Safety programs and policies are actually an important part of getting the job done on time and on budget, helping your company retain employees and win work.
As a project manager or field supervisor, your top priority is getting the job done – done right, on time, and on budget.
But there’s another critical aspect of your role that might seem to be in opposition to that goal. Keeping your employees safe is often seen as a hindrance to working efficiently in the field.
But that school of thought couldn’t be more wrong, according to Carl Heinlein, a Senior Safety Consultant for American Contractors Insurance Group.
“Safety should be part and parcel of what you do,” Heinlein said. “In the organizations I work with where safety is a core value, it’s not just a No. 1 priority – priorities can change. It’s a value.”
Safety Makes Jobs Run Smoothly
Not only is practicing safety in the field important to keeping employees healthy, lowering insurance rates, and winning jobs, but it’s also key to helping those jobs run smoothly.
Heinlein said the best safety-conscious companies start before the job begins, with pre-planning and coordinating.
“It doesn’t matter what size the project is, if you’re not on the same page as the general contractor or subcontractor or suppliers, that’s bad preparation,” he said. “Then you have things going out of whack – parking equipment in the wrong area, getting sequencing wrong, etc.”
And while that’s not directly a safety issue in itself, poor planning and lack of coordination can quickly lead to bigger issues.
This can be especially dangerous for heavy civil construction teams such as those working on roads, highways, and bridges. The lack of yard space to park equipment and crew vehicles and store materials makes for tight work areas.
“If you’re not pre-planning and going through the pre-bid and pre-job planning and daily huddles and managers meetings, then when something goes wrong, you’re parking over top of each other or swinging equipment over each other,” Heinlein said. That is what causes injuries and accidents. Then it becomes a safety issue.”
Quality of Work Equals Safety
Heinlein said quality of work causes a majority of injuries and accidents on the job site. He said through his company’s reviews and research, many injuries happen when there is a lack of teamwork, communication, and planning in the field.
Rushing to get things done on time – or early – can also contribute.
“There are very often opportunities to make bonuses off of getting the job done by a certain time, but when you have something go out of whack, that throws things out of schedule,” Heinlein said. “Now everyone is trying to catch up, and this is when you really need to take a minute to sit and talk it through. When you try to catch up is when you let your guard down.”
Rushing through a project may seem like the best way to get ahead, but it is often counterintuitive to making money.
In fact, Heinlein said, having to redo something that was not done correctly in the first place is often the main cause of an accident.
“We’ve seen jobs where 40 percent of the accidents were during rework,” he said. “It wasn’t done right the first time, and now we have to go back and fix something. The equipment we need may not be there, or the right crew may not be available. Now you’re exposing your employees – maybe yours or your subcontractor or vendor’s employees – to another danger. That catches up to you.”
“Safety should be part and parcel of what you do. In the organizations I work with where safety is a core value, it’s not just a No. 1 priority — priorities can change. It’s a value.” — Carl Heinlein, American Contractors Insurance Group
Experience Means Safer Work
Heinlein said another issue facing construction today is a lack of experienced employees. Teaching new workers on the fly can mean slower work or increased danger.
“When you have a workforce that is aging, with new folks coming in, you have this turnover of information happening,” he said. “It’s a lack of experience. They may be good, hardworking folks, but they’ve never worked in a field like this.”
Taking the time to teach them the proper procedures and rules – and to ensure that you are exhibiting those values yourself at all times – is the most important way to ensure that new workers understand the importance of working smart.
And taking the extra time to really plan your work and your job site safety procedures is still the number one key to keeping employees safe while still ensuring your project is completed on time and with profit.
After all, a lack of safety can hit more than just the clock – it can also hit the bottom line.
Safety Hits the Bottom Line
Not only do incidents increase insurance rates and EMR’s, making you spend more per job and potentially keeping you from winning certain projects, but the direct and indirect costs of injuries – and fatalities – rises every year.
“In most cases, the profit margins on our projects aren’t so large,” Heinlein said. “Redoing work becomes a big cost. A lot of contractors may spend time looking at return on investment, but they don’t look deep enough at what accidents truly costs.
“We may feel that our job is profitable, but then we get hit with general defects or liability claims that may cost us a significant amount, enough to where our job really didn’t make money,” he continued. “In a perfect world, when you closed the book on a project you would know what losses are going to be for delayed equipment, production that went wrong, disputes, Worker’s Comp, construction defects, general liability claims, equipment claims. But in most cases, those are captured later. The companies that are really taking a look at dollar-for-dollar return on investment can start to craft an idea of what those costs will be.”