Cost efficiency is foremost on everyone’s mind in this economy, but one thing is certain: No firm can afford to skimp on safety.

Daniel B. Harvey

A focus on project and worker safety is a cost-saving move. An incident or injury can have short- and long-term repercussions on your firm’s bottom line.

Injuries are no longer considered “the cost of doing business.” Firms must view a quality safety program as a part of doing business. With the change in focus from “compliance requirement” to “value-based,” safety becomes an inseparable indicator of excellence as much as productivity and quality. By “doing it right,” workers remain injury-free and firms enjoy enhanced productivity and morale while avoiding the costs of downtime.

People and policies ensure safety In order for a safety program to be truly effective, all levels of the company must be involved, which can be accomplished with a safety committee, task force or team comprised of employees that regularly review safety performance and develop guidelines and goals. A company goal should always be to strive for “zero” incidents and injuries.

Many studies have shown an increase in workers compensation claims when there is a downturn in the economy. It is critical for a company to regularly review its safety programs and ensure that all policies and procedures are in place. It is equally important when subcontractors are involved. Poor safety performance by a subcontractor can be just as detrimental to a project as poor quality. Regular review of subcontractors’ safety records and policies contribute to a firm’s success. Incident documentation is important to address any weaknesses or lapses in work practices and prevent reoccurrences.

A good safety program should concentrate on two main areas: creating a safe work environment through work practices and focusing on workers’ behavior. The team should manage the policies, foster safety awareness and reward safe work practices.

A firm’s safety manual spells out responsibilities and training requirements, sets standards, provides guidelines for safety prior to and during a project and stipulates monitoring expectations. It also mandates response procedures if an incident occurs. For the employee, it drives home personal responsibility and project expectations. A safety program should not be created just to meet government standards, but as a guide to site-specific safety plans for a project. A safety program can be adapted for each project’s needs and should include project-specific orientation and training requirements, a crisis management plan and a project safety value stream. As new projects emerge, a firm should do preliminary site-specific analysis of potential hazards and implement proactive precautions. Once the project starts, the project team should walk the project daily to monitor work practices and inspect tools and equipment. This renews attention to safety procedures and identifies strengths to celebrate or weaknesses to eradicate. Review of the project’s safety performance by the project team should be done regularly.

Equally important is worker behavior. Companies must help workers understand that performance not only effects their lives, but family members, co-workers and the project. Behavior-based safety programs focus on reinforcing and rewarding good work practices and provide guidance to address concerns. Coaching, mentoring and rewarding safe work practices is more effective than focusing on deficiencies or negative behavior.

Valuing safety in practice A firm can foster high safety awareness by communicating safety statistics from active projects and the industry at large.

In all cases, safety planning is relevant. An example is the construction of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. By developing an elaborate scaffold system to build the vaulted ceiling, risks of a traffic jam of aerial lifts was avoided. Equal attention was given to raising and installing artifacts. The project had no lost-time injuries.

From two decades in the field of safety and risk management, I can confirm that through strong programs and planning, maintaining high marks in safety is one of the most cost-effective things any firm can do.