The Contractor’s Best Friend /02-13-2013/ Risk Management: Safety First

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In this short series of articles I’d like to provide some overview to what is called “risk management.” Risk management is essentially the effort you take as a contractor or construction leader to limit, reduce or eliminate any construction effort that would pose a safety risk.

The legality and science of risk management is quite well known among general contractors and is growing in need to be embraced, understood and practiced by all specialty contractors. Our country is one of the most litigious in the world and, sadly, this certainly has found a home in the construction industry.

Let’s first address safety in your organization. While this article will not fulfill the entire educational needs for a total safety program at your company, there are some key learning points that have been successfully implemented by many contractors that we can bring value to your company.

Safety First

I don’t know what else to call this first point other than safety must be first everywhere possible in your company. I know of no contractor that will admit to NOT believing in the importance of safety -- but once again it is in the actions and behavior of our most senior of leaders, including the owner, that sells safety first.

Therefore, what can you do to demonstrate in action and behavior that safety really is first? Consider a few suggestions below:

  • Personally invest in safety education… be the “guinea pig” for all new training education.
  • Lead safety training workshops personally.
  • Make safety-related questions part of your daily discussions with field leaders, office workers, field workers etc.
  • Personally investigate when there’s been a safety failure and be the first, or second, to recognize great safety results.
  • Publicize Safety First via signage, posters, proposals, contracts, “graffiti” on company trucks, business cards, and all marketing pieces and internet outlets.

Resource Safety First

The resourcing of Safety First is to consider all literature, tools, and equipment that should be reviewed, updated, and replaced as needed as they relate to safety. Again, some quick highlights:

  • Commit a budget amount each year to inspect, replace, and maintain all equipment, vehicles, and power tools.
  • Inventory your hand tools and consider what needs “sharpening” and what needs to be replaced.
  • Make sure your educational materials are clear in their intent to teach safe practices.
  • Use clear and visible signage in your shop, yard and especially on each job site.
  • Create informative “5-S Maps” that indicate where everything is kept on trucks, trailers, your shop and yard. The 5-S Map can contribute to faster inventory management and keep workers from pushing and pulling tools, cords, shovels etc. to find what they are looking for.
  • Keep an ample supply of barricades, flare tape, emergency kits, safety vests, tie-offs and just about every other “safety tool” that can help prevent any issues.

Teach Safety First

Teach Safety First most certainly includes actual training workshops and live demonstrations of safe working processes and techniques but it also affects your company in a few other areas. Consider:

  • Purchase of hats and shirts that have a clear reference to safety.
  • Commit 3-5 minutes of stretching for all workers and leaders…office and field employees.
  • Require part of your “pre-con” start-up to address every safety “risk” potential on the new job.
  • Take a brief “safety debrief” after each project from the hourly workers involved with job. If you perform more than one project in a short time span, review multiple projects once a week.
  • Incorporate one positive safety story a week in meetings or share a learning lesson from another company who may have had a safety problem.

Recognize & Reward Safety First

Not much secret here and many contractors are practicing some degree of this suggestion. If you do not or are in need of upgrading your company’s approach, consider a few of the following:

  • Recognize all new milestones of “incident free” goals and the people who are making it happen.
  • Engage rewards to include company logoed giveaways such as shirts, hats, gloves etc.
  • For exceptional safety performance and results look to some cash rewards or tickets, coupons, dinner cards etc. Be careful here due to the taxing of such items but provide some form of “hard” proof that safety is saving you money.
  • Engage proven workers to conduct the safety training for newly hired employees.
  • Consider appointing a “Safety Coordinator” for each work crew and your office. The “SC” isn’t the safety czar but instead another outlet for employees to go to with questions, resource needs etc. The SC for my old crews used to also assist our foremen on scouting out potentially unsafe work areas, inspecting equipment and tools needing repair, and assisting in placing orders for new safety equipment.

Accountable Safety First

All of the previous suggestions and examples are for naught if we do not practice what we preach and hold people and processes accountable. Now for some tough love, consider:

  • Hold leaders accountable to invoke safety discussions before every project and at the beginning of each new day.
  • When leaders do not practice the previous, coach, counsel, and discipline as needed.
  • Clearly educate your workers on safe practice and when they do not comply with such practice, coach, counsel, and discipline as needed.
  • When “repeat offenders” continue to be non-compliant about following safety rules and practices…counsel, document, and fire! Do not allow such people to stay with your company…it sends the very bad message that Safety First is really “Safety Whenever it’s Convenient.”
  • Make Safety First mandatory for every employee. Absolutely no favoritism!

Our industry has indeed come a long way in the area of safety but our insurance rates continue to be a bit high compared to other physically involved industries. Accidents happen but there is a tremendous amount of prevention that we really can do.

Prevention is the key word here. Prevention in the form of educating, reminding, and having needed safety resources and safe working equipment and tools can reduce your risk ten-fold. But, we need to clearly communicate safety and be consistent in practicing what we are preaching about safety.

In our next Safety First article I will be sharing some greater efforts you can take to mitigate your safety risks and look at the more financial side to better safety practices.

Remember…Safety First!

Brad Humphrey  

© 2012 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/the Contractor’s Best Friend™