No element of football and construction is more similar than the importance of teamwork. Protecting the quarterback and not leaving a wide receiver vulnerable for a vicious tackle on a reception are basic football tenets that aim to prevent injuries. But the project team on the New Meadowlands Stadium went farther than the standard practices when it tackled the topic of safety for workers on the $1.6 billion project.

The team used a multi-layered plan to inculcate and reinforce safety thinking at every step of the project, starting with mandatory drug tests and site safety training for all participants – enforced in part by successful “graduates” of the program getting completion stickers to put on their hard hats. The routine continued with daily and other periodic activities stretching from the mundane to big-picture items. For instance, workers started each day with “stretch and flex” exercises to help prevent soft tissue injuries, and all workers had to wear their personal protection equipment at all times, with additional levels of gear and training for those working from heights, such as fall protection apparatus.

The protocols didn’t stop at prevention. The project had an emergency medical technician onsite in case of accidents. And when those did occur – at an impressively low rate of 37 recorded incidents across nearly 4.6 million man-hours – a rigorous review and “lessons learned” process kicked into gear.

The procedures included a mandatory review meeting for each “lost time” incident involving the relevant subcontractor’s supervisor and project manager, Skanska’s project superintendent for the zone of the accident, and someone from the program safety director’s team. They would not only dissect what happened in the incident but also discuss corrective actions, necessary worker retraining activities, and disciplinary measures. Those determinations would then flow back into meetings and training sessions with superintendents and subcontractors, all focused on preventing such incidents from reoccurring. The team also conducted similar reviews for other incidents requiring medical treatment or involving “near misses.”

“The project overall incident rates were 70% below OSHA national average for the construction industry,” says David Korman, who is the environmental, health, and safety director for Skanska USA Building. He led the safety effort at the project, which included specific modules such as “Save a Life,” a fall prevention awareness and training campaign.

“A key success was the off-site fabrication of the light baskets, which enabled us to assemble, paint and install offsite, thus reducing potential exposures to numerous workers who would have had to perform this work 180 ft above the ground,” Korman adds.