The lifeblood of a world-class safety program is its culture: people working together, every day, with the same uncompromising core value that every incident is preventable.

The road to a world-class safety program involves a company’s people and processes coming together to form a culture of interdependence, where employees aren’t simply expected to work safely, but also to work to keep others around them safe. It can be a difficult road, filled with many challenges both expected (employee buy-in and performance) and unexpected (lagging indicators and near-miss reports), but the end result is worth it (zero incidents, increased productivity and lower workers’ compensation costs). But reaching that pinnacle brings its own challenge.

All too often, companies that enter into a sustained period of outstanding, world-class safety performance become complacent. After they’ve gone 1 million manhours without an injury, what’s left to achieve?

Unfortunately, complacency breeds regression. It can be subtle at first: a slight, but consistent, reduction in near-miss reports; rescheduling or postponing jobsite safety meetings; or employees walking by their coworkers instead of stopping to help them properly put on a fall arrest harness. These seemingly insignificant factors actually underscore an erosion of the company’s safety culture. When they aren’t monitored and addressed immediately, these small factors can lead to a cascade of failures that ultimately result in increased injuries and the potential for catastrophic consequences.

Truly world-class companies prevent this complacency and regression by continually monitoring and evaluating their safety programs to identify potential trouble spots before they develop. World-class safety programs must evolve to adopt new safety practices, as well as adjust to new and changing climates.

Companies can monitor and evaluate their programs in a number of ways, including:

  • annual top-down safety audits, in which the commitment, culture and processes are evaluated for effectiveness;
  • regular employee/management “perception surveys” that identify the gaps in what management thinks of the company’s culture, systems and processes versus the perceptions of field employees;
  • leadership training to reinforce the consequences of complacency; and
  • employee involvement through company-wide and site safety committees.

Once all of the pieces are put together—uncompromising leadership commitment to the belief that every incident is preventable, a culture in which every employee believes in safety as the core value upon which every decision is made and each task is performed, and a system to identify and prevent incidents from ever happening—firms must continually monitor the results and make the necessary changes to their programs in order to maintain world-class performance. By doing so, they can ensure every employee returns home at the end of the day in the same condition as—or better than—when he or she arrived.

Chris Williams is safety director for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email cwilliams@abc.org.  

In Case You Missed It

This is the final installment in a four-part series on achieving world-class safety. Read the first three articles—on the importanceof uncompromising leadership, establishing safety as a core value and putting best practices in place—at www.constructionexec.com.