The continuing evolution of safety in the construction industry has brought about a renewed focus on how to prevent the conditions that lead to incidents that disrupt the lives of employees and, by extension, their families and friends.

Contractors, along with the owner/user community, have shifted the focus of safety performance away from measuring lagging indicators—how many (or few) incidents a company recorded in the past—to a blended approach that incorporates a company’s use of leading indicators—training results, surveys and audits—to prevent hazards from occurring.

Safety professionals have always assumed there is a direct correlation between the effective, proper use of leading indicator processes and lower lagging indicator statistics, such as Total Recordable Incidence Rate (TRIR); Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) Rate; and Experience Modification Rate (EMR), but until recently the assumptions could not be validated because there was no consistent, statistically accurate data source from which to establish the correlation.

Over the years, Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Safety Training Evaluation Process (STEP) has evolved to address this issue by building an annual database of nearly 2,000 consistent records of both lagging and leading indicator questions to create the 2015 ABC Safety Performance Report—a statistical analysis that confirms how the use of leading indicators improves a company’s overall safety performance.

The report zeroes in on six leading indicators that can be classified into three categories from ABC’s “Roadmap to World-Class Safety.”
  • Leadership Commitment: The use of site-specific safety orientations and the length of the safety portion of a company’s new hire orientation (detailed below). 
  • Cultural Transformation: The frequency of toolbox talks and participation in site safety committees or “principals’ councils” (to come in the March issue).
  • Best-in-Class Systems and Processes: The use of near-miss tracking and the application of substance abuse policies with testing mechanisms (to come in the April issue). 
New Hire Orientations
New hire orientations are standard practice throughout the construction industry and are designed to onboard new employees into the culture, policies and procedures of their new employer. This process is normally conducted before an employee sets foot on a jobsite or enters into a training program, and it can vary in length. The onboarding process can take many forms, but the most important aspect is indoctrination to the company’s culture and expectations.  

Safety culture is introduced during this orientation, either proactively or passively. Proactive companies present their culture and leadership involvement in a way that allows the new hire to understand and ask questions about it. Passive companies simply conduct a basic compliance-based orientation that introduces the new hire to a company’s culture indirectly; in other words, their culture does not emphasize safety as a core value.

Companies that conduct an in-depth indoctrination of new employees into the company’s safety culture and systems and processes, with senior leadership’s direct involvement, witness fewer cases with disrupted or lost lives than companies that limit their new hire orientations to basic safety and health compliance topics. As the length of the safety orientation decreases, TRIR and DART increase.

It is interesting to note the dramatic decrease (37 percent) in length of safety orientation from STEP Gold recipients, which must maintain a TRIR at or below U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code averages to qualify, to STEP Silver, which are not required to maintain an average TRIR. The chart shows a similarly dramatic four-fold increase in TRIR from STEP Gold to STEP Silver.

Companies with world-class safety performance consistently engage certain core elements in their safety orientation programs. First and foremost, the CEO introduces the company’s safety culture and core values. This establishes the safety moral compass that the rest of an employee’s training and development will follow throughout his or her career, and reinforces senior leadership’s commitment to safety as the core value upon which the company operates.

Other core elements include safety leadership and empowerment training that includes stop-work authority, employee engagement practices to develop open lines of communication, and explanations of both incentive and disciplinary policies.

In terms of a company’s size, the STEP data indicates that, for companies with zero to 50 full-time employees (FTEs), the average length of new hire safety orientation is significantly less than all other size ranges (34 percent less than companies with 51 to 100 FTEs). The TRIR for companies in the zero to 50 FTE range is also the highest of all company size ranges, at 4.3 incidents per 100 FTEs. It is important to note that, for both the zero to 50 and 51 to 100 FTE ranges, the formula BLS uses to calculate TRIR and DART is inherently biased. (It assumes an “average” company size of 100 FTEs working 200,000 manhours per year.)

