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Safety and Health Conference
January 25-27, 2017
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Come participate in the development of regulatory and legislative activity on both a national and local level, assist in the development and creation of new safety training programs and products and hear the latest initiatives from OSHA and other industry experts. All those who are managing construction safety and health issues on either construction projects or at a corporate level should consider attending.
  • The latest updates to regulations and OSHA activities;
  • Get the latest updates on congressional activities directly affecting construction safety and health;
  • Participate on subcommittee and taskforce meetings on DOD, Utility Infrastructure, Highway & Transportation and more;
  • Take an active role in improving safety and health in the construction industry; and
  • Don’t miss the social events hosted by the sponsors and AGC and interact with other attendees.
Register today!

You don't need an ironman athlete as your chief financial officer to kick-start a successful wellness program, but it helps. Kinda.

Around 2009, the folks at McCarthy Building Companies, a member of multiple AGC chapters, began talking about the need for a wellness program. "Partly because we were seeing our healthcare costs skyrocket, and partly because as an employee-owned company, we have a generous retirement package and wanted people to be able to enjoy their retirement — but that means taking care of yourself before you get to that point," explains Lisa Sanders, director, compensation and benefits.

The company’s then-CFO, an IRONMAN competitor, was an avid biker and hiker, an outdoorsy sort whose penchant for fitness resonated, says Sanders, throughout McCarthy’s leadership team. Up top, wellness wasn’t a difficult idea to sell. On the lower rungs, however, the super-fit CFO was actually a hurdle for wellness proponents to overcome.

"Because our executive sponsor was an IRONMAN athlete, when we first started talking to employees about wellness, that’s what they thought we meant!" Sanders laughs. "The attitude was, ‘if [an IRONMAN competition] is your expectation, I’m not interested.’" Sanders and her team members asked the executives to leave the wellness talk to them, and as they spread the word of fitness, nutrition and all-things-in-moderation, the roots began to take hold.

In fact, they’re beginning to take hold across the nation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced a significant drop in the rate of recordable workplace injuries and illnesses in 2015. AGC of America puts an enormous emphasis on safety, of course, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Wellness programs are growing in popularity, helping companies keep their healthcare costs down and employee fitness and morale way, way up.

When McHugh Construction, a Builders Association member, began its wellness program, its planners encountered mixed responses.

"The majority of employees were excited to start," says Shelly Griggs, the company’s marketing coordinator. "A few were indifferent and there is always a group of employees who are resistant to any type of change. They worried this new program might mean they’d feel pressure to exercise and whether there would still be free ice cream in the lunchroom. They expressed concern that their insurance costs would rise if they didn’t participate."

Change is threatening, says Lila Tocci, director of company life for Tocci Building Companies, an AGC of Massachusetts member. Employee adoption of their wellness strategy, she says, was slow and incremental and came, in part, due to what might be called positive peer pressure.

"For people who want to eat well, those who exercise, a wellness program becomes something of a magnet," she has observed. "It attracts those kinds of people and then there comes a tipping point where there’s more impetus toward health than away from it."

These days, even the folks who used to have "the double cheeseburger with the fries and the super-size soda" are more often than not embarrassed to bring foods like that in.

"There are no eating Nazis here," she says, "but people have grown so much more concerned with what they’re eating, there’s no need for them. Once you’ve turned a corner and the majority thinks a certain way, it becomes part of your company culture. We don’t have to say a lot about it, but when we do, it’s taken as encouragement, not enforcement."

At McHugh, assurance that the plan was optional, that it was a new tool at employees’ disposal and there were other fun incentives for participation eventually swayed even those less enthused about participating.

"The apprehension subsided," Griggs reports. "Over the months, more and more team members not only participated, they really started to buy in, and now more than 200 employees are signed up for the program!"

Lower cholesterol, getting off the insulin, weight loss, feeling better. You’d think it would be enough — and for some folks it is — but incentivizing your wellness program will lead to greater adoption. And that can equate to reduced healthcare costs for the company overall. Pair that with high employee morale and it’s a no-loss proposition.

Sanders says that myriad incentives built into McCarthy’s program have given employees the motivation to commit, and since partnering with Vitality, wellness within the company has gotten so popular, she says she’d have a riot on her hands if she took the program away.

"Wellness wasn’t just biometric data and good numbers," she explains. "We wanted a partner that was looking at wellness from a holistic perspective. We felt wellness was personal, and Vitality was able to tailor the idea to each employee."

