The Intersection of Risk Management, Safety, Technology and the Workforce

According to McKinsey Global Institute’s 2018 research report, “Reinventing Construction Through a Productivity Revolution,” the industry is slow to adopt technology, and has been struggling with stagnant productivity levels for decades.
By Sean Martell
March 6, 2019

The construction space looks attractive in 2019, given its solid economic position, consistent job growth expectancy, and the promises made to boost infrastructure spending in the United States.

However, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s 2018 research report, “Reinventing Construction Through a Productivity Revolution,” the industry is slow to adopt technology, and has been struggling with stagnant productivity levels for decades. One reason for this is companies continue to use various older systems instead of integrating technologies to consolidate methods and increase overall efficiency.

In adopting new technologies, the McKinsey report emphasized the sector would be able to eliminate many of the key issues of the last decade, and “boost [the industry] by an estimated $1.6 trillion, adding about 2 percent to the global economy, or the equivalent of meeting about half the world’s infrastructure need.”

Decision-makers now have the chance to address efficiency issues plaguing the industry and successfully meet the demands of the future.

By eliminating the “Fatal Four” (falls, struck by an object, electrocution and caught-in/between), OSHA estimates 631 construction workers’ lives would be saved each year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is around 4 percent. Facing an increasingly high demand for skilled workers, the industry is now faced with the new dilemma of having to attract and keep employees instead of having applicants knocking at their door.

By 2050, the global population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion—increasing infrastructure demands and requiring a technologically advanced workforce.

Talent Acquisition

With a co-generational workforce, the construction industry must attract millennials and skilled craft workers by new methods. Millennials are more risk-adverse, and although construction pay exceeds the average for the overall economy, studies have shown millennials prefer to work for a technologically advanced business with a good reputation and programs designed to further educate and support employees. It may seem farfetched, but according to the Harvard Business Review, millennials have proven time and again to choose a lower-paying job over a business that does not invest in its employees or whose values they do not align with.

Although the technology revolution has created solutions to the industry’s most prevalent problems, there is room for improvement. Now more than ever, decision- makers need to focus on making their operations look as attractive to their employees as they do to shareholders. To cultivate talent, and meet the ever-increasing economic need for competent workers, companies must begin creating a solid foundation, starting with the essential top-down commitment to improve safety, expand skill sets and educate staff.

Those who work within construction seek employers who invest in their employees and care for their wellbeing. If firms are slow to adopt technologies designed to maximize productivity, innovation and development, employees may infer that they will be slow to adopt the technologies engineered to protect them from the dangers associated with construction work as well.

Construction businesses need leadership capable of successfully implementing and integrating innovative technologies to attract young talent and tackle the industry’s more persistent problem: risk mitigation.

Risk Mitigation

In the United States, the construction industry employs roughly 5 percent of the labor force, but makes up 19 percent of all work fatalities, and more than 7 percent of all annual workdays are lost due to injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent reports.

As one of the industry’s most challenging tasks, managing site safety has become increasingly difficult as operations grow in complexity. Due to constantly changing jobsite environments, the need to quickly discern where potential hazards and vulnerable objects are is crucial. By identifying these risks, building an educational safety plan, and taking the time to adopt and implement solutions, the construction industry can gradually improve risk mitigation.

Identification: Every worksite is unique. It is important to have a strong understanding of the equipment that is in use, interactions on the jobsite and where risk may be elevated. By keeping track of accidents caused by risky behaviors or environmental conditions, a plan of action can be created.

Education: To create consistent jobsite safety, there must be a commitment to evolved education and training to discern how operations run. Education can be used to drive safety methodology.

Investment: Once safety standards are put into practice, properly training and equipping workers with the appropriate technologies (to improve risk mitigation around the jobsite) is a strong way to invest time and money for direct ROI.

For an organization to achieve top-level safety performance, its leaders must set the standard by emulating these attributes and commending all personnel who exemplify safe behavior. All personnel must understand how to identify risks and follow the prescribed safety procedures to tackle each risk, and be re-trained to use integrative technologies to identify unforeseen hazards.

As technology creates safer and more intuitive machines, it is important to remind operators to stay vigilant about their surroundings, and for decision-makers to continue safety education.

By consistently reminding employees of the importance of leveling up safety norms, attitudes and beliefs, the strategies originally set in place will continue to work toward ensuring companies can meet the goal of recording zero jobsite accidents.

by Sean Martell

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