Construction is an industry where injuries can be common and costly, for both company leaders and construction workers. With proper employee training, a proper attitude toward safety and a partnership with a knowledgeable insurance company, construction company owners can minimize their risks – both financially and to their employees.
When employees are injured on the job, the incident affects more than just that particular employee. Projects slow down because there are fewer bodies on the job to compete the work and when schedules are pushed back it affects the bottom line. Not only that, but the company’s insurance rating takes a hit, bringing higher premiums for required coverage.
A well-built and strong culture of safety, where employees are conscious of potential problems and take care to avoid them, takes work from everyone in the company. To create that strong safety culture, everyone in the company, from the top executives to even the newest construction worker on the job site, must work to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. Subcontractors should be carefully screened to ensure that they too work to create a strong culture of safety. This is especially important when it comes to a company’s construction wrap-up insurance – a policy or program that allows the project sponsor to control insurance and claims – the project sponsor also benefits when a construction program is well-managed.
Safety from the start
To ensure that safety is on the team members’ minds before a project even starts, construction companies should engage the services of a construction risk management expert. Project planners should consult insurance company representatives to develop the best risk management program possible at the start of the project and meet again as the project progresses, in order to refine the safety strategies, if necessary. At the start of the project, managers should bring all employees together and lay down the safety rules.
Creating a Safe Construction Workplace
Although the construction industry has improved safety rules and implemented risk control strategies, it’s still a dangerous business. In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries ranked construction in the top five deadliest occupations. The BLS reported that there were 838 fatal injuries in construction and excavation – which is a five percent increase in incidents from 2011. Last year, construction workers’ fatal injuries rose to 577, ending a five year trend of declines in injuries. These statistics highlight the need for a safe construction workplace.
As the industry works to improve safety, there are a variety of factors that will make these efforts difficult, including economic and cultural issues.
The slow economy has put more pressure on construction companies to complete projects fast and at the lowest cost possible. But, if a company tries to increase efficiency and decrease costs by taking shortcuts with their safety, the potential of an accident can destroy all savings that a company attains.
It’s important to understand that although construction is dangerous, some workers feel they should take more risks, because they feel their coworkers may judge them for taking precautions. In reality, the heights and machinery used by construction workers provides opportunity for injury. Executive should be aware of their employees’ proclivities toward risks and take the appropriate action to remove employees who are continuously reckless, when necessary.
Industry Shows Change in Attitudes Toward Safety
Over the past few years, the industry has slowly moved from safety based on federal, state and local regulations to a safety philosophy that emphasizes the human side of the equation. By doing this, companies have lessened potential dangers and focused on safety , using approaches that focus on communicating why safety is important to each employee, with more personalized approaches. But there is more that can be done.
Construction company executives can promote safety throughout their organizations with a shift to frequently reminding employees of the need for safety, instead of dealing with safety lapses when they occur simply by punishing employees when they violate safety regulations.
To create safe construction environments, everyone involved must constantly have safety on their minds and work to improve. This diligence can be difficult at first, but over time becomes second nature. It’s also work the time and money spent.
Construction Companies Are Increasing their Liability
Construction companies are taking on more risk and choosing insurance policies with high deductibles. This means higher costs if anyone is injured on the job, so executives and project managers have good reasons to demand a safe workplace. When employees take risks that cause injury, it can seriously affect a company’s insurance rating and premiums – construction company executives don’t want to pay higher premiums because they have an employee who is taking risks.
Not only that, but injuries can lead to increased cost from project delays and even damage to a company’s reputation. All costs must be controlled for companies to compete with others in the tight construction market and slower economy.
Fifteen Steps to Safety
These fifteen steps can help companies to increase job safety, efficiency and manage their costs.
- Start at the Top. Safety should start with company executives. It must be an integral part of the company’s business mindset and a top priority, even with the chief executives. They should continually express their opinions on the importance of safety to workers at every level of the company. Executives should always be aware of safety programs in place and monitor employees and projects for compliance. Safety is often a task given to a corporate safety director or on-site safety personnel, but it’s important for executives to be fully knowledgeable about the situations too.
- Require training for all employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a 30-hour certification course, and this is just one option for safety training that can help to improve a construction company’s safety rating and awareness. Every executive should know about accident investigation, safety planning, loss analysis and management of subcontractors. Executives should be active and visible in the implementation of safety rules.
- Create Safety Committees. At companies that are proactive about their safety, it’s not uncommon to find safety committees as integral parts of the company. These groups should include upper management, safety personnel, operational staff and laborers who work at the construction sites, to give a well-rounded view of what happens at job sites and how safety could be improved. Not only that, but including construction laborers helps to reinforce the personal commitment to safety. On-site safety managers should be employed on projects of all sizes, to save money on potential insurance claims.
- Create Safety Goals and Track Progress Regularly. As part of enforcement of safety procedures and workplace habits, executives should create and track safety goals. These goals should be established annually, at the start of the fiscal year, for example, and tracked regularly.
- Recognize Success but Keep Everyone Accountable. Everyone must know that safety is a top priority and that they will be held responsible if they break safety protocols. If they don’t know just how serious the company’s commitment to safety is, they may be tempted to cut corners, which could lead to injuries and other problems. Performance reviews should include discussion of safety achievements and problems, if they occur.
