As an index of what people are thinking, event themes can serve an important function. 

The 70 or so partner companies that organize Construction Safety Week, the annual industry education and awareness focus that started in 2014, have chosen a singular message of jobsite safety unity, “Strong Voices, Safe Choices,” as this year’s theme for the May 1-5 event. 

There’s a lot we can read into that title, aptly noted by Mike Burke, chief operating officer of Alberici Constructors and 2023 Safety Week chair.

The voices called out in the theme belong to “everybody on that project site” and that the idea of a strong voice implies an underlying idea of “strong listening,” he says.

An open exchange of ideas isn’t new safety thinking. Employers these days widely accept the idea that every worker has authority to stop work if an unaddressed hazard is observed. 

But Burke asserts that what’s needed goes beyond what is now being done. “What we are doing is digging deeper and analyzing whether we’re truly getting people to raise voices and stop work at levels we want,” he says. “I don’t think we’re satisfied we are where we need to be.”

What’s sought is a stronger connection between management and craft, Burke says. Some of the hoped-for free flow of information he acknowledges can be attributed to the influence of “New View” safety—ideas at the heart of why ENR chose Matt Compher of specialty contractor Quanta Services as this year’s Award of Excellence winner, illustrated in this issue’s cover story by Deputy Editor Richard Korman.

“We want people to have their heads up and talk,” is the way Burke puts it. “We want to make them feel heard and respected.” Other Safety Week event organizers speak of the importance of involving craftworkers in pre-task planning and soliciting input in how to safely execute in the field before work gets underway.

This is where the subject of listening and learning gets interesting. New View safety requires soliciting input from craftworkers about how work is done and managed. In his seminal book Pre-Accident Investigations, consultant Todd Conklin advises companies to ask staffs to identify high-consequence activities and emerging small signs of problems within the normal work process—but that’s just a prelude to what’s needed.

Conklin suggests asking workers where they think the next accident will happen. “You will be surprised by what you learn,” he wrote. “Your workers know where your system makes sense, works well and is efficient.” Conklin adds that they “will know exactly where the system is setting workers up to fail.” But critically, he says, something must be done with the information.

How many management-level ears are ready for that type of critique? How many craftworkers will trust that the sting of their comments won’t be held against them?

Judging from the plans and pledges made for the upcoming Safety Week—more than ever before.