To what degree are you taking advantage of best practices to improve safety on your jobsites? Dodge Data & Analytics recently conducted a study for CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Planning in which contractors were asked this same question about a series of very specific practices. And the results, published in the Contractor Use of Safety Best Practices SmartMarket Brief, were surprising.
Some practices mentioned in the study deal directly with hazards like reducing noise levels from construction equipment and risk of injuries due to falls. Other practices pertain to the hazards associated with materials, such as preventing injuries while lifting or moving materials.
In addition to the adoption of these specific practices, the study also examined larger issues of how to create a safety climate on-site that includes leadership by supervisors and foremen, as well as the use of lean approaches to minimize waste and improve training and communication.
The study’s findings share one common feature: They reveal the degree to which the industry can still improve its use of practices known to improve worker safety, health and well-being. In accordance with the results, the following are four safety best practices that need to become commonplace at your worksites.
1. Manage Hazards Before Construction Begins
In addition to broad underutilization of safety practices in general, even with simple practices, such as using hearing protection, there is a clear trend of large companies (with annual revenues or $100 million or more) to use many safety best practices more frequently than small companies. Despite the financial advantages that large companies have, giving them the edge on safety, there are still practices that small companies can take advantage of.
One category in which large companies consistently perform better than small ones is advanced hazard planning. This arena extends as far as the advanced planning of ways to reduce noise exposure, which midsize companies (those with revenues of $10 million to just shy of $100 million) seem to find particularly challenging. Only 28 percent of midsize respondents reported believing their company handles advanced planning well—compared with 36 percent of small companies and 42 percent of large ones.
Similar gaps in advanced planning are reported in the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries. Seventy-two percent of large companies do worksite planning and task planning to address this issue, but only 51 percent of small and 56 percent of midsize companies do. Yet, this kind of planning can be done by any size company.
A similar pattern emerges when looking at materials-handling best practices. Nearly all contractors from large companies (86 percent) reported that they formally plan for how materials will be handled once work is awarded, and almost three quarters (72 percent) reported that they meet with employees for a discussion on how materials will be moved.
Yet, only around 63 percent of small and midsize contractors develop a formal plan for materials handling, and only 54 percent of them are conducting those meetings with employees. To engage in effective advanced planning, contractors need to draw upon their experiences with previous projects, and having that information captured in a systematic, consistent way aids with the process.
Additionally, few large, midsize or small companies reported that they review how materials were handled after project completion. Only 40 percent of large companies do this on more than half of their projects, and even fewer small (30 percent) and midsize (26 percent) companies do. Without this final step, the ability to plan better for the next project is compromised.
2. Take Advantage of Online Safety Tools
As revealed by the study findings, another opportunity to improve jobsite safety, especially for small or midsize contractors, lies within the many websites and online tools that provide useful information and materials for improving safety.
Contractors were asked about how frequently they use six of these such sites, and with the exception of CPWR’s “Work Safely with Silica and Create-A-Plan” tool, all of these resources were used by fewer than one quarter of respondents. And even this one exception is used by well under half of study respondents.
The study also demonstrates that these websites provide value to the contractors that use them. Most were rated as having a moderate or higher value for improving safety by more than 70 percent of those that use them. These sites included the Stop Construction Falls, Choose Hand Safety, and CPWR’s Construction Solutions database, as well as the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health.
The gap between the percentage of contractors using them and the percentage who find that they provide value suggests that wider use of these online resources could help contractors access practices and solutions, ultimately helping them improve safety on-site.
3. Mentor Subcontractors on Safety Performance
One way to enhance the safety climate of a project is to make sure that all workers understand the safety goals and parameters of the project, and the best way to do that is to provide health- and safety-related mentorship to subcontractors. But, contractors in the study were asked how frequently they supply this type of mentorship, and the findings show that this is not a common practice.
Only 58 percent of large companies do this on the majority of their projects. Among the small and midsize companies that felt this practice applied to them, only 29 percent and 35 percent, respectively, reported they frequently provide safety mentorship.
So, what do smaller firms need in order to improve their health and safety performance? The highest percentage of respondents from small firms reported that they want printed materials related to site-specific safety and health hazards, as well as toolbox training resources. About half of small contractors also reported wanting assistance in conducting a job-hazard analysis (JHA) and to be supplied with safety equipment.
However, large companies rated the importance of assistance conducting a JHA and receiving safety equipment much higher than the small companies did, and over half believe that small companies need assistance on injury- and illness-reporting procedures, even though only 21 percent of small companies feel the same.
4. Practice Lean Construction Widely
Lean construction is not technically a safety best practice. However, its goals of eliminating waste and improving the process of construction are frequently supported by enhanced leadership and communication across the organization. These same qualities are essential to enhancing safety, and safety is also a key performance indicator of success for lean projects. Therefore, the industry’s embracing of a lean approach would have a direct impact on safety.
Most contractors in this study (71 percent) reported that they are at least familiar with lean construction. This is a significant increase over the 52 percent of contractors familiar with this approach, who were surveyed for the study Dodge Data & Analytics conducted in 2013. However, in the current study, only 21 percent reported actually implementing lean procedures in their organizations.
The low level of adoption is not an indicator that contractors do not recognize the value of lean, however. Interestingly, over 70 percent of respondents consider lean training valuable for foremen/lead workers, project managers and supervisors, which closely aligns with the percentage who reported being familiar with the lean approach, rather than the percentage actually using a lean approach.
The study also demonstrates the link between lean and safety, especially when it comes to leadership on-site. Over half of the contractors in the study with a high level of familiarity with lean practices strongly agree that enhancing frontline supervisors’ leadership skills improves their ability to engage crew members in coming up with ways to get the job done more efficiently and more safely.
Meanwhile, fewer than one-third of those who have less familiarity with lean practices share that point of view. Those with a high level of familiarity with lean practices are also more likely to strongly agree that the relationship between foremen’s safety leadership skills and safety climates on jobsites is strong.
An important aspect of a lean practice is the ability for leadership on-site to actively engage all workers in improving processes, through a bottom-up approach to gaining insights on potential improvements. This truth extends to safety, so it is no surprise that contractors who are more familiar with lean construction are also more aware of the need for leadership on the parts of foremen and supervisors as a means of engaging the workforce as a whole and creating a good safety climate on the project.