The systems and processes a company employs as part of its overall safety and health program are the physical representations of a company’s leadership commitment and safety culture. They are designed, first and foremost, to identify the conditions that lead to incidents and remove or limit the exposure through elimination, engineering controls or workarounds. Two of the most important processes are reporting near-misses and implementing proactive substance abuse programs. 

Near-Miss Tracking 
The construction industry has recorded near-miss observations (also referred to as “near-hits”) for more than 20 years, but this data only gained wide acceptance and use in the last seven to 10 years, as more companies have adopted both behavior-based safety programs and process safety management systems. Near-miss tracking is the quintessential leading indicator—it records observations of situations that could have potentially been catastrophic but that did not result in disrupted or lost lives. 

Still, many within the construction industry continue to debate what exactly constitutes a near-miss, or even how these observations should be recorded. For example, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) 2015 Safety Training Evaluation Process (STEP) application included a supplementary line for applicants to record the number of observations conducted. To date, the data collected has proven problematic in that no real pattern has emerged as to how many observations should be expected based on company size. 

According to data from the 2015 STEP application, companies that track near-misses have TRIRs that average almost 40 percent lower than companies that do not track near-misses. 

While the difference is not as pronounced as other leading indicators, companies of all sizes engaged in near-miss tracking, compared to those that do not conduct these observations, have a definite pattern of improved TRIR performance. There is one discrepancy. Among contractors with 51 to 100 full-time employees, the average TRIR is actually higher among those that track near-misses versus those that do not. This may be attributed to confusion within the industry about what constitutes a near-miss. 

Or, it is possible that companies in this category are in the gap between small company and “average size” construction firm, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Companies in this gap could be too small to have a full-time safety professional on staff but too large for a company owner or principal to continue to manage the safety program. Theoretically, this would create a knowledge vacuum where certain elements of a corporate safety program—in this case, an understanding of how near-miss observations are used to fix or eliminate future hazards—fall below standard. 

Surprisingly, the difference between NAICS 236 companies that conduct near-miss observations and those that do not is small, but it does exist. The difference between NAICS 237 and 238 respondents is much wider, as expected. 

Substance Abuse Programs 
Substance abuse programs with testing procedures in place are widely considered a “core” leading indicator among construction industry safety professionals. The International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) cites that substance abusers have incidence rates 3.6 times above normal and are two and a half times more likely to be absent from work. In construction alone, 15.6 percent of employees reported using illegal drugs in the previous 30 days, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Substance abuse programs with random testing requirements could potentially lead to reductions in lagging indicator rates. 

Beginning in 2014, ABC STEP applicants were required to participate in the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (CCDAFW) by signing the Drug-Free Workplace Pledge. Part of the pledge requires signatories to “have, or will adopt, a substance abuse policy with testing procedures that is consistent with all applicable local, state and federal laws.” As a result, the STEP program currently has a 100 percent implementation rate for substance abuse programs with testing procedures. 
Based on data from STEP cycles prior to 2014, companies with substance abuse programs in place dramatically outperform those without an implemented program. Companies that have a program in place have a TRIR 62 percent below companies that don’t, and a DART rate 60 percent below their counterparts. 

ABC Resources 
To provide companies a roadmap to build an advanced safety and health program, ABC has created the STEP Plus Safety Excellence Academy, which provides an in-depth examination of the three pillars of a world-class safety program: leadership commitment to a zero-incident workplace; cultural transformation in which every member of the organization, from CEO to laborer, lives safety as their core value; and adherence to proven systems and processes. 

ABC also established the Safety Best Practices Portal, created and refined by ABC’s 70 chapters, members and strategic partners, which outlines the STEP 20 Key Components of a World-Class Safety Program. 

These resources, as well as others such as OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), are critical in helping companies develop a safety and health program that produces the only acceptable results: zero incidents. 

Construction industry professionals have a moral obligation to ensure that anyone who sets foot on a jobsite does so in the safest manner possible. By identifying the elements that lead to improved safety performance, the industry can achieve its ultimate goal: to send every single construction employee home in the same—or better—condition than which they arrived, every day. 

Up Next 
This is the third in a series of articles on ABC’s “Roadmap to World-Class Safety.” Next month’s final installment will provide a summary of findings and best practices. Click to read the series’ previous articles on leadership commitment to safety orientations and involvement via toolbox talks and safety committees

Michael D. Bellaman is president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email or visit