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Last month’s introduction to Associated Builders and Contractors’ 2015 Safety Performance Report examined how establishing and reinforcing a company’s safety values through leadership’s commitment to the well-being of all employees is the first step on a company’s journey toward world-class safety performance. Once a company has established safety as its core value in the C suite and among senior management, the development of a true safety culture can accelerate, as can a firm’s lagging indicator performance.

Developing a safety culture involves two main components:
  • driving the message home to all employees that no incident that disrupts the lives of employees and their families, friends and coworkers is acceptable, regardless of severity; and 
  • reinforcing the safety culture inside the company, as well as spreading it to external partners. 
These components can be implemented, in part, through toolbox talks and site safety committees and principals’ councils.

Toolbox Talks
There is some debate about whether too many toolbox talks—or topic-specific, short-format training sessions—become repetitive and, thus, diminish the impact on employees.

However, data analysis does not indicate any negative effect related to conducting daily toolbox talks. Indeed, the reason that companies that conduct daily toolbox talks have significantly lower TRIR performance than their counterparts isn’t necessarily the delivery of timely information or training materials, but in the building of a consistent dialogue between the site safety team and employees.

Each day, employees can interact with each other and the management team, building relationships that help reinforce the company’s culture of protecting not only oneself, but each other. This time is also used to report any incident/near-miss investigation results and to help educate the workforce on how to prevent the conditions that lead to disrupted lives. Furthermore, daily toolbox talks allow employees to develop leadership skills by delivering the training for the day and facilitating topic discussions.

The upward trend of TRIR and DART rates as toolbox talks frequency decreases validates the assumption that the less frequent the training, the higher the lagging indicators. Companies that conduct toolbox talks on a monthly basis have, on average, a TRIR five times higher than companies that conduct them daily. To put that number in perspective, companies that conduct toolbox talks on a monthly basis have four more disrupted/lost lives among their employees than companies that conduct daily toolbox talks. The data seems to indicate that the disparity in lagging indicator performance begins when a company moves from weekly toolbox talks to biweekly; the increase in TRIR is about 80 percent.

When segregating the data by NAICS code, it’s again clear that companies that conduct daily toolbox talks significantly outperform their counterparts and that the disparity in lagging indicator performance is most pronounced in the move from weekly to biweekly toolbox talks. Notably, statistically speaking, the TRIR average is the same for all three NAICS codes.

Where the data produces interesting results is in the biweekly frequency. The assumption among industry safety professionals has been that NAICS 237 companies have more advanced programs based on their portfolio of work in the oil and gas sectors and, as a result, should have lower lagging indicators than other NAICS codes. However, this is not the case when the frequency of toolbox talks is biweekly; the NAICS 237 companies perform at the same level as NAICS 236 companies and, oddly enough, significantly worse than companies in the NAICS 238 code.

This could be a statistical anomaly based on sample size, or it could indicate that NAICS 237 companies face a more pronounced loss of impact of toolbox talk training between weekly and biweekly frequency.

Unfortunately, the data does not support a definitive conclusion at this time. However, the data does support the conclusion that, regardless of work type or NAICS code, companies that conduct toolbox talk training on a daily basis are statistically safer than their peers.

Site Safety Committees and Principals’ Councils
The basic concept of a site safety committee or principals’ council (i.e., regular meetings among site employees, subcontractors, vendors and suppliers, and the client) is widely understood, yet implementation and effectiveness can vary. For example, a general contractor or construction manager usually will organize and coordinate safety committees among their own employees, the project owner and selected subcontractors, while subcontractors without strong leadership from their general contractor partners may be unable to participate unless they directly intervene or organize it themselves.

These meetings serve a purpose far more vital than simply information-sharing. They foster a culture of involvement and help empower employees, subcontractors and vendors to provide their own input and insight into not only the jobsite’s safety culture, but also the contractor’s. Idea-sharing is just as important, if not more so, than the information-sharing.

There is a correlation between TRIR and site safety committee/principals’ council participation. Overall, companies that organize or participate in safety committees have a TRIR 50 percent lower than those that do not. The value of a site safety committee/principals’ council is validated by performance statistics; companies that are part of the idea-sharing that takes place during these meetings have fewer incidents.

Ideally, site safety committees meet at least weekly, are comprised of volunteers or employees selected by their peers, include representation from all subcontractors present onsite, and serve as forums where safety concerns can be raised and corrected, and work can be coordinated to minimize hazard exposure. 

Up Next
This is the second in a series of articles on ABC’s “Roadmap to World-Class Safety.” Next month will cover systems and processes, with a focus on near-miss tracking and substance abuse program implementation. Click here to read the series’ first article on leadership commitment to site-specific and new hire orientations.

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

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