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Published: August, 2013; Vol 10, Num 3

 

Contractor Survey Shows High Regard for Safety

By Scott Schneider

Alternate description

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman
Noel C. Borck

"It's an important question," says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. "What do contractors think about safety? Cynics claim contractors only care about the bottom line, that safety always takes a back seat to production. But a new survey shows the opposite."

McGraw-Hill surveyed 263 U.S. contractors – over 100 were subcontractors – of all sizes about their safety practices. Based on self-reported data, the publisher found a large majority had robust safety programs. These were the top safety practices:

  • Including jobsite workers in the safety process – 81%
  • Analyzing the potential site safety hazards in preconstruction – 78%
  • Having an open door policy for workers to report hazards – 77%
  • Conducting regular safety audits with foremen/workers –
  • 74%Assigning/authorizing/appointing project safety personnel – 72%
  • Developing a site-specific health and safety plan – 70%
  • Site-specific training for workers and subcontractors – 63%
  • Investigating near-miss and other incidents – 60%

These practices were even more common among general and larger contractors, but lower among specialty and small (less than ten employees) contractors. Strong safety leadership among supervisors was identified by almost everyone as the top aspect of a world class safety program.

The survey also found that a good safety program improves competiveness. Eighty-two percent reported the positive impact of safety on their company’s reputation, a factor that helps attract talent and new business. Other findings include:

  • Fifty-one percent report increases in project return-on-investment (ROI) as a result of the safety program; about a fifth of these report an increase greater than five percent.
  • Forty-three percent report faster project schedules with a good safety program, and half of these report improvements of a week or more.
  • Thirty-nine percent report a decrease in project budget.

Identifying hazards in preconstruction and developing a site-specific health and safety plan were considered the most effective practices. Many general contractors (19 percent) said they were going to do more pre-screening of subcontractors in the next few years. Ten percent said they were going to focus more safety efforts on the design stage in coming years.

Why are contractors so focused on safety? The top (79 percent) response was "concern about worker health and well-being," but other top concerns were insurance costs, liability and business disruption. Almost two-thirds also cited owner or client demands and regulatory requirements, but those appeared to be secondary considerations. Half listed competitive advantage as a driving factor in adoption of safety practices. Small contractors said the owner was the biggest factor in their safety decisions while large contractors cited company leadership.

Safety training was cited as important, not just for workers, but even more, for foremen and supervisors. On-the-job-training was considered to be most valuable, followed by classroom training. On-line training was not considered as useful, although many used it. Contractors thought orientation training, supervisor training and the OSHA 10-hour were valuable, as well as safety culture and safety leadership training for senior management. Toolbox talks were seen as the most effective way to communicate about safety with employees.

BIM (Building Information Modeling), mobile devices (smart phones) and prefabrication/modularization were seen as growing trends in the industry which could have a positive impact on safety.

"The data in this report is instructive," Borck says in summary. "The evident, wide support for safety among contractors shows how important it is to their companies and their success. As we know from experience here at the Fund, labor and management both have powerful incentives to work together to advance safety in our industry."

The full report from this study is available from CPWR which helped fund the study.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA's Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]