Construction workers confront dangers on jobsites every day, with roughly one in five worker fatalities in private industry occurring in construction, according to OSHA. In addition to the physical and emotional toll, accidents can lead to costly schedule delays as well as regulatory action and litigation. The statistics highlight the risks. Fatal work injuries on construction sites rose 4 percent in 2015 to 937—the highest level since 2008—primarily due to an increase in fatalities among specialty trade contractors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. 

By making safety a key component of every project right from the start, companies can save lives and reduce injuries while keeping skilled workers on the job and projects on track. To reduce injuries, companies should build a robust corporate safety culture in coordination with their insurers and risk engineering consultants. The following steps can help enhance that safety culture. 

Start at the Top
Safety on the jobsite begins in the executive suite. Corporate leaders should hold every manager responsible for safety, not just the corporate safety director. 

Project executives, managers, superintendents and foremen should be trained properly and be well versed in pre-task safety planning, communicating safety expectations, managing and reviewing subcontractors’ safety performance, accident investigation and loss analysis. 

Additionally, safety committees with diverse membership should be part of every project. 

Plan Projects With Safety in Mind
During project pre-planning, identify the means and methods to be used and the exposures they entail—from excavation to foundation, superstructure and fit-out. Then, identify the controls necessary to mitigate those risks. 

As the project progresses, each phase should be evaluated for safety. A job safety task analysis helps ensure that the appropriate safety planning has taken place and required equipment is on hand so workers don’t take unnecessary risks. 

Subcontractors should be prequalified for safety. Companies should review subcontractors’ experience modification rates, recordable and lost time incident rates, citation records and their safety cultures.   

Train Workers for Safety
Safety isn’t just common sense. Workers need to be trained on safety procedures and equipment, such as fall arrest systems. Training shouldn’t be reserved for new hires. Companies should provide orientation specific to each project that includes an in depth review of safety requirements, evacuation plans and procedures, disciplinary actions, substance abuse testing policies and fall management procedures. 

When dealing with a multilingual workforce, firms need to ensure they effectively communicate safety and job expectations to workers whose primary language is not English. 

Safety should be an everyday topic. At the start of each shift, foremen should review the hazards associated with the specific task along with the necessary safety controls to mitigate the exposures, and make sure workers have the appropriate safety equipment and training to perform the work. Weekly project progress meetings that include superintendents and subcontractor foremen should include reviews of any accidents, near misses or safety lapses, as well as the safety issues related to upcoming work. 

Focus on Fall Management and Substance Abuse

Falls are by far the leading cause of fatalities in construction, followed by being struck by an object, electrocution and being crushed. OSHA estimates eliminating these “fatal four” would save 602 workers’ lives every year. Nearly two out of five construction worker deaths are due to falls, and even a fall from a relatively modest height can result in serious injury or death. 

A successful fall management program provides uniform procedures for all workers, and is an essential part of pre-planning. Fall prevention measures should start for everyone at a minimum height of 6 feet. Companies should build in safety by reducing fall exposures through engineering controls or alternative work methods. A detailed fall management plan should be developed for each operation that carries the risk of falls from elevations. At a minimum, that plan should address each task where a fall exposure exists, the controls to mitigate the risk and the safety training needed. The plan also should include retrieval procedures for fallen workers.

Given the risks of falls and other hazards, construction firms need to actively combat substance abuse. Testing can help identify workers with substance abuse problems before they endanger anyone and enable the company to steer them into treatment programs. 

Review Accidents and Near Misses    
Accidents are not inevitable. Identifying the root causes of accidents enables companies to take corrective measures to prevent future incidents. Near misses should receive the same scrutiny. Regular accident review meetings between field managers and executives send a clear message that safety is paramount. 

To promote safety throughout the organization, companies should recognize safety successes, while also holding everyone accountable for safety—from individual workers to corporate executives. When safety programs and safe work habits are enforced by project management, workers recognize the company’s commitment to safety and the importance of taking safety seriously.

Take a Collaborative Approach 
Proactive companies take a collaborative approach to safety with risk management professionals and their insurers from the onset through completion of the project. Construction firms should look to their insurers as a resource with substantive experience in risk management, engineering protocols and procedures that can help make their own safety efforts even more robust.

Building a strong safety culture takes commitment and resources, but it’s worth the effort. A strong safety culture burnishes a company’s reputation, reduces losses and lowers costs, while making the firm more attractive to potential clients and skilled workers. As companies strive to reach zero injuries, remember that safety is a job that never ends and is everyone’s responsibility.  

George Cesarini and Steve Buonpane are senior vice presidents at Chubb. For more information, visit chubb.com.