Construction Safety – Statistics or Performance

Construction Safety – Statistics or Performance

By David Fiore

Those of us in the Construction industry have seen the trend in safety toward accountability for our safety programs.  We are now more than ever held accountable by our customers to have detailed safety programs that make safety a priority and have safety statistics to back it up.  We continually see the published statistics of contractors that have worked 500,000+ man hours without a recordable incident or RIR of 0.5.  These statistics are published like a badge of honor that cannot be blemished.   Unfortunately, our Employees carry that badge as a covert threat that they are not to be the one to break the “ZERO” injury performance.  Our focus on the statistics and draconian responses to incidents more often results in a culture of statistical management, re-classification of incidents, lack of reporting and other measures that are counter- productive to creating a truly safe work environment defined as an environment that is actually absent of injury and/or property damage.

The example goes like this:

Company Y displays signs and communications around “Safety First”, “1 million man hours without a recordable injury”.  Everywhere you turn the message is clear – “we don’t get injured at Company Y”.  Employee X cuts his finger severely enough that it likely requires stitches, but Employee X is concerned about destroying such a long standing record for something as small as a cut finger. He gets a rag and some tape and tapes it up or he tells his Supervisor he has to leave for the day (as the supervisor sees the blood dripping) and the “wink-wink” – no injury happened on my watch today, my employee had to leave for a personal matter event just occurred.  The Supervisor certainly doesn’t want to be the one to be responsible for breaking the golden record.   So the statistic goes on and stands until an incident occurs that just can’t be shifted outside – a workplace death or serious injury that gets on the news.

Or let’s say the Employee and Supervisor are bold enough to report the incident triggering the dreaded Corporate investigation, Safety Roundtable, Etc….  Employee X and his supervisor get to face a virtual Congressional inquiry that ensures that the employee and his supervisor will never want to go through that experience again.  The focus of the inquiry is on the Employee and Supervisor’s role in the injury and rarely focuses on how Corporate allowed a work environment that could result in such an injury.  Not to mention, once the Corporate review has identified that it is the employee and supervisor are the problem, they don’t have to worry about doing any work to fix the problem.  The final result is two employees that will do everything they can not to report another injury which filters to every direct co-worker of that employee and every direct report for that supervisor.

So, under this scenario, which I will contend is closer to the truth for most companies, we are developing a culture of ignorance and avoidance of safety.  The culture has to be one of recognition and reward for actual safe actions not meaningless and manipulated statistics.  At my company we are working hard to develop this culture – it’s a work in progress, but I do believe my crews have a much stronger understanding of what is safe and what is not AND they know it has nothing to do with a set of statistics – it has everything to do with their awareness and how they behave.

A safety culture is not created through statistics or investigations.  A safety culture is created through the regular recognition and avoidance of the workplace risks.  This requires training employees daily to recognize unforeseen risks and behave appropriately to avoid the known risks.  A safety culture is being aware of what can go wrong in any given situation.  Employees must be encouraged to recognize and report anomalies to the system.  They have to have a continued heightened awareness of risk.  If we approach our job sites with an understanding that they ARE DANGEROUS environments and that things can and will go wrong we will do a better job of creating a truly safe environment.   When we see an unplanned action or identify an unexpected hazard we must stop, communicate and repair the unplanned hazard to ensure ongoing safe performance of the job site.

I propose that a true safety culture is one that drives a focus on 3R’s Recognition, Reporting and Repair of hazardous conditions, and hazardous behavior.  The valuable statistic to track is how many 3R’s occur on a daily basis and more is better than less. In an inherently dangerous environment there are hazards staring each of us in the face daily.  It’s unacceptable to me that any employee can state that no hazards existed that day – because they were either not trained to identify them, not paying attention or don’t care.  Instead, the industry typical standard safety reports show a safe job site because no one got injured or nothing got damaged.  Our safety inspections show perfect scores because we don’t want to stir up any issues or a dreaded investigation.  Fiore crews are encouraged to identify at least (1) one safety observation or hazard recognition per day and are rewarded for that effort.  The bigger the hazard the greater the reward.  I get excited when my crews report 2 – 3 hazard observations during their day.  That tells me they are focused on safety rather than ignorant to the hazards that flow around them all day.  I will never say that we are perfect as I know we are far from it, but I encourage Contractors to look at safety differently.  Stop managing statistics and start managing safety.

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