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As one of the most dangerous industries on the planet, construction focuses significantly on safety.  Our industry is focused on the health and safety of our tradesmen and for good reason.  Good talent is very difficult to find and none of us find any project so important that we need to hurt anyone.  Back in the early days of high rises, it was considered acceptable to kill a person per floor, boy have we come a long way since then, and really in just the last 100 years.

By now, it is impossible to operate a subcontracting company without a safety plan and every job we are on is typically guided by a General Contractor's or Insurance Company's safety policy.  What are these policies, typically 4-5" of what you can and cannot do.  We provide tests, videos, daily reminders, etc to our employees to ensure that they understand the merits of the program/policy.  But is that really driving safety results?  Alone I don't think it is doing anything positive.

For each gain you get in someone wearing safety glasses, the workers view it as a bureaucracy telling them how to do their job.  This is especially true of your most productive and seasoned employees.  For a craftsman who has worked for 20 years building monuments to mankind wearing work boots, what is the purpose to steel toed boots?  Only to put a restriction on him and tell him that the world is changing and what he always did was wrong.  Right or wrong, this is the message to a lot of employees.  Just look at the safety stats, most of the employees hurt are new to the industry or are very seasoned veterans.

So does that mean that safety policies should be scrapped?  Hell NO!  These are the laws and are typically derived from very sound logic to ensure safe behavior.  BEHAVIOR.  That is what we are trying to affect and thus the policy doesn't do much but state that if you don't do this and you get caught, there might be discipline.  Read another way that a veteran of your company may understand it: It is another way for them to fire me if they don't like me.  This view is very real since most of the craftsman did not join the apprenticeship so that they could read and memorize a 5" policy manual (it is pretty intimidating to them).

So how do you affect behavior?  Drive a safety culture first.  From the top down if you show that your #1 goal is the safety of everyone in the company, they will work safe.  This is not just sending out a safety bulletin or stating it at the Christmas party, it is living it every day.  Make it a point to bring safety into every discussion.  When you are reviewing a bid, ask questions about how did we address safety.  When you are looking to buy a new vehicle, ask which vehicle is the safest.  When you walk a job, pick up some debris that could be trip hazard.  When talking to an apprentice, ask him what he did to make his work area safe for him and other people in his area.

Safety is not a policy, it is a way of life.  Great companies with good safety records live safety, they don't police it.  If everyone is thinking about safety in a way that drives their life, they will come up with new items for the safety policy that help their job and make it more productive.  Remeber any culture starts at the top and filters down.  This is a free cost saving item, so you should be embracing it.  Don't leave it to your safety manager, but make sure that he lives the culture and does not just enforce the policy.

The Empire State Building set the new standard for construction as it was built in 410 days (talk about fast track) and just 5 deaths.  We build differently now where fatalities are not even considered acceptable, but why are sprains, cuts, broken bones, and other injuries that happen every day in Construction?

About the Author

Craig Pierce

Craig Pierce has been working in the construction industry for the past 25 years helping subcontractors master their trade. Currently he is President of Atalanta Enterprises which provides consulting services to contractors And software solutions through