Empower Employees to Improve Safety Program Outcomes

It pays to put safety first, and the best way to achieve this is through employee accountability.
By Eric Pyle
July 13, 2021

A safety program is essential to protecting a construction company’s most valuable asset: its team. Those same team members are also the biggest determining factor of whether a safety program will be successful. To ensure a safety program is effective and policies are closely followed, all team members must be held accountable.

Intentionally empowering employees to have a voice and role in the company safety program will improve outcomes.

Establish clear, safety-specific values

Establish or review existing company values to effectively launch or relaunch a safety program that empowers workers. Having firmly established values that are specific to safety helps underscore that safety is a priority, as long as the company doesn’t let those values live only as words on the company website or in marketing materials. Intentionally mention values during meetings, reiterate them in internal communications and reinforce them through relevant training.

BELL Construction, a general contractor and construction management company based in Brentwood, Tennessee, exemplifies industry best practices through four core values, the first of which is safety. Its safety program’s motto is: "Safety starts with me.”

Employees take individual ownership of safety through training, helping to write internal programs and teaching proper safe work practices to those around them. The contractor wants everyone to embrace the proper mindset on the job because that helps make sure all employees go home each day the way they came to work. Employees strive to attain and maintain a “zero-incident” mentality.

Safety is underscored by our core value of commitment to working safely alongside others and being accountable for one another’s well-being. This translates into employees taking time to make their teammates aware if they are potentially working in an unsafe manner.

Develop a safety committee and involve team members in various roles

Safety shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the leadership team. Team members tend to take more responsibility for safety initiatives when they are directly involved in developing or improving safety programs.

One way BELL Construction has done this is through the development of the BELL Safety Committee. It selects a diverse group of field and office employees from carpenters to executives to participate in the committee and create new ideas and procedures. It gives the opportunity to hear from employees in different roles about ways to improve. When the committee was first created, it took time to gain momentum and change the mindsets of others. But consistency ultimately prevailed, and the committee has been an effective and critical part of the program.

With large teams, consider rotating in new members annually to keep things fresh; give branded apparel and accessories to committee members—this makes involvement on the committee an honor. Encourage team members to teach proper safety procedures to those around them. Top leaders are always pleased when managers identify hazards on the jobsite because it illustrates that it’s not just the safety director’s responsibility to recognize safety issues and concerns. Instead, train all team members to look for safety concerns when they enter jobsites.

Assigning responsibilities to individuals across the company helps team members feel accountable for the safety program’s success. Encourage open communication by frequently leading conversations that involve the entire project team. Make it clear that everyone in the company has a role in the success of the safety program.

Reward proper conduct, correct mistakes and train

Positive reinforcement can go a long way in helping workers adhere to safe practices, attend safety meetings or join the safety committee.

Some team members may not feel comfortable reporting potential or actual issues. Thus, it’s essential that workers are not only trained to identify and correct potential hazards, but also encouraged to speak up when they think something is wrong. Consider giving rewards to team members who proactively identify potential safety hazards and address these issues from preconstruction to completion. Support the team when they have new ideas for the safety program.

Embedding accountability into company culture requires consistent effort from leadership. Quarterly superintendent meetings should focus on safety, which increases the comprehensiveness of the training and teaching of others while on the job, and regular training sessions should be held for new and existing employees. Root safety adherence into daily jobsite activity with inspections and meetings with the entire project workforce.

Continuously evolve

Finally, make sure the company is always prioritizing safety and staying ahead of the game. Compare the company's safety programs with others in the industry to discover what peers are doing well and what is working for them to help create safe work environments.

For example, based on a similar program of one of its competitors, BELL is currently rolling out an electronic emergency action plan that allows team leaders access to cloud-based emergency information from their smartphones.

Safer work environments not only mean more satisfied employees, but also lower health insurance premiums, better bond/insurance rates, and increased job opportunities due to increased trust from clients and trade partners. It (quite literally) pays to put safety first, and the best way to achieve this is through employee accountability.

by Eric Pyle
Eric Pyle is the Executive Vice President, Building Operations, and leads the commercial building division at BELL Construction, one of the Southeast’s leading construction firms. BELL provides general contracting, design-build, and construction management services across multiple sectors, including hospitality, office and transportation.

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