Operationalize safety to transform your business
by Bob Hasulak
March 11, 2016

Out of all of the private sector fatalities in 2014, one in five occurred in the construction industry. This statistic doesn't include the amount of injuries that are seen in the field every year, which are regularly numerous and often perilous. Many business owners understand the inherent dangers of working in construction and try to account for this by imposing new rules or leaving the responsibility to workers to fix the problem. But it might be time to consider that this may be more of a top-down issue. What if business owners and leaders had the ability to greatly reduce jobsite harm and bolster company safety? The good news is, they do. The following are a couple of ways you can start making strides in the right direction for your business.

Habitual is the Goal

In the book " The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," author Charles Duhigg shares the story of Alcoa, one of the world's largest producers of aluminum. The gist of the story is that a new CEO, Paul O'Neill, was brought on board in 1987 in order to cauterize the profit loss the company had been experiencing. Instead of concentrating on financials, he chose one large priority: to work toward zero worker injuries. This caught both employees and investors off guard. But O'Neill stuck by his approach, saying, "If we bring our injury rates down, “If we bring our injury rates down…it will be because the individuals at this company [have] devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence."

O'Neill was right. He transformed the entire company through this focus on safety. When construction companies want to increase jobsite safety for safety's sake, habits play a role. Instead of drawing up a new sheet of rules that your workforce must follow, analyze your team's habits. What actions do they take every day on a jobsite? What risks are present, and where do the most injuries happen?

Once you understand this, you can change those habits. For instance, if you keep experiencing large numbers of hazardous falls in the field, think about the protocol being followed prior to these incidents. Start by changing the habits of your team before they start work at significant heights, like requiring certain checks and balances regarding safety gear. The key is to ensure that the new habit you implement is simple and easy to do. Zero in on this one change until it truly becomes habitual, and then you can move on to the next safety goal. Small changes in safety practices can make all the difference, especially when your team becomes so accustomed to the new practices that they start doing them automatically.

Remain Open to Advancements

Beyond an emphasis on habits, there are other back-office steps that you can take to improve worker safety. This can usually be handled in one of two ways. The first is to evaluate a typical jobsite and identify the most precarious areas. You can then work with your leadership to create physical barriers wherever possible to remove workers from the threats. For example, if electrocution is a common issue, seek to install barricades that reduce the physical possibility of someone falling into danger.

The second way to make positive changes from the back-office is by staying open to new products and techniques. Often in the construction industry, business owners tend to remain rooted in the routines they have always frequented. They use the same products and rely on the same approaches, so they ultimately fail to progress. Give new vendors a shot. Often, by choosing a more modern product line, a company can drastically reduce its chances for injury due to welding. There are plenty of innovative companies on the market that offer safer, more cost-effective options than what is currently in regular use.

Jobsite safety is absolutely not merely the result of workers' behavior. Yes, you can begin to lessen injuries and fatalities by encouraging specific, new, safety-related habits. But these new habits need to be catalyzed by the leadership. You can also do a lot by physically separating workers from dangerous equipment, and by keeping an open mind where products and techniques are concerned. Newer sometimes really is better, especially if it means elevated safety. It's time to make the construction industry a less treacherous field. It truly is attainable if you take the right steps. And the good news is, it all starts with you.