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Most construction companies agree theoretically that workforce safety is a top priority, but industry leaders set themselves apart in the way that priority is manifested in the real world. For those companies, safety is a core value, not just another priority.

Associated Builders and Contractors’ National Environment, Health and Safety Committee had the opportunity to interview a diverse group of corporate principals while assessing potential recipients of the association’s National Safety Excellence Awards.

When asked why his company deserved this prestigious award,one CEO immediately responded: “Frankly, we don’t deserve it.” He then went onto recall every workplace injury his workers had suffered that year. Even though his company had an industry-best incident rate, his conviction was that one injury was one too many, and that he must find a solution. Interview after interview revealed executives who did not simply quote from the latest leadership mantra; instead, they expressed a true concern for each and every worker’s safety. 

Clearly there is no magic bullet to ensure workplace safety. Varying markets, staffing levels, client demands and scopes of work all trigger different approaches to safety programs. However, industry members can glean a few overarching tenets from the leaders of these high-performing and consistently safe construction companies. 

1. Management Must Ask And Listen

In his book, “It’s Your Ship,” U.S. Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff explains how often he was the source of the problems his crew encountered. As a result, he made it a habit to ask himself: Did I articulate the goals? Did I give my people enough time and resources to accomplish the task? Did I give them enough training?

Successful safety managers adopt the mindset that there is always a better way to accomplish a given task, and employees may have some great ideas. As Abrashoff realized, management’s role is to create an environment in which people can tap into their potential. It’s not leadership’s responsibility to be all-knowing or the genesis of every solution; rather, management must empower employees, ask them for input and then listen to their suggestions. 

2. Management Must Value Employee Participation
When it comes to safety, people sincerely want to be part of accomplishing a positive outcome, not simply avoiding a negative outcome. It’s crucial to tap into their expertise when trying to identify upstream leading safety indicators and methods to measure them. Foster a culture in which employees’ proactive safety goals become executive management’s dashboard of performance indicators. Do not attempt to motivate personnel solely by urging them to work safely to avoid injury; rather, work toward accomplishing a positive outcome that  employees helped define, and recognize them when they provide safety benchmarks. 

3. Management Must Lead By Example
There is no faking servant leadership and truly caring about people. Although this is one of the oldest and most successful leadership characteristics, it’s the one many struggle with the most.

Start by determining executives’ levels of engagement. Indicators for safety engagement may include:
  • developing and communicating a tailor-made and meaningful safety mission statement;
  • holding routine meetings with safety leadership;
  • establishing a meaningful executive dashboard of safety performance leading indicators; and
  • celebrating safety successes.
Finally, do not underestimate the importance of regularly visiting project sites and personally speaking about the importance of safety. What is perceived as being important to the boss will soon become important to everyone else.

If safety is first on an organization’s list of priorities, but it doesn’t seem to be evident when looking around a jobsite, take a look at Associated Builders and Contractors’ Safety Training Evaluation Process (STEP). It provides an excellent platform to measure safety programs against 20 well-established key components of premier safety performance so firms of any size can start, update or audit their company-wide safety program. Data from 2013 revealed STEP participants beat the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ averages in all lagging indicator performance metrics, leading to benefits in the bidding process and when negotiating insurance rates. For more information, visit www.abc.org/step.

Frank Wampol is corporate safety director at BL Harbert International. For more information, email fwampol@bharbert.com

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