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Five Tips for Developing, Implementing and Updating Safety Programs

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By Barry C. McLaughlin
Ronald Evans
MWH Constructors

Most construction firms have varying occupational and safety standards to comply with local and industry-specific policies, but all safety programs have a common objective: to provide employees and subcontractors with safe and healthy working conditions.

Such programs should raise the visibility of health and safety at the workplace, improve employee health and safety both inside and outside the workplace, and ingrain health and safety into all construction sites. A program’s primary goal can be simple: all employees and subcontractors come to work and go home safely each day, thanks to ongoing education and systematic safety training.

An added benefit of a successful safety program is that excellent safety records translate into lower workers’ compensation insurance and liability rates and, therefore, reduced costs and risks. According to a 2013 study by McGraw Hill Construction, "Safety Management in the Construction Industry SmartMarket Report," by instituting strong safety programs contractors will see a 51 percent increase in project return on investment, 43 percent faster project schedules, 39 percent decrease in project budget and 71 percent lower injury rates. Of course, well thought-out safety programs go beyond protecting company interests of having a healthy and safe worksite. 

Although all projects are different, here are five tips for adapting a safety program to any construction project:

1. Get everybody involved. 
Every level of management needs to be responsible for demonstrating safety leadership, providing a safe work environment and promoting safe practices. Additionally, every employee needs to understand the company’s safety program and go through training at the start of employment and at each jobsite. 

Safety is a top-down and bottom-up driven value of the organization. It is important not only to communicate health and safety practices, but also listen and act on employees’ ideas. Consider choosing a safety champion at every project site and office to help promote new safety policies and initiatives.

In 2010, MWH Constructors, an AGC member of several chapters and the construction arm of MWH Global, developed a unified program—internally branded SafeStart—to encourage a proactive approach in which employees engage and involve themselves in every aspect of health and safety across all areas, activities and disciplines by:  
  • Allowing employees to question and challenge the way the company operates to uncover a better or safer method;
  • Providing a mechanism to elicit suggestions from all levels of workers and implementing the suggestions to create an interactive workplace;
  • Continually reviewing the design for safety, engage contractors, ensure offices are safe and tidy and ensure staff are carrying out their duties safely;
  • Being proactive to health and safety, as opposed to a reactive approach to hazards (acts or conditions), as is traditionally the case;
  • Supporting a safety program with policies and procedures to ensure it is embedded within the business; and 
  • Empowering everyone to stop any unsafe work activity.

Also, it’s important to remember to reward hard-working employees for following safety protocols. For example, MWH Constructors periodically holds celebratory luncheons for all project personnel to emphasize and celebrate safe, successful past performance.

It’s important to recognize that safety standards mean nothing until they are implemented by the men and women who do the work. 

2. Develop a culture that puts health and safety into its core value and then commit to it.  
It is crucial that safety be deeply embedded and prominent in the company’s culture.  A successful safety program is led from the top, with involvement and commitment by everyone within the business.

A program should be developed as an example of the company’s commitment to improving corporate and project health and safety, not only through the reduction of incidents, but through the introduction, application, compliance and continuous improvement of health and safety management.

3. Regularly promote the safety program to employees, subcontractors and clients. 
To promote safety at jobsites, the program should include ongoing touch points at varying frequencies to remind everyone of safe practices, such as:
  • Daily safety activities – Conduct daily visual safety inspections to confirm work practices are in accordance with the overall health and safety plan. Also, every morning conduct daily discussions with subcontractor crews and review specific safety aspects that will be encountered that day. 
  • Weekly safety activities – Conduct weekly safety meetings with crews to reorient them with the specific hazards that may be encountered on current work. Additionally, project tours should be taken with each individual contractor to review upcoming activities, installed safety and environmental measures, site organization and cleanliness of its respective work areas, as well as provide feedback and guidance and to assist in resolving any safety issues the contractor may have.
  • Periodic safety activities – Conduct periodic meetings and reviews with supervisory employees to discuss safety problems and review any site incidents that may have occurred. The safety director and members of the executive team should also visit sites periodically to perform safety audits. 

For example, MWH Constructors conducts "president walks" quarterly at each project site. The presidents from both MWH and the subcontractors, in addition to the owner’s safety representatives, walk the jobsite to review the safety posture of the project.

4. Have safety training tools in place. 
Providing employees with an induction process – including videos, online and hands-on learning – can be accomplished with a diverse staff of trained professionals.

MWH Constructors’ SafeStart program includes tactics to provide an introduction, application and compliance of the safety program to its workforce. In order to create a unified program, SafeStart established consistent health and safety signage, rebranded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), introduced a DVD with a health and safety message from executive leadership and site specific training information, hands-on induction training, and scheduled recurring monthly project health and safety planning meetings for its workforce. 

Any innovative safety program needs to make a safe working environment accessible to everyone. Even in environments with a variety of cultural and language barriers, safe practices are achievable.  For example, a large percentage of construction workers in the U.S. are Spanish speakers and monolingual. Being able to bridge the communication gap between employees is vital to project success. To help bridge this language barrier, tactics can be as simple as developing illustrated safety manuals and bilingual training materials to provide education courses at the site. 

5. Use two-way communication tools to constantly update and improve the safety program.
Once a safety program is developed, remember that there’s always room for improvement and the program will continue to evolve.  Focusing on continuous improvement to health and safety in the workplace and implementing best practices into any safety program plan will ensure a safe working environment for employees and subcontractors. 

Contractors should create an open dialogue for employees to report on safe practices. For example, MWH Constructors utilizes "Improve It" cards to be filled out by anyone, whether on a project site or in an office, as a channel to report practices that could use improvement, as well as good practices to continue.

As contractors apply lessons learned and implement best practices across the construction sites, they should inform and educate their employees to ensure a consistent approach and safe, healthy working environment across all projects and offices during the planning, management and execution of work.  

In addition to formal training and meetings, the company’s commitment to safety should be communicated through a variety of other mediums. These can include regular safety meetings, proactively sharing incidents through safety alerts and monthly messages from executive leadership regarding health and wellness for all workers. 

Barry C. McLaughlin is the regional safety manager and Ronald Evans is the vice president and deputy director of operations at MWH Constructors—the construction arm of MWH Global (www.mwhglobal.com), a wet infrastructure-focused strategic consulting, environmental engineering and construction services firm, dedicated to delivering the highest standard of health and safety across all work areas. The firm’s focus on safety, reaches far beyond protecting the employees and interests of MWH; it also benefits their clients and the communities in which they live and work.  

Since the implementation of the MWH Constructors safety program, the company has been named a finalist in the Construction Safety Excellence Awards from the Associated General Contractors of America in 2013, an award the company received first place in 2010; Gold level achievements from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; and Merit Awards for submissions from the British Safety Council International Safety Award in 2012.

 

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