The morning routine for Baker Concrete Construction Inc. coworkers involves stretch and flex and Mission Task Analysis.

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Baker's Recipe for Better Safety

Trust and involvement are vital components of the Incident and Injury Free safety program that has improved results for Baker Concrete Construction Inc.

Trust. Communication. Commitment. Family. SQP. MTA. The Incident and Injury Free (IIF) program begun on Jan. 1, 2007, is the foundation of Baker Concrete Construction Inc.'s safety program today, but the first four nouns in that short list are the hallmarks of Baker itself and the approach to safety that is making IIF so successful, says Jane Beaudry, CSP, CHST, corporate safety director of Baker.

Since January 2008, when the program was functional with 80 percent of company employees (all are called co-workers) trained, Baker's accident rate and lost case rate have steadily declined, to the point the lost-time rate is tracking below 0.3 per 200,000 man-hours and the OSHA recordable rate is below 3.0 per 200,000 man-hours. And the company's experience modification rate was 0.69 on Sept. 1, 2009, down from 0.86 in 2005 and 0.80 in both 2006 and 2007.

Baker's man-hours soared from 5,988,595 in 2006 to 9,674,367 in 2008 as its cost of claims per man-hour dropped by 38 percent.

Asked how IIF is working now, Beaudry replied, "I'm extremely impressed. I've been in construction now for 20 years; I've been in safety for 16 of them. I just continue to be amazed every day. I see the work that's being done, and we've just been able to sustain it. We're beginning our fourth year [of IIF]. That's a lot of energy."

Her experience includes a decade working as Skanska USA Building Inc.'s safety and environmental director for its regional office in Boston. She also has been a safety consultant and contractor safety coordinator for Pfizer Central Research and a safety specialist for Cianbro Corp. from July 1993 to July 1996.

She was working for Skanska when it started its Injury-Free Environment (IFE) program in October 2003. Both companies developed their programs with the help of JMJ Consultants, a consulting firm. (See "True Believers," Occupational Health & Safety, June 2005, http://ohsonline.com/articles/2005/06/true-believers.aspx?sc_lang=en). In both cases, the company's top executive initiated the program, and commitment from senior leaders was crucial to program success.

"They were always and continue to be actively engaged," Beaudry said of the operations managers at Baker. "Every meeting I attend, there's a continuation of, 'How do we do it better?' There's no resting on the laurels. People are genuinely committed."

Supervisors and foremen believe in the program because Baker is an organization whose culture involves caring for coworkers as individuals, she said. "We need to keep refocusing to see where we are in our journey. Everybody knows construction is dangerous; everybody knows people are likely to get hurt. But if you ask a foreman, 'Is anybody going to get hurt on your watch,' they always say no. . . . I think they're grateful that we're giving them the tools.”

SQP (Safety, Quality, Productivity) and MTA (Mission Task Analysis), which is a daily activity including an SQP conversation, are among those tools.

"It could be overhead work, housekeeping, working with other contractors -- it sets the tone for the day," Brad Folke, safety manager for Baker's Northern Operations business unit, said of the morning routine, which involves stretch and flex and MTAs. "That happens first thing in the morning. Leads and Keys communicate what the goals are for the day and get input from their crews on how they plan to accomplish them safely," he explained. (Leads and Keys are operational management, superintendents, and foremen.)

Baker conducts a companywide incident review call every Tuesday that includes near misses. From 20 to 50 people participate -- representatives from each business unit, project managers, superintendents, and Baker safety professionals are invited to participate. Lessons learned from the call are produced and posted on the company intranet; the lessons learned also are shared during weekly toolbox talks on the job sites. "Coworkers are interested to find out what injuries and incidents are occurring around the company," Folke said.

The call includes a review of the incident investigation report, MTA, and photographs for each incident, and the superintendent and project manager for each incident must be on the call. "They're kind of in the hot seat. You don't want to have your incident review, but you want to get the lessons learned to help prevent recurrence," he said.

For a severe incident, such as a fall, Baker will have a companywide stand-down. One happened about a year ago when someone fell while wearing a retractable lanyard and struck a lower level. Another stand-down was called because a forklift ran over the foot of a coworker who was talking with the forklift's driver. From that incident, he said Baker decided to standardize on types of forklifts that do not allow a body part to get inside the wheel area of the forklift, which is what had happened in this case.

In many regions, workers carry pocket-sized notebooks to record SQP suggestions for better and safer methods of working. The worker and foreman sign the suggestion, then an SQP committee recommends improvements to the project team, which reviews and votes on them. The best ideas get $50 or $100 gift cards. Since the program began, Folke said, 400 to 500 ideas have been implemented, including these:

Queen City Tower, a 44-story project in Cincinnati:

  • Faceshields and wrenches are signed out with chop saws from the tool crib.

Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio:

  • Small tools are marked and painted upon arrival at the job site so they can be identified and lost tools will be minimized. ($50 card)
  • CPR and first aid training was provided at this site after a coworker in March 2009 suggested providing 30-minute basic training because few on site knew how to perform CPR.
  • Gang boxes for carpenters were moved so all of the carpenters' tools would be together in a location close to the start of work each day, saving time in the morning that had been spent finding tools.