- Plan Projects with Safety in Mind. Every project must be planned with safe practices built in. A safety document that shows how the project will be done and the exposure to potential safety issues should be created for every project. That document should also identify how workers will avoid these exposures. In-depth safety planning can help the project move swiftly and minimize potential accidents. The plan should include safety contacts, identify the key personnel and show a list of emergency procedures, fall management and retrieval and how employees will be trained. At the start of each project, every employee on the site should get this document, while subcontractors should be required to show a plan that identifies how they will mitigate safety problems.
- Use Safety as a Qualifier for Subcontractors. It’s not unusual for project managers to assess and pre-qualify their subcontractors based on experience and financial strength, but they should also include safety performance, experience, incident rates and overall safety culture. Company owners should review the subcontractor’s rules for safety as well. When selecting a subcontractor, companies should use agreements and bid documents to enforce required safety practices. If companies don’t hire subcontractors who are proactive about safety, they could face unneeded liabilities when the project begins.
- Include Safety Practices in Worker Training. Employees need to know how to use every piece of equipment they will touch. They also need to be trained to use a variety of safety equipment items, including fall arrest systems. Falls are a big danger for construction workers. Every worker, not just new hires, should have to go through an orientation for each project, because different projects have different specifications and risks. Orientation should include review of safety requirements and the pre-planning safety document as well as fall management procedures.
- Address Communication Problems before Work Starts. In construction, the primary language for many workers is not English. There are high concentrations of immigrants and non-English speaking individuals in this field, and executives need to ensure that safety and job expectations are communicated clearly to those workers.
Focus Safety Efforts on Fall Management. Because falls made up 35 percent of fatal construction incidents in 2011 and more than half of the fatal construction incidents in 2012, it’s clear that falls are a leading cause of injuries and deaths in construction. In 2012, approximately 280 of 577 construction fatalities occurred when a worker fell. Fall management programs should outline routine procedures for all workers and should be written as part of the pre-project planning. Companies should look for engineering controls or methods to complete the work without increasing the possibility of a fall.
- Address Issues of Substance Abuse. With heavy machinery and the potential to work at several heights, construction companies should actively work to avoid issues of substance abuse on the job. Drug testing can tell company executives if specific employees have problems with drugs and enable them to get help. Its crucial that construction workers stay alert and ready as they work, considering the equipment they operate and heights they often work from. Construction workers should be creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking out if coworkers are dealing with substance abuse or acting recklessly. Their lives and livelihoods may depend on it.
- Plan Safety Evaluations for Every Project Phase. Throughout the work on a project, each phase should be analyzed for safety risks. This helps to ensure that employees have and use the appropriate safety equipment and tools. Not only that, but this evaluation can help to identify potential exposures to injury so that they can be removed, or at least avoided. An analysis of this sort should be given to the supervisor and project manager before work begins so that they can take corrective action if necessary.
- Talk About Safety Regularly. Weekly talks are great to discus safety procedures, but sometimes it is more effective to talk about safety concerns at the beginning of each shift, in order to keep safety in the workers’ minds. Reviewing safety hazards and checking that the correct protective gear will be used is a great way to remind employees to be safe. Construction projects change quickly, and if a job changes during midday work, or at anytime during the workday, construction managers should review those changes and call their laborers together to go over them before work continues. When field safety inspections are conducted regularly, workers can manage the potential for accidents and mitigate them before they happen.
- Review Incidents and Near-misses. Projects should begin with the mindset that accidents can be prevented. If something happens, all information related to the accident should be reviewed – from what the worker was doing to the potential exposures and whether other employees were nearby at the time who saw what happened or helped their coworker before, during and after the incident. Each project package should include details about steps to take to increase safety, information about the claim itself and information on how the accident affects the current and future projects. Project managers, company safety committees and executives should review this documentation for accidents and near-accidents, then meet with employees to discuss the incidents in order to show that safety is a priority in the company.
- Collaborate with Insurers and Risk Management Experts to Create Culture of Safety in Each Project. Companies that start early and work with their risk management consultants and insurance agents throughout a project have a better chance to avoid accidents and injuries. Insurance agents can be resources to turn to that executives meet with and determine how to improve safety procedures and engineering protocols. It’s important to look at safety at all levels – don’t just focus on the big issues that can lead to accidents, because then there could be issues. The right insurance company for construction risk management has strong expertise and is recognized for financial strength. Regularly meeting with an insurance agent throughout projects can help to reduce accidents and injuries, even save lives.
Attention to Safety is a Key to Succeeding in Construction
When executives pay close attention to how projects progress and the actions that all of their employees take, especially when it comes to safety, this can raise not only their awareness of safety, but also the awareness of employees throughout the company about the importance of working safely.
Regular communication with insurers, risk management experts can help companies to make each project they work on even safer. Regular communication of safety expectations, of policies, and proper training and safety procedures can impress upon construction laborers just what they should be doing in order to avoid injuries. Whether construction laborers or subcontractors, it’s important that communications be clear and concise, especially when it comes to preventing fatal accidents in construction sites.
Safety protocols must change in response to the project phase and to encompass new and ever changing safety regulations from organizations like OSHA or other state and local agencies. The safety goal that every construction company should strive for is to have zero injuries. This is the best way to protect their employees, their insurance rating, reputation and bottom line. Accidents that damage a company’s reputation can be hard to overcome; a company with a strong culture of safety has the potential for a quicker finishing time for each project, becomes more competitive and has fewer insurance costs to pay.
At all times, companies must keep an eye on safety, especially because the construction industry is such a fast-paced injury that is always changing. Working with the right insurance company and risk management experts are great steps to begin creating a strong culture of safety. Frequently reminding employees of the importance of safety also helps to keep them safe, protecting not just their livelihoods, but their families as well.