Safety meetings are perceived as continuing education at Penick. "We want our employees to be trained and on the cutting edge of safety," Lupo asserts. "We feel that if they work safe, they will be productive, which is a benefit to themselves and to us. We strongly believe that if we don't provide safety training and equipment, we won't be productive. A happy, healthy employee builds a happy, healthy corporation. Without healthy employees, there would be no construction company."
Lupo has seen safety meetings change in recent years, noting that if contractors don't take it seriously, clients will. "We've seen clients take a much greater interest in safety," he says. "They never used to ask about a company's safety program. Now, they're not only asking, but are contractually requiring specific safety requirements. There's definitely a more global awareness about safety. Now, if you're not a safe company, you can't even pre-qualify to bid, let alone bid a job."
Safety is not an option
Skanska USA Building Inc., Parsippany, NJ, is a commercial construction firm with a global employee base covering various regions of the U.S., South America and Europe. Worldwide, safety affects about 56,000 employees.
To accomplish the company's safety goals, the safety leadership team focuses on presenting a positive impression about safety. "Safety has gone from having a set of rules and telling people what they're doing wrong, to putting a positive spin on it by also focusing on what they're doing right," says John Williams, a senior superintendant in California.
In addition to weekly safety meetings and monthly safety memos, each job is preceded by a preconstruction safety meeting that includes the subcontractor's full-time superintendent on the project or the foreman on site, their project manager and the company safety director. "If all three people don't show up, we don't have the meeting," says Williams. "We discuss safety, and that's all we discuss."
As it relates to project safety meetings, Williams focuses on these areas:
- Make it personal - "Nothing says boring more clearly than reciting chapter and verse, and portraying safety as a set of rules," says Williams. "The challenge is to make safety positive and to make people know there are personal benefits to working safe for them and their families. That's the bottom line."
- Make it relevant - Williams acknowledges there are services that provide preprinted topics for safety meetings. "But they seldom apply to what you're doing," he says. "I see people read through them verbatim, and attendees fall asleep because it has nothing to do with what they're doing. It's just an exercise, not a purposeful meeting. Too often people go through the motions of a safety meeting without ever really understanding the intent of it."
Williams prefers to have his safety leaders discuss work in progress, potential/real hazards and what to do about them, the upcoming work plans, etc., and allow each attendee - which can be both Skanska employees and subcontractors - to express concerns about what's going on and to alert others about what they're doing.
- Make it educational - In addition to the weekly safety meetings, Williams pulls together printed articles, information, etc. that may pertain to a particular task, and provides them to employees in the form of weekly safety memos. For example, the crane safety article that appeared in the September 2007 issue of Equipment Today offered information Williams felt was beneficial to jobs related to structural steel.
"I try to find related topics for everything we're doing," he says, "especially jobs such as high-risk excavations, steel erection, fall protection, equipment operation, etc."
- Preplan the safety meeting - Prepare an agenda, handouts, etc. ahead of the meeting. "Preparing the workforce properly deserves some attention," Williams stresses.
- Dictate the audience - Under no circumstance does Williams call a general all-hands safety meeting where all the workers come together on the jobsite, as the weekly safety meeting. "These types of meetings are not effective," he says. "Too often, there are too many people not paying attention. Not everyone shows up. Those who do show up often have sidebar conversations and people just don't pay attention.
"The intent of the safety meeting is to address specific safety hazards with a particular task," he continues. "As a general contractor, I can't address what the electricians, plumbers, pavers, concrete contractors, etc. are doing."
Instead, Williams conducts project safety meetings with the superintendents and foremen assigned to the project, who meet weekly to receive handouts and discuss current safety issues/concerns. They in turn take that information to their workers to address concerns about their own tasks, as well as tell them what's on the horizon with the project.
"When you dictate the audience and the attendees, you narrow the focus so the attention span can be addressed," he says.
- Include weekly safety inspections - All superintendents/foremen are required to conduct weekly safety inspections. These safety inspections, and their corrective measures, are discussed during the weekly safety meetings, as opposed to simply being passed out in written format.
"They can pertain to anything on the jobsite - excavation safety, power tools, lighting, etc.," Williams says. "A huge factor in these inspections is to focus on positive things people are doing. People do a lot of things right that don't get acknowledged."
- Document the safety meeting and distribute minutes - Document who attended, the meeting number and date. "You can talk all you want, but if you don't have documentation, it didn't happen," Williams points out. "Discuss what was addressed and who led that part of the conversation."
As an overall rule, Williams emphasizes that whatever requirements you put in place in regards to safety, religiously enforce them, and follow up by doing what you say you're going to do. "If you require personal protective equipment, don't let people work without it," he says. "Don't make exceptions. When you do, you show that safety isn't a priority. We want workers to go home safe every night. Working safe is not optional here. While the way we stress safety isn't the only way companies can promote it, this is the way we've found it to be successful."