Savvy contractors have significantly cut jobsite injuries in the past few decades by transforming safety practices into a science. Recent innovations include using more statistics as well as the latest technology. Some firms are taking a cue from psychology and employing behavior-modification techniques.
Companies use statistical data from outside resources such as OSHA and the Construction Industry Institute (CII) at the University of Texas at Austin, but many also compile their own. They track recordable injuries, medical treatments, near misses and lost-time cases using tools such as job-safety analysis. Then they analyze data to help prevent future injuries.
"Our company is using more statistics, and as recordable incident rates drop, we have to reach out and find more information to strive for improvement," says Rich Baldwin, director of health, safety and environment for PCL Construction Enterprises Inc., Denver. "We're digging deeper." Baldwin adds that PCL's accident incidence rate is "considerably below 1." By comparison, incidence rates in 2011—the most recent data available—for nonfatal injuries and illnesses in American construction was 3.8, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The incidence rate is the number of injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time workers.
Contractors used to rely largely on lagging indicators such as Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) and Experience Modification Rate (EMR), which measure past safety performance but don't help much with prevention. To head off problems, more companies now examine proactive leading indicators like workers' attitudes and behavior as well as jobsite conditions.
"We're looking through the windshield instead of the rear-view mirror," says Matt Ogle, safety manager at Kansas City, Mo.-based JE Dunn Construction Co., about the contractor's use of leading indicators.
Another effective safety tool used by contractors is behavior modification, long practiced by psychologists. Firms employ the "active caring" method rather than punishment to change unsafe behavior.
"As opposed to the old strategy where a worker gets reamed out, contractors are trying to create a culture where the employee is fully engaged in safety," says Wayne Crew, CII director. "They're training employees how to tell somebody they are exhibiting at-risk behavior."
"Keys to safety these days include active caring. … If I see a guy who's not wearing safety glasses, I don't just tell him to put on glasses," says Ogle. "I say I care about his eyes. That leads to zero evaporative acts."
PCL instituted a program whereby employees learn to be safety observers. If observers see a worker or a crew doing something unsafe, they address the problem with the workers. They can even stop work, if necessary.
"Ninety percent of all injuries are caused by behaviors," says PCL's Baldwin. "We are doing more behavioral safety training with supervisors and workers—things like keeping your mind on your work, following the rules, and why you should follow the rules."