Five Components of Successful Construction Safety Programs
Gone are the days when construction companies employed full-time safety professionals only when necessary to meet occasional contract requirements.
That still happens in some circles, but today most construction executives understand that safety professionals, and the efforts and policies they espouse, serve as a friendly vehicle for successful loss control. Loss control equates to clear bottom line savings, positive marketing slogans, partnerships with the formerly feared enforcement community, and an opportunity to sharpen and use the competitive pencil in a tough construction market.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a plumbing subcontractor working on commercial building projects or a general contractor self-performing work in the industrial sector; every contractor that honestly attempts to implement an effective safety program is met with the same challenges:
- coming up with the right safety policies;
- clearly defining job descriptions; and
- gathering and analyzing accountability metrics to ensure the program is working.
There are some great consulting companies out there, but contractors that are solely relying on third-party efforts to administer and execute safety programs may be missing an opportunity to achieve that next level of safety performance. Lean on the consultants as a valuable resource, but not as the sole tool in the safety toolbox.
All successful safety programs have five common traits.
1. LEADERSHIP COMMITMENT
The company’s top executive and other leaders must be fully committed to safety. This means an unwavering approach to supporting safety efforts, both financially and with adequate resource deployment. Top executives can’t support safety only when “there’s money for it in the bid” or when it’s convenient or easy. They must continually serve as safety champions and demonstrate positive safety culture principles on a daily basis. If safety is important to company leadership, it will inherently be important to middle management and hourly field employees. Leadership by example is a must!
2. EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
Safety must be looked at as a team effort, involving all levels of personnel equally. Historically, company safety actions usually involved management dictating safety rules and then forcing employee compliance. This may sound good in principle, but the truth is employees are much more likely to follow the rules when no one is looking when they are given a proactive voice and some ownership of the safety program components.
3. EXPOSURE ASSESSMENT
It is critical for a company to know the source of its exposure. An effective safety program is designed by integrating related safety and health precautions into the work processes and tasks commonly assigned to employees. Potentially unsafe acts and conditions must be considered in the planning stages, as well as any equipment used. A common tool for this purpose is use of Job Safety Analysis (JSA) forms that break down regular processes into individual steps.
4. HAZARD PREVENTION AND CONTROL
It is not enough to simply identify the hazards in the workplace. Control measures must be introduced based on careful consideration and research. Preferably, this means engineering out the hazard. The next choice would be using administrative controls to minimize the exposure, followed by adopting work practice controls to lessen the hazard, or, least effective, relying on personal protective equipment to serve as a barrier to the hazard. Regular inspections must be conducted to ensure hazards are being adequately controlled. Accountability measures for all levels of personnel must be implemented and systematically followed as a means of checks and balances.
5. EXTRA SAFETY TRAINING
In order to prevent losses, employees must be trained on anticipated hazards and their controls within the work environment. OSHA standards mandate much of this training and much can be accomplished by sending employees to OSHA 10-Hour training. But the best safety programs prescribe training above and beyond what OSHA requires, so additional company-lead safety training on ensuring a safety culture, safety management, continuous improvement processes, accident investigation and communication skills is invaluable.
These five components, if implemented correctly, can assist an organization in achieving safety success. Companies that control losses by regularly staying below the national average incident rates should be applauded and recognized for their achievements. Their team efforts have consistently orchestrated a series of actions that, year after year, produce a certain level of safety success.
Decades of improvement in occupational safety and health practices have led contractors down a more clearly defined path to safety success. The only difference between that level of success and the next level—where the best companies in the industry reside—is the implementation of a continuous improvement process.
The companies that have achieved optimal results are the ones that challenge themselves to become better through the use of safety management systems and comprehensive loss data analysis. So ask, “Is the current safety program in place to serve as an employee guide to control company losses, or is it a document that was simply purchased and placed on a shelf to gather dust until handed to an OSHA inspector”? If the answer to the first part of the question is “no,” reach out to a safety professional and access other resources to get on an improvement track.
And always remember, this is a team effort. It’s not the sole responsibility of the “safety guy.”