Shot of construction equipment against blue sky
Evaluating your approach to risk & employee empowerment

The risk of injury is always present in construction. When it comes to safety, there’s always room to improve. Whether you lead a large or midsized construction business or work as a contractor with a small, trusted team, you have the power to improve the safety of your operations and how you involve each individual on your team.

You might be surprised to learn that workplace injuries are up 7.5% from 2021 to 2022, and that employees with less than one year of experience account for 28% of all injuries. That demonstrates an opportunity to double down on ensuring you establish safety protocols to stop that increase, and that your team works together to mentor new employees and instill greater accountability.

One injury can have wide-ranging effects on someone’s life. It also impacts you as an employer, who may be down a worker and may face higher workers’ compensation costs in the future.

Take this as a cue to assess your safety plan, your team’s commitment and how you’re executing your program. There’s a good chance you’ll identify opportunities to improve safety throughout your onboarding process and daily operations. Ask yourself this: When was the last time your team went through lockout/tagout training? Or something as simple as ladder safety?

Let’s examine some fundamentals that will help your entire team refocus and recommit to safety.


Make Safety a Part of Your First Impression

It’s possible that safety can be both important to your organization and taken for granted. Ask yourself: Is safety assumed, like an afterthought, or is it a crucial part of the first impression you make with new employees? If you emphasize safety from before day one, your expectations are loud and clear. Make sure you emphasize safety in your job descriptions and interviews when hiring. Consult with your legal and human resources professionals to implement a background-check program. You should review each candidate’s previous employment and references, and — when it’s applicable to the job position — their driving records. Safety should be part of your hiring and vetting process, and communicating that helps you set a standard from the outset.


Prioritize Safety During Onboarding

As noted, a significant percentage of workplace injuries occur when someone is in their first year with an employer. View employee onboarding as a journey to provide an ongoing emphasis on safety from day one to day 90 and beyond. Make time for your superintendent, safety manager and other experienced employees to act as mentors for new employees, providing enough time for them to discuss your safety protocols and reinforce safe behaviors.

Provide hands-on instruction for safe use of equipment, tools and procedures. For example, we often see severe injuries due to misuse from common tools like cutoff saws. This includes operating them incorrectly, using saws with missing safety guards or working without proper training. That’s why it’s extremely important that all workers are trained on the tools they use on the job, including the personal protective equipment (PPE) required when using them.

Go beyond the basics of rules and regulations to ensure new hires know safety is everyone’s responsibility.


Regularly Reinforce Safe Habits

Create and maintain regular reminders about safety protocols. Have supervisors lead morning meetings and shift changes with quick safety talks. Involve new employees in those talks so they understand and take ownership of the protocols. When someone is mentored and involved early and often, it helps them feel like a contributor and a key member of the team as they grow with your organization. Getting new employees involved will help them understand your safety protocols more personally and can help you reduce that injury rate among first-year employees. Make sure your senior employees lead by example. They should practice what they preach and proactively address issues as they arise. See the following examples:

Demonstrate safe behaviors and follow safety protocols like wearing appropriate PPE and practicing safe habits with tool use and storage.

Proactively identify safety hazards, inspect work areas and equipment, and identify potential hazards before they arise.

Encourage reporting and feedback by promoting a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting safety concerns, and both providing and receiving feedback.


Conduct Ongoing Assessments & Inspections

Your employees should understand their role in creating a safe workplace more than they should fear being wrong. If you approach inspections from the perspective of continuous improvement as an assessment, you can stimulate collaboration and comprehensive commitment to your safety protocols. Have experienced employees work together with new employees to assess operations and execution of work. If they spot an issue, don’t wait. Remove the hazard or repair it as soon as possible. Communicate the issue to your employees. Make the expectations clear for all involved.


Report & Review Incidents

Document all incidents, even minor ones. Report and review accidents to help identify potential patterns, including dangerous tasks or recurring problems. If you have recurring problems, make it a priority to address those problems with everyone on your team. Establish goals to create a clear road map for expectations and progress toward improvement. Include measurable safety performance indicators and monitor progress.


Communicate Often & Celebrate Success

Share your reports with your team. After all, it’s their work and their responsibility. They should know how they are contributing to developing a culture of safety. There is great power in continuous communication to help reinforce messages. When possible, focus on the positives of opportunities to improve. Positive reinforcement and feedback play a pivotal role in promoting workplace safety and helping everyone understand how they contribute to success. Recognize individuals and teams for their safety leadership. Reward safe behaviors. Provide regular updates and reminders through email, texts and newsletters to continue to cultivate your culture of safety.


Partner to Prevent Injuries

A theme of this article is working together to improve safety. Consider the help of your insurer, who can use their experience to help you minimize injury risks.

If you don’t have a safety plan, work with them to assess your operations and develop a safety plan (it’s likely to be the first thing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration asks to see if an inspection is required). If you do have a safety plan, your insurer can help you pinpoint where you might need to improve — and how it can benefit your bottom line.

Taking the time to assess your approach to safety may provide long-term benefits, including improved morale and word-of-mouth recruitment, and it may help prevent significant financial losses to your business.


Be an Active Leader

In this tight labor market with inflated medical costs, it’s even more critical to keep your employees safe — and to find any competitive advantage you can. Strong leadership is required to set the tone so your team understands safety is a priority. Provide it. Work with your team leaders to make sure they extend and reinforce your commitment to safety. Everyone on your team should know that if something’s unsafe or could cause an injury, they are empowered to stop work immediately. That should be clearly stated in your safety policy and should be a part of all the ongoing communication outlined in this article.


Looking Forward

This article isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but it should give you an opportunity to assess your approach to safety. Review what you’re doing, how you coach your team and your opportunities to improve how you’ve operationalized your safety plan. And if you don’t have one, the time to get started is now. Instill a positive focus on continuous improvement, and your employees will feel supported, so they will support each other — and hold each other accountable to help ensure everyone’s safety and well-being. Safety begins with a commitment. And it continues by involving everyone in your organization. If you have any questions, contact your local experts or insurer to discuss a plan specific to your business.


Image courtesy of Sentry Insurance.