Miami Valley Hospital additions, Dayton:

  • MEVA panels are delivered stacked, with all being face down except for the top panel, which is face up. ($100 card)

Folke said one suggestion was providing lanyards with safety glasses because coworkers were losing their eyewear. Another suggestion solved lifeline problems with an excessive clearance distance (60 feet or more) to the slab below.

"With SQP Committees, we try to involve the workforce," he said. Each project with 500 or more man-hours per week in the business unit has an SQP Committee, rotating half of the members out each month. The goal is to have everyone on a project serve on the committee at some time during that project. Baker brings in a lunch once a week for a craftsman from each trade and one representative from each subcontractor to share ideas on how coworkers can make their jobs safer, better, and faster.

Asked where he believes Baker is now with IIF, he answered, "Everybody's on their own pace in this journey. It's a mindset that no injury is acceptable. We’re starting to see results."

'There is a True Sense of Family'
Beaudry agreed that trust and involvement are vital components of the safety mechanism. "The people that are working for Baker, they are truly coworkers," she said. "There are no blue collars and white collars. We're all gray. We're all the same. That's a big part of our culture: We know these people. These people have been working for Dan Baker for 10, 15, 20, 30, or 40 years. There is a true sense of family for a high proportion of people working here."

She said when she joined Baker in January 2008, its experience modification rate, citation history, and incident rates looked good. Why, then, did the company implement IIF when things were going well? "There were a couple of answers," she said. "Number one, they were very, very cognizant of their rapid growth. They were very nervous whether they were going to be able to sustain that sort of safety performance in the face of the kind of hours as the company was growing. The supervisors and managers, those core people who were so integral to the company's culture, were getting spread more and more thin."

New people were coming in who did not have 30 years of Baker's core values running through their veins. "They'd been in Houston for a while, but the Florida markets in 2006 were just starting to hit their stride. The Hispanic culture down there was something that provided significant challenges." Trust had to be built between coworkers and supervisors who'd been brought in from the Midwest and lacked insight initially into cultural issues that go much deeper than language, she explained. "Baker's workforce is now comprised of approximately 65 percent Hispanic co-workers, so this not a little issue, this is a big issue for us," Beaudry said. "Especially in our southern regions. The southern part of the country is a melting pot with a tremendously diversified population. Here, the reality of this diverse workforce presents challenges, in that actions and words can be interpreted differently by different people. . . . Not only is there a language barrier; what we were trying to accomplish with IIF was create a culture where everybody was a lifeguard, each other's keeper. That was a pretty daunting task."

In a period of rapid growth, the company did not want to lose sight of its commitment to safety, she said.

A 2006 coworker perception survey showed coworkers believed the company had a fragmented safety awareness and approach and also a significant gap between divisions and companies. Personal accountability was low, and the respondents felt safety competed with cost and schedule in importance.

Today, global and regional IIF teams now meet on a monthly basis. More than 6,000 co-workers received IIF training, and 10,000 copies of a safety video were purchased so coworkers could share its message with their families. Trainers delivered an eight-hour supervisor skills program to more than 950 trained Leads and Keys, helping them improve their abilities to assign SQP work, recognize and reinforce safe work, and constructively correct risky work behaviors.

Here's what coworkers can count on now from Baker's leadership, says Beaudry:

  • If you stop a task for a safety reason, we will back you up.
  • If you bring up a safety concern, we will address it promptly.
  • If there is an injury, we will conduct an incident investigation in such a way that the coworker is not blamed. We need to learn so we can eliminate the next injury.

In return, leadership expects these:

  • Plan your work, and then work your plan.
  • If it is not safe, don't do it, and don't have your coworker do it, either.
  • If you see something that is unsafe, speak up immediately, then and there, to your supervisor -- no matter whom and no matter what.
  • If you are not sure of something or do not understand something, speak up and ask.

A 2009 follow-up survey showed good progress has been made. More than half of the respondents said they will stop unsafe work and know they will be backed up if they do. On another question, 45.35 percent said safety is a core value at their company and really does come first. Coworkers were invited to write in additional comments on this survey, and the respondents provided more than 1,500 lines of comments, showing real engagement in the process, she said.

"The whole premise that we have completely embraced is that the true source of all your accomplishments is your relationships," said Beaudry. "The whole foundation of the entire deal, what we're talking about, is culture. You can only create a safe culture when people trust you."

At some other companies, the biggest challenge was maintaining the commitment of operations personnel to the program, she said. "Our challenge today is the economy. Margins are much tighter, in some cases nonexistent -- we're taking some work for cost. So we're anticipating people saying, 'Oh, there's no margin in this job, we're not doing this.' This concern has been sinking in the last few months. We have to be extremely proactive to make sure the crafts understand that when we're out on a job, there's no change in respect to IIF, no matter what the margins are. We want to make sure people understand that we can afford injuries even less now. If there are injuries now and there's no margin, then they are coming out of our bottom line."

"We know all about EMRs, and we know all about lagging indicators," said Beaudry. "And now, clients have a higher bar. The work we're pursuing, those clients have a very high bar. So if the EMR or those indicators creep, we're not going to get work. From a business sustainability standpoint, it's bad news. . . . [Safety excellence is] as much or more of an imperative now."

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