At McHugh, employees earn points for all kinds of things — exercise, eating right, losing weight. Those who need improvement earn by meeting their various goals, and those in good shape earn for being healthy and having great numbers.

First up, real savings: McCarthy offers $400 off employee-only healthcare coverage, and if an employee also covers a spouse or domestic partner, that can go up to $800.

Through Vitality, employees earn points much like a frequent flyer program, redeeming them for all kinds of merchandise — the most popular at McCarthy are Amazon gift cards.

"You’ll hear people talk about working on their wellness and focusing on earning those points to use the gift cards for their holiday shopping," Sanders says. "We’ve shifted wellness from ‘hey, I know I should take care of myself’ to giving them a financial incentive."

At McHugh, discounted bike-sharing memberships for wellness participants have proven popular. "It’s especially beneficial for employees traveling between jobsites, to meetings downtown and those who commute by train from the suburbs," says Griggs.

"We even provide free helmets — in McHugh blue, of course!" McHugh also covers entry fees for any area races, from 5Ks to marathons, for employees who recruit at least one other team member to join them. "It’s a great way to encourage team bonding and a healthy lifestyle," says Griggs.

At Tocci, past incentives have included gift cards to places like Whole Foods and outfitters like REI, but right now they’re rolling out a new program.

"Healthy Actions is in concert with our Blue Cross/Blue Shield health and medical program," says Tocci. "There is a cash rebate if people complete the annual health risk assessment and follow through on whatever it is that their primary care doctor wants them to do to be in compliance."

"The beauty of a well-implemented corporate wellness program is that it will specifically impact the priorities of your company," says Leah Hammel, director of wellness for Cornerstone Insurance Group. "And jobsite safety should be the No. 1 priority of a construction company."

Hence, she says, the most effective ones are tailored to limit on-site injuries. Educating employees about safe lifting would be her top recommendation to reduce injury frequency, reduce insurance claims and shorten typical recovery times when an injury does occur.

"A wellness program that brings in a certified personal trainer to spend time with employees is a great place to start," Hammel says.

Griggs says their program has had a positive impact at McHugh.

"Working in construction is a very physical job," says Griggs. "The healthier and more physically fit our employees, the more productive and less prone to injury they’ll be. Each day before work begins on our jobsites, our crews perform a 10-minute ‘flex and stretch’ where the team warms up, greatly reducing the risk of injury on the job."

Wellness means a host of programs, incentives and benefits. At Tocci, employees enjoy Fitbit challenges, encouragement to read and get away from the computer screen and a clean-eating LeanBox Fresh Food and Snack Kiosk as a brilliantly healthy and surprisingly low-priced alternative to the usual candy-and-chips-style vending machine. On-site gyms and other fitness-related incentives make staying motivated easier. They’re also a nice recruiting tool, as young people see these programs as very attractive.

And while all these things keep teams engaged in their own wellness, there’s often a side benefit — lower costs.

"We’ve seen our preventative care increase — cancer screenings, mammograms and pap smears, colonoscopies," says Sanders, explaining that the points system has helped motivate positive action. "We diagnose earlier and sooner ... we’ve seen people on maintenance medications for things like blood pressure and cholesterol rise, diabetics doing insulin and test-strip orders — and those numbers going up has reduced our larger claims."

Getting on the medication for these things, she points out, is cheaper to treat than a heart attack or stroke. Getting cancer diagnosed at Stage 1 or 2 is not only better for the employee’s health, it’s less expensive.

"Everyone knows they should take care of themselves, but there are so many competing priorities," says Sanders. "Wellness programs get people engaged; they can motivate employees to make taking care of themselves a higher priority."


The best programs, says Leah Hammel, director of wellness for the Cornerstone Insurance Group, are built on a promise, one that makes workers confident that the folks at the top mean business when it comes to employees’ well-being. Where do you go from there? Kick-start your company’s commitment to health by following Hammel’s strategic advice.

Lead by example. "A commitment from senior leadership that they will make health and wellness important and take wellness initiatives seriously shows employees that it’s a priority of the company."

Spread awareness. Providing information about health risks and ample support for behavioral changes that will help employees improve their lifestyles and reduce their risks builds a solid foundation for change.

"This can be done by providing health screenings and an immediate explanation of the results," says Hammel. "Any at-risk employees should be invited to meet with a health coach to set goals that will reduce risk factors. Resources should be provided to monitor progress and keep employees accountable. Meaningful incentives can also improve participation."

Assess and adapt. The final pieces are asking for feedback, evaluating results and adjusting your tack accordingly.

