The Importance of Making Safety A Priority Every Day
By Kyle Engbers, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President/Director of Safety
In today’s construction market, safety is the largest focal point of any competent contractor. A truly successful project has its own triple bottom line–safety, quality, and schedule. Some con- tractors may rank those metrics in various orders but notice how profitability is not mentioned. The profitability of a project depends on those three metrics.
Over the last century, industries around the globe have embraced technology tenfold. Over the past ten years, many industries have morphed their operations into the world of automation. Historically, construction is the last industry on the technology wave—while we utilize cloud- based software, building information modeling, pre- fabricated materials and portions of building—when it boils down to it, we still swing hammers. Very few industries can still say that and with construction being a labor intense industry, safety is critical.
Most people typically think of safety in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE): hard hats, safety glasses, hearing protection, fall protection, and high-vis colors. These are simply byproducts for ensuring safety. Safety should be about the culture a company creates. According to OSHA, “Safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior.” I prefer the following definition: how someone behaves when no one is watching.
Creating a safety culture shouldn’t be a forceful implementation of requirements. It should be a framework for training, management commitment, participation, measurement, planning, and prevention that creates buy-in from everyone.
Training must be tracked to ensure compliance, utilized to stay ahead of the curve, and implemented consistently. At Lakewood, we use metrics (scorecards, near-misses, and incidents) as well as risk exposure to plan the level of training each person requires. We also provide “Lakewood’s Culture of Safety” toolbox talks on a bi-weekly basis.
A safety culture needs to be owned by the executive team and be valued as a financial investment and commitment. A large portion of my time is spent walking our job sites to observe day-to-day operations and to interact with our team and trades. I note the overall level of safety each worker demonstrates, make any necessary corrections to ensure overall safety on a site, continue reinforcing the safety culture of Lakewood, and most importantly, make sure everyone goes home safely every day.
Participation and empowerment are tied together. All employees in the organization must be empowered to find and fix problems as they see them. One thoughtless action, one careless move, lack of oversight, or lack of planning can lead to catastrophic failure.
What gets measured gets done, so we measure. We perform regular audits on individuals, job sites, and divisions within our company and look for trends, leading indicators, and participation.
Planning activities ahead of time and taking the time to think through the activity step-by-step can uncover risks that need additional attention. Job-Hazard Analysis, Pre-Task Plans, and Pre-Operation Meetings are all structured ways to ensure that planning takes place.
Before you get started on your next construction project, take the time upfront to ask your contractor what about their culture of safety, what metrics and actions they employ, and how will you know that success has been achieved on your project.
“No accident is acceptable. Every accident is preventable.”