahead of it. To get out from under having it run over us.

It takes commitment to get out ahead of failure.

So I committed this morning. This article gets me out front. And, putting the subject matter not only gets me out front but will help you get out front too….

The Mindset of Safety

It goes without saying that having the right mindset while working on a jobsite is of the utmost importance. We read about safety. We talk about safety. We promote safety.

We all want to be safe. To work in a safe environment. To execute our work in a safe manner.

Several articles ago, I wrote about a my experience working with an environmental services company that was involved in removing some uncharted hazardous material from one of our jobsites.

The crux of the article was how impressed I was with the team’s early morning safety huddle. The guys on the crew got together around while the machines were warming-up and spent spent 10 minutes before the shift started going through the likely tasks & situations that they would likely encounter during the work day.

The crew talked through some of the issues & exposures that might develop during the day. It wasn’t a speech by the project manager, it was a dialogue. Everyone had input on the topics.

It was a simple huddle-up. It left an indelible impression on me.

It was an outstanding example of safety in action. And I committed to myself that I needed to do a better job at promoting safety on the job functions that I’m involved with.

Pre-Inspection Safety Brief

I’ve said it before, and for those of you who know me will attest, I use checklists every day. That’s not an exaggeration – I use lists EVERY DAY.

In his book The Checklist Manifesto”, author Dr. Atul Gawande lays out numerous case studies on how checklists have been used to solve some of the world’s toughest issues. They provide a regulation for our brains that allow us to not have to think of detail needed to accomplish a task in the moment, they simply provide the steps requiring execution. It’s a great read: If nothing else, it validated my anal-retentiveness in needing to constantly be working off of a list…!

So I took the step and created for myself, what I’ve called, a Pre-Inspection Safety Brief. I wanted to have a simple, one-page check sheet that could be used at the start of my workday and serve as the tickler for me and for the engineering, surveying or inspection crews I’m working with.

There were a few basic needs and functions that I wanted the Brief to address:

Size: I wanted the Brief to be small enough to be able to fit inside the cover sheet of my Battle Board , my rugged notebook cover that I carry with me everywhere anytime I’m in the field or away from my desk. It is an awesome piece of field gear! It has a clear poly cover that you can write on with a Dry Erase marker – A checklist like this is a perfect use for it!

Concise: I wanted to have simple tick boxes. I don’t need long-winded descriptions. This isn’t a form to be filled out every day, it’s simply a tickler list.

Applicable: My goal in creating this was to have it be used at start-up for every shift. I wanted it to be appropriate to types of exposures we, as construction engineers, are likely to deal with on site during a typical day on a heavy highway job site.

The end result was a simple, half-page sized checklist that can be deployed anytime during the day. It’s not a “How To” recipe sheet or instruction manual, it’s simply a list of issues & exposures that we’re likely to encounter during the day while on site.



So I had 2 intended outcomes for this article, and I think I accomplished them.

#1 – I want you to use the Brief. I created this checklist not just for myself, but for ALL OF US who work on construction sites.

I want construction engineers to start taking a more proactive approach to working safe. Starting the day off right by thinking & talking about safety sets the right tone for what we do during the day.

#2 – I wrote this article to serve as a personal manifesto.

It starts with me.

I know that I have to do better. Life is a constant battle in choosing to make good decisions. I need to ALWAYS be on the lookout for opportunities to make better decisions.

We all make bad decisions now and again. We make stupid decisions too.

Being safe on a jobsite requires us to make good decisions. We have the ability, using our free will, to decide a course of action. Making better decisions starts with the right mindset.

I can and will do better.

Download it.

Print it.

Copy it and share it.

Send a link to this article so others can use it.

Give one to everyone on your team.

Put one in your supervisor’s in-box.

And if you don’t like it, take the action to create your own. I’m not offended (really, I’m not….).

Put it into practice. Use it every morning. Start your day with the right mindset.


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