"If employees mention that maintaining a healthy diet in the workplace is difficult for them, for example, adjust your policies and offer low-cost health food options in the vending machines and break rooms," Hammel says.

It’s also important to hear what employees have to say. Evaluate what your company currently offers and analyze how it can be improved once per quarter. For the vending machine example, Hammel suggests setting a timeframe to establish when the new foods will be available to employees, and then evaluating the number of healthy options before and after the initiative.

Know your audience. "A young construction team may need a drastically different strategy than a group that skews older," Hammel points out. "A group in the south may need different activities than one in the north, depending on weather and time of year."

Gather and analyze the data to determine what your company’s specific needs are. Engaging with a wellness professional, she says, will help you create a truly customized and unique plan your group will enjoy.

Establishing a culture of safety takes more than having a good safety program. It takes a commitment to continuously improve worker safety and jobsite best practices. Come learn from some of the best in the industry on what they are doing to reduce the risk of jobsite incidents and protect their workforce. The AGC Safety Track is open to all registered Convention attendees. Click here for the full schedule.

Sessions and Events Include:
  • Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence Awards Judging
  • Risk Management Principles that Reduce the Cost of Injury Litigation
  • Creating a Culture of Safety in Your Construction Firm through Effective Leadership
  • Primal Safety: How to Motivate Your People to Actually Implement Your Safety Program
  • Lean Safety: Improving Your Safety Culture with Lean Management Tools 
  • Applying Construction Safety Management Foundations to Enhance Quality Mgmt. Programs
  • Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence Awards Breakfast – Ticketed Event, Limited Seating
  • Construction Safety Excellence Awards Judges’ Panel – Open Forum
  • Reception and Photo Shoot for Willis Towers Watson CSEA Winners - Invitation Only
WebEd: Managing Jobsite Quality and Safety 
January 26, 2017 
2-3 p.m. 

2017 Conference on Surety Bonding and Risk Management  
January 30-February 1, 2017 

Naples, Florida

AGC's 98th Annual Convention 
March 7-9, 2017

Las Vegas, Nevada

Best Practices

Most professionals in the construction industry appreciate the importance of risk management. Prioritizing safety in construction operations is not only paramount to securing new business and recruiting talent, it’s also an essential component of profitability. 

While the safety-related anecdotes shared on construction sites and in new employee orientations are important, there is only one measure of safety that underscores a company’s commitment to its employees and its clients – the Experience Modification Rate (EMR). 

EMR scores impact every part of a contractor’s operations and, because they are an indicator of past performance, they have become the greatest predictor of future behavior – both on and off the worksite.

For that reason, consumers of construction services demand increasingly lower EMR scores. Manageable insurance premiums depend on them. Even talent is attracted by a company’s EMR because positive scores provide a competitive advantage.

Lowering and maintaining a quality EMR score is easier said than done. But with a dedicated team willing to challenge assumptions and look at risk management and safety operations holistically, it can be done. 

What follows is a collection of challenges and best practices that will help contractors lower their EMR scores, maintain those positive ratings and save their companies money. 

The importance of the executives’ role in lowering a company’s EMR score cannot be understated. 

Often, executives make excuses for high EMRs, citing external factors beyond their control or downplaying the significance of the scores in general. They may espouse the value of safety in principle without ever reinforcing that value through action.

Conversely, many executives do buy into the importance of risk management but find it difficult to demonstrate their commitment in meaningful ways.

Here’s how executives can become champions for safety and set the stage for lower EMR scores:

1. Select the right leaders. The people chosen to lead risk management efforts should be firm but fair, individuals with a passion for safety. These folks should have a proven track record of success serving as an inspiration to their teams and not be afraid to get their hands dirty. They will be risk management advocates in all ways.

2. Talk about risk management holistically. Every facet of a project needs to be addressed for a true global risk management culture to exist. Executives can influence this by extending discussions of risk management beyond the construction site. Risk is inherent in everything that happens in construction operations, from the way a firm markets itself to the subcontractors it partners with and the warranty it delivers at the end of a project. Assessing the risk associated with every task, purchase order, estimate or piece of equipment used will reinforce the idea that risk management is a company-wide function. 

3. Make periodic site visits. As a practice, executive leadership should strive to make routine risk management visits to their project sites with a singular objective: reinforce the importance of safety on the worksite. Executives should avoid becoming enforcers; rather, they should demonstrate their commitment to managing risk and prioritizing safety by discussing safety challenges, asking for input and ideas, celebrating successes and challenging the team to do better each and every day. 

