How to Implement a Safety Management Program at Your Construction Firm

How to Implement a Safety Management Program at Your Construction Firm

Start to think about safety as a comprehensive program.

The construction industry is full of risks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) for all industries, including state and local government, is three cases per 100 full-time workers in 2019. Some specialty trade had worse rates—midsize structural steel and precast concrete contractors average 4.2, and framing contractors of all sizes average 6.8. There were almost 1,000 fatalities and 250,000 medically consulted injuries in the construction industry in the US in 2020. Of these fatalities and injuries, many were preventable. 

OSHA classifies construction fatalities in four areas, with falls leading the group, followed by being struck by an object, electrocutions, and caught in between. If OSHA cites your company, it can be pretty costly. In 2022, OSHA serious violations cost $14,502 for each incidence, failing to fix the issue costing the same amount per day. Repeat violations are fined $145,027.  

To mitigate these fines and improve your organization's safety, construction firms need to deploy safety management software as part of a comprehensive safety program. An entire safety program for your construction firm should include:  

  • Safety Management Software 
  • Toolbox Talks 
  • Safety Training 
  • Change Management 
  • Building a Safety Culture 

Safety Management Software 

Safety management software turns manual, paper-based processes into digital assets. This software digitizes all safety records and reports. It allows companies to see the big picture of what is going on within the business.  

A digital safety management program allows you to capture information and create a proactive safety program where you can stop potential safety issues before something happens. 

Because your records are all digitized, it takes only minutes instead of days to generate compliance reports. Project managers are always up to date since they receive safety information once it’s submitted and can help take action to protect people and equipment at the jobsite.  

Foremen in the field can instantly log important safety information, such as inspections on each piece of equipment used for the day. Field crews can also report near-misses. If an incident occurs at a jobsite, your team can be alerted to the issue and be ready to change plans. Foremen can also keep track of attendants at safety meetings by taking their pictures and capturing their signatures on reports.  

Safety management software should come with a library of inspection templates and examples of safety meetings. These digitized forms of meetings, inspections and templates should be kept in one place for easy access and viewed daily, including information on state and country-specific regulations.  

Incident forms in the app help crews fill out pertinent information associated with an incident. Once the incident is digitally transmitted to the office, the safety manager can review the report, add additional information and sign off on the report. These reports should be saved permanently for OSHA-compliant recordkeeping.  

Choosing the right safety management program for your business can improve talent recruitment and help retain employees. With a talent shortage in the construction industry, an investment in your construction safety program can offset new hire investments and decrease turnover in your crews. Improve employee loyalty by showing that you care about your people.  

A strong safety record can show a solid commitment to growth. Incidents can damage your company's reputation and can prevent you from bidding on specific projects. A strong safety record may make your company eligible to bid on more projects. 

Toolbox Talks 

A toolbox talk is an informal group discussion that focuses on a particular safety issue. These tools can be used daily to promote department safety culture and facilitate health and safety discussions on job sites. Each day of a toolbox talk has a different safety theme. The talks are short—5 to 15 minutes—which helps keep safety on top of mind for everyone involved in a project.  

Start your toolbox talk series by reviewing any accidents or "near accidents" from the past week and a description of the hazards of the work as they relate to a project. Then each day, use a toolbox safety talk, like the examples below:  

  • Day 1 – What does safety mean? How can I help reduce injury to others? 
  • Day 2 – Tips for working around electricity safety, fall prevention, walking/working around equipment/vehicles and equipment barricading. 
  • Day 3 – Safety around high voltage, 100 percent fall protection, rigging safety practices, and concrete & rebar. 
  • Day 4 – Preventing occupational illness, hazards and how to reduce exposure. 
  • Day 5 – Building a safety culture, you are responsible, and team up and clean up.  

Safety Training 

Construction sites can be hazardous if safety measures are not adequately put in place and if workers at the jobsite are not properly trained. Skimping on safety training is not a good idea. Firms need to hire certified safety professionals to deliver safety training. These professionals have years of industry experience and understand all the regulations from OSHA and other safety standards.  

Safety training should be available in various formats so that team members can attend at their convenience. Online classes can be offered in real-time or saved so people can sign on when they have the time. Virtual or in-person workshops are another excellent avenue for initial safety training or follow-up training. Ongoing learning is essential in safety management training as tools and techniques change.  

When training workers, don’t try to include too many things in the course all at once. People learn in different ways and at different speeds. Just make sure to give them enough time to complete the training. To test knowledge, give employees real-world challenges to solve.  

Change Management 

To ensure workers will use the new safety management software and follow new safety procedures, change management processes may need to be implemented. Change management with a clear strategy and purpose allows an organization to make changes that benefit the business. It involves a methodology and guidelines for moving the change forward. To develop the strategy, identify change characteristics, such as how many people will be impacted and what is the timeframe for the change. Your organization needs to be assessed, and then the strategy created.  

Successful strategies include: 

  • Who will be doing what during the change? 
  • Selecting a change project manager and team members to lead the change 
  • Creating a sponsor coalition of leaders and managers who need to be actively involved in the change 
  • Anticipating resistance by predicting potential reactions to the change 
  • Understanding the risk of the change 
  • There are a variety of change management models that companies can follow. We like the John Kotter 8-Step Change Model, which involves: 
  • Creating a sense of urgency 
  • Building a coalition 
  • Forming a strategic vision 
  • Getting everyone’s buy-in 
  • Removing barriers to enable action 
  • Generating short-term wins 
  • Sustaining acceleration 
  • Instituting change 

Whichever change management model you choose, make sure it is suitable for your business and the individual team members.  

Building a Safety Culture 

When COVID hit, many firms were unprepared for what to do next and how to keep workers safe. It helps to be forward-thinking and prepare for the inevitable. Communicate with your team on what safety skills they lack and develop a process for easing their fears. Use toolbox talks to help team members be best prepared for an incident.  

Empower team members to create safety processes and ensure they know how to advocate for themselves. A safety program can't have safety procedures only made in the office. Business processes are made in the field, worked on in the office and go to the crews for approval. Get crews involved in developing the safety program as they will be more likely to feel like they matter.  

For exceptional safety behavior above and beyond the usual high level of safety behavior, make sure that the employee is recognized in front of their peers. Public recognition helps empower crew members to ask each other questions and become safety experts in their own way instead of relying on others for safety information. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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