Promote your safety brand in everything you do because it will be a powerful differentiator for your company against its competition. (Perryman Construction photo)

Create a Culture of Safety and Good Business Will Follow

Ultimately, construction safety must become a habit and practiced by everyone every minute.

In the recent business bestseller, "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, there is a chapter about Paul O'Neill becoming the new CEO of the global Fortune 500 company Alcoa. Duhigg observed that, unlike most new CEOs who give their inaugural speech about their plans to lower costs and raise revenue and stockholder value, O'Neill's message on his first day outlined a single goal, that of improving safety and of making it an institutional habit. Although the investment community was initially shocked by his speech and his priority, O'Neill knew that his focus on safety would first lead to studying why employees got hurt, which ultimately would lead to making the entire operation more efficient and more profitable. 

With one simple rule, he dramatically improved the communication process in his massive organization, as well as making it safer. That rule was that O'Neill, as CEO, needed to know about every accident, within 24 hours of its happening, together with a plan for solving that safety issue. Suddenly, top managers had to become keenly aware of activities all the way down the line because they were directly responsible for safety and results.

When companies focus on safety, at least four valuable things happen:

  • Employees are safer and morale improves because they are glad you care.
  • A culture of safety becomes a valuable company benefit, such that better employees will want to work for you.
  • Both managers and employees take greater responsibility for operations, and results improve.
  • Profits increase due to streamlined operations and efficiencies.

We call this safety environment: a culture of safety.

The key to successful construction safety is to institutionalize policy and to build it into corporate culture and operations. Ultimately, construction safety must become a habit and practiced by everyone every minute.

Here are six tips for starting and maintaining a successful construction safety culture:

1) Make construction safety the CEO's priority.
A successful construction safety culture must start at the top. He or she must support it and become passionate about safety. The CEO must demand, as did O'Neill, that every safety issue must be communicated to him within 24 hours, together with a plan designed to ensure that the mishap will never happen again. When safety is highly valued and supported by the company's board and executive leadership, it will be important to everyone throughout the organization.

2) Make construction safety everyone's priority, without fail.
It should be obvious to everyone why having a culture of safety is valuable. However, when you quantify it, it truly hits home. Make raises and promotion available only to those who completely embrace the safety culture. Design key performance indicators (KPIs) around safety as well as results. Showcase and bonus employees who have demonstrated exemplary safety responsibility or leadership.

3) Empower all employees to be responsible about safety.
It is good to place responsible managers on every site who are knowledgeable about safety. However it is even more effective to train and empower every employee to be responsible for safety. Many companies have a chief safety officer, but unfortunately that is not enough. For the greatest success, empower everyone and enable them to make on-the-spot decisions about safety.

4) Communicate regarding construction safety on day one and every day.
Most companies do a decent job of training new apprentices and interns about safety and its priority at the company. But it is not enough to teach novices on their first days and rarely again. There are two areas where this process can be improved: One is in making the safety priority a major part of the company orientation for all new employees, even top executives and experienced masters. The second area is continuity, reinforcing the culture of safety at every level—executive, supervisor, foreman, and others—as well as in on-site posters, newsletters, digital media, team talks, and wherever you communicate.

5) The culture of safety must extend beyond your company, to subcontractors and other vendors.
Your culture of safety should not end with your company and its employees. It must pervade your entire process, including subcontractors and other vendors. To accomplish this, one must create safety standards for subs, as well as your own employees. When you perform due diligence into their companies, safety must be part of the review. Ultimately, a process must be developed to monitor their safety results, too. Their quality and safety record are as important to consider as are their experience and skills.

6) The culture of safety includes staying ahead of the curve regarding the latest technology.
Your people are only part of the solution. Safer equipment and tools can make achieving goals easier. Develop an ongoing program to research the latest safety techniques as well as advances in technology, equipment, tools, materials, and in work procedures. Digital technology builds in features that enable you to track and record safety issues more effectively.

Ultimately, one can never take construction safety for granted because people, place, and equipment are always changing. Although the goal is to make construction safety a habit with everyone, employees should be coached to be on constant lookout for safety issues and then to take appropriate action when recognized.

When you commit to a culture of safety, it can become the essence of your company. Therefore, you can and should make it a major part of your brand image and message. Make your safety brand message part of your tag line, business card, email signature, brochures, advertising campaign, digital media message, presentations, and more. Promote your safety brand in everything you do because it will be a powerful differentiator for your company against its competition.

Bottom line: Most customers and prospects appreciate how a commitment to safety may cost more at the outset but is worth more in the long run because it contributes to their satisfaction and success, while reducing adverse effects from loss of morale and litigation. Ultimately, customers understand how, by working with a company that has a culture of safety, it burnishes their brand, as well.

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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