Once the executives have become champions for risk management, the next step is getting team members to buy in. 

Because construction is such a highly specialized industry with a clear division of labor, it’s easy for employees to focus exclusively on their own tasks: accounting, engineering, estimating, crane operations and risk management, to name a few.

The challenge is to instill among all employees a sense of ownership over risk management activities, regardless of the department or the job function. Essentially, all team members must become risk managers. 

The groundwork for this can be laid during the onboarding process, but must extend indefinitely through training and mentorship, which are critically important for an organization that wants to lower its EMR score.

1. Train employees to do more than identify risks. It’s not enough to tell employees they are all risk managers; you have to show them how to be risk managers. This means going beyond teaching employees how to perform safety audits and properly report safety concerns. It involves training employees to understand how risk emerges and where safety hazards are most likely to occur; to look at the potential outcomes associated with every decision they make; to talk about the "what ifs" and the "what could-have-beens." And it requires ongoing encouragement and reinforcement of positive behaviors by leadership. Only through a comprehensive approach to training will team members fully understand, accept and thrive in their roles as risk managers.

2. Institute a mentorship program. The benefits of mentorship for the construction industry are twofold. First, by virtue of their designation as mentors, high-performing employees may feel a sense of accomplishment and increased self-confidence, leading to greater ownership over their work. For the mentees, they have a trusted source to go to with questions or for clarification, which may reduce instances of error or the need for management intervention (saving time, money and helping to create a safer organization).

3. Seek input from the front lines. Risk management executives can’t be everywhere at once, so empowering their teams is key to mitigating risk. One way to achieve this is to make sure project teams know their input is valued. Start by requesting that project managers pull in lower ranking employees for weekly safety audits, asking them to identify opportunities for improvement. Consider setting aside time every day for open discussion, where crew members can share their ideas and suggestions with on-site leadership. Managers should continually solicit feedback from their front-line team members, whose day-to-day experiences make their input invaluable.

When executives become risk management champions and employees are on board, only then can safety become a part of the culture. 

Shifting an organization’s culture is not without its challenges, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s not something that leadership can even "do." 

A safety-first culture is the result of a formidable dedication of all team members to ensure their every action and behavior demonstrates the company’s dedication to safety. 

In the end, it’s the single greatest predictor of a low EMR score as it emphasizes a company’s long-term commitment to the values, practices and behaviors that minimize risk.

1. Safety first, production second. A key indicator of a low EMR score is a company’s willingness to practice what it preaches; management must consistently prioritize safety over project timelines. Demand that project teams stop working if they suspect a safety issue; require employees to seek help until corrective action is taken, regardless of lost time or productivity; and celebrate a project stalled because of a safety threat, whether or not the threat was real. These behaviors will build confidence in employees and set the stage for them to speak up in the future. 

2. Perfection is impossible (but it’s still the goal). When all eyes are on the safety and risk management function, it can be tempting for employees to want to deliver better news than what actually exists. Eliminate this by requiring that no risk management reports come back 100 percent clean – there is always room for improvement. Avoid disciplining teams for identifying risks; instead, request that they return audits with clear action plans that address and correct issues. 

3. Celebrate the wins. Celebrating a team’s successes – big and small – is essential to maintaining low EMR scores. Risk management executives can make a lasting impact on their teams by doing their part to make safety fun. Carry gift cards to construction sites and hand them out to employees who make safety a priority. Praise the good work of team members by sharing their accomplishments at all-team meetings and in company newsletters. Even a simple "thank you" with a handshake can motivate and inspire employees to do better tomorrow than they did today.

The risk management function in the construction industry is always evolving. As general contractors take on bigger and more extensive projects, they must constantly look for ways to protect their people, their projects and their clients. 

EMRs continue to be a solid indicator of the health and vitality of a construction company. And as clients demand better scores, the industry has to be able to deliver better scores.

These best practices are a guide to ensure safety and risk management become (and remain) a priority. Following them will help general contractors lower their EMR scores, avoid complacency and instill in their clients the confidence in their firms’ ability to deliver the best product in the safest manner. Every time.

Jerry Flemming is the vice president of risk management for James McHugh Construction Co. in Chicago, a Builders Association member. Flemming has more than 25 years’ experience in safety and risk management. Since joining McHugh in 2011, Flemming has guided the company to achieve its lowest Experience Modification Rate – a 0.46 – while overseeing some of McHugh’s most complex and expansive projects to date. He continually challenges safety assumptions and is always looking for ways to improve and advance the risk management function. 

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