Jim describes the evolution of safety in the construction industry, and describes the concept of safety as an add-on. He also explains the limitations of safety as an add-on in the construction industry.
- Yeah, so safety has evolved quite a bit. I think I was lucky enough that I think I made it in when the evolution had already kicked in quite a bit. But I can go back and remember talking to the old guys 25 years ago and they would tell me how it use to be done and there's a huge shift from that. But even in the last 25 I've seen a huge emphasis on making sure everybody goes home at the end of the day in at least as good a shape as they started that morning. Deep Yard Construction is a very safety focused company, moreso than the majority of general contractors, but I think one of the biggest evolutions is the fact that it's harder and harder to say that the large contractors of today are that much different from everybody else.
I really think the idea of a safe workplace has now gotten into almost every nook and cranny. I did do some consulting a few years ago for a TI on a restaurant, and I walked in and I couldn't believe it, everybody was in there working in shorts, no hard hats, they had a mezzanine with no guardrail anywhere on it with a guy working a foot from the edge with his back turned to it. So, it is still ongoing, it's still out there, but it's becoming less an less.
A lot of this was dictated through OSHA and some things like that, but a lot of it was just common sense, it didn't make sense, it didn't make cost sense even if you want to put it into dollars and cents kind of stuff, to not work safe. There's too much liability now. If somebody does get hurt it could cost you much, a thousand times more than what it would cost to prevent that. And I think people will realize that. I'd like to think a lot of the safety is done for the right reasons, too, because we truly care about the people out there.
- As safety did begin to come to the forefront of the industry we did what seemed most natural, we added it on. And, honestly, at that point we probably added it on as more of a compliance response. Safety regulations were starting to be enforced and no one wanted issues with another regulatory agency, so we all started buying those canned safety compliance plans and they told us the things we couldn't do, and some of us even started hiring a safety manager or appointing some existing employee to be in charge of safety.
This was the era of the safety cop. And if you've been in the industry for a while you know what I'm talking about, the safety cop. That person that drove around and rolled up on the job site to look us over and tell us what we were doing wrong and write up the people that were working in an unsafe manner. Now sometimes that was a real safety cop or regulatory inspector, and sometimes it was our in house safety cop or safety manager. But in any case, the effect was typically the same, we all did things in a certain way until that safety cop rolled up on the job and then we started doing things the way we knew they wanted us to do them, and then when they left we went back to our way.
As ridiculous as that might sound it really was a necessary step in our evolution, we had to start somewhere and being forced to follow an established set of newly adopted rules, that's a typical starting point for our industry. And we did continue to evolve. We began to see the importance of working safely. We began to at least vaguely recognize that safety, quality, and productivity were probably tied together, and hopefully some of us even started to have a better understanding of how important people really are in this industry.
We eventually got to where I believe many companies are today and we've adopted the concept of conducting a job hazard analysis, or JHA as the safety people like to call it. This is great. It's a step in the direction of really using what we call an active safety and health management system, or some people call it an injury and illness prevention program. And in these we strive to look ahead and see what we can implement in the way of prevention rather than just establishing a set of rules and then reacting when something goes wrong or the rules are broken.
The problem is that this still treats safety as an add on. That sends the wrong message and it prevents us from fully integrating safety, quality, and productivity into our planning. Let me explain why I say that. The way I see many companies, trade contractors and general contractors alike, handle the process as this. The construction management team sits down and they develop a plan to get the job or the task done. They identify personnel and resources they'll need and they form a schedule.
Then, once that's done, they pass this plan on to the safety manager and ask the safety manager to perform that JHA. So think about this, they hand off the plan and they say look for any potential hazards in what we've already laid out and planned and tell us what we need to do about it. Now this is better, it's proactive, but it's still an add on. What we need to do is forget the added step of the JHA. Just do what I call a task analysis.
Look at the work to be done and consider safety, quality, and productivity all at the same time with all of the relevant personnel at the table. Don't forget, our field personnel can have a completely different perspective on the work to be done and that can provide really valuable input into the process. When one group plans the work and then asks another group to figure out how to work that plan safely you can easily overlook a better solution. Let me give you an example.
I did some safety consulting work for a general contractor who was planning and scheduling a project that included work that would need to be done inside of a confined space. They put it on the schedule, they planned the process, and then they sent it to me to come up with the rules and procedures for working safely in this confined space. Once we were all done with our pieces of the process it was all sent out to the field. Now later on, when I went out to inspect the progress, I arrived to find that there was no confined space on the job.
Turns out that in the overall plan that space needed to be demoed in a later phase of construction, so the superintendent, luckily, resequenced the schedule to get rid of that space earlier. Now that's what happens when you treat safety as an add on. In this case they got lucky because the superintendent was sharp enough to realize all of the issues and worked with the project owner to rearrange that sequencing. His actions resulted in work that was safer and more productive, and this is what we need to strive for in all of our tasks.
The way we get there is by incorporating all three elements, safety, quality, and productivity into a task analysis together at the same time with all of the relevant parties at the table.
Throughout this course, Jim highlights some of the most notable safety and health hazards in the industry—including fall hazards, traffic accidents, and respiratory hazards—and shares strategies for integrating safety, quality, and productivity. He also explains how to leverage technological advancements such as digital drawings to help your team work safer and smarter.
- Recognizing health hazards in the industry
- Integrating safety, quality, and productivity
- Creating a culture of learning
- Recognizing leading indicators
- Using digital solutions to improve safety
- Using BIM to identify hazards early