Whereas a larger company, working a higher number of manhours, can absorb more recordable incidents without an abnormal variation reflected in its TRIR, companies with fewer than 100 employees routinely see abnormal swings in their TRIR based on one recordable incident.

Notwithstanding the built-in statistical bias, a clear connection exists between shorter safety new hire orientations and higher TRIR and DART rates. The decline in lagging indicator performance for companies with more than 500 FTEs is dramatic (70 percent), and somewhat represented by the increase in length of orientation from 217.1 minutes for companies with 101 to 500 FTEs to 251.1 minutes (14 percent).

Site-Specific Safety Orientations
Companies that conduct site-specific safety orientations for their employees—required training that occurs whenever an employee is transferred to or begins work on another jobsite—have a TRIR, on average, 60 percent lower than companies that do not conduct site-specific safety orientations. Additionally, their DART rates are, on average, 62 percent lower. Model site-specific orientations not only cover the policies and procedures specific to the jobsite, as well as site-specific hazards and operations, but also reinforce the company’s safety vision, values and core requirements, such as the importance of stop-work authority and peer observations.

When comparing by company size, the difference in average TRIR for companies that conduct site-specific orientations versus those that do not is highly significant, save for companies in the zero to 50 FTE category.

When taking into account the inherent bias in the BLS formula, the difference in TRIR performance in the 51 to 200 employee category is staggering. This data illustrates that site-specific safety orientations not only can be conducted by smaller companies with success, but that they have a dramatic and direct impact on the number of disrupted or lost lives, as well as productivity and profitability.

There also is a dramatic difference across NAICS codes. For example, NAICS 238 specialty contractors that conduct site-specific safety orientations have, on average, a 42 percent lower TRIR than those that do not. For this segment of the construction industry, the traditional argument against site-specific safety orientations has been that the specialty contractor workforce moves from site to site with a frequency that does not lend itself to conducting site safety orientations.

This chart proves that statement to be invalid; a significant number of NAICS 238 respondents not only conduct site-specific safety orientations for their employees, but also prove doing so greatly reduces the company’s TRIR.

Both new hire and site-specific orientations are the direct result of leadership commitment at the C-suite level. This commitment manifests itself in leadership’s direct involvement in integrating new hires into the company’s safety culture and in the reinforcement of this culture at the jobsite level. These leading indicators are a real-world representation of the concept that leaders directly influence their subordinates through highly visible actions (e.g., leading off the new hire orientation) and subtle, indirect actions (e.g., using the site-specific orientation to foster the zero-incident requirement that leaders must believe in and exhibit daily).

By introducing safety as a core value immediately into an employee’s mindset, and reinforcing it as the employee moves from job to job, a company can significantly reduce the number of lives disrupted by a jobsite incident. 


Qualifications for Each STEP Level

Visit abc.org/step for more details.

STEP Diamond
  • TRIR at or below 50 percent of the BLS NAICS code average in each of the previous three data years
  • EMR at or below 0.7 beginning Jan. 1 of the application year
  • No lives lost or catastrophic incidents, company-wide, during the application year
  • No lives lost or catastrophic incidents, company-wide, during the previous three years resulting in an OSHA citation
  • Minimum 20 Key Components score
STEP Platinum
  • TRIR at or below 25 percent of the BLS NAICS code average for the data year
  • EMR at or below 0.8 beginning Jan. 1 of the application year 
  • No lives lost or catastrophic incidents, company-wide, during the application year
  • No lives lost or catastrophic incidents, company-wide, during the previous three years resulting in an OSHA citation
  • Minimum 20 Key Components score
STEP Gold
  • TRIR at or below BLS NAICS code average for the data year
  • Minimum 20 Key Components score
STEP Silver and STEP Bronze
  • Minimum 20 Key Components score

Michael D. Bellaman is president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Chris Williams is ABC’s safety director. For more information or to access the full ABC National Safety Report, email cwilliams@abc.org or visit abc.org/safety.