Over the years, I’ve indirectly worked with many construction companies that have struggled to improve their safety performance. As I reflect on some conversations that I’ve had with these safety professionals, I recall some common themes.
First, companies can easily fall into the reactive-mode trap, meaning they may have a safety professional on staff. Still they are only utilized when a health, safety, or environmental (HSE) issue surfaces. This mentality of “break glass in case of an emergency” will ultimately result in stagnant and poor safety performance. Secondly, poor HSE performing companies typically operate in an HSE culture of saying the “right things” but are easily persuaded to cut corners or ignore safety protocol by putting more focus on schedule and cost. Obviously, we construct projects and track schedules extremely carefully, with all intentions to make money; schedule and costs are vital to our industry. However, this same emphasis should be placed on HSE performance.
In order to create the desired safety culture that will result in HSE performance improvement, there are some simplistic procedural and process initiatives that can be implemented. Before discussing what can be done from an administrative aspect to improve performance, senior management of a company must embrace the safety program. It is highly recommended to solicit their input when trying to decide what administrative components need to be improved and/or implemented. To be clear, if senior management is not on-board, the ship will sink! Companies must be creative and innovative to move beyond lagging indicators and focus their efforts towards leading indicators, employee involvement, and using OSHA standards as minimum requirements. Let’s discuss some ways these objectives can be accomplished.
Probably the biggest obstacle that companies must address to utilize leading indicators is having a proficient method or system to track these items. Fortunately, there is a plethora of affordable HSE software available to aid with this process; research and take advantage of freetrials and get multiple individuals who would ultimately be end-users to participate at various levels of the organization. If an HSE software is not utilized, you might find yourself covered up with spreadsheets and spending many hours manually inputting data.
Examples of leading indicators include the following:
1. Inspection trends
2. Tracking of incident root causes and contributing factors
3. Corrective Action statuses from inspections and incidents
4. Behavior-Based Observations trending data
5. Training – Evaluation of needs versus percentage completed
Companies must recognize the importance and impact of tracking, evaluating, and strategically reacting to leading indicator data. This information should be assessed regularly with a team that includes senior management. On the other side of the coin is lagging indicators; this information cannot be ignored and should be included in your evaluation process. In construction, lagging indicators are (TRIR, DART, etc.) often pre-qualification requirements to bid on projects. In a nutshell, lagging indicators are needed to assess the impact of focusing on leading indicators and other elements of an HSE program.
At times, it can be challenging to find ways to involve all employees in your HSE program. This important element should not be overlooked. A common obstacle for businesses often mirrors the thought process discussed above that production and costs are more important than safety. Yes, involving an employee in the safety program (examples provided below) may require the employee to cease their assigned craft-related tasks temporarily. Still, in the larger picture, HSE involvement creates a sense of ownership. A team environment focused on common objectives of identifying hazards, unfavorable behaviors, and contributing to a safe and healthy work environment. Below are examples of employee involvement opportunities:
1. Safety Committees: Develop a procedure that outlines the structure and frequency of project inspection and committee meetings. A framework to capture meeting minutes should be developed, along with a process to share the information both up and downstream.
2. Behavior-Based Observations (BBO): Develop a procedure that outlines frequency requirements and which behaviors employees should focus on while performing an observation. Do your homework with this initiative; there are software capabilities on the market that utilize character recognition that can process and generate analytical reports from the data collected on observation sheets.
3. Management Involvement: Develop a procedure that outlines management personnel HSE involvement criteria and frequency. Identify capacities in which they should participate (Pre-Task Planning meetings, project inspections/ safety committees, BBO’s, etc.).Craft personnel observing management involved in the HSE program will be enormously impactful to the overall safety culture by reinforcing the idea that safety is a commitment to all levels of the organization.
By being creative and striving for continuous improvement, desired safety cultures can be obtained. Cultures do not change overnight, but they will ultimately change with daily actions. Successful companies are clued int hat production, cost, and safety are interdependent upon each other,all of which require an equal amount of emphasis. Construction companies should expect their employees to work hard to achieve schedule milestones and to be aware of costs without sacrificing safety. Regarding HSE performance, companies should expect all employees to be involved, but companies MUST provide opportunities.