The pursuit of zero injuries

The construction industry has a reputation of tough people doing a dangerous job. And while a lot of people see our projects under construction, they probably do not realize the most important thing being built is a profound culture of safety.

These days, our tradesmen are trained from the start to think about how ignoring safety requirements can devastate lives – not just theirs, but those of their kids, spouses and other loved ones. The severity of not following safety protocols sinks in when the devastating consequences are reviewed. It is not surprising to see even the most rugged worker tear up when examples of these very personal impacts are discussed.

Real change happens when employees begin their days with the end goal in mind: getting themselves and their coworkers home safely. This mindset does not happen by accident.

It takes a realization with everyone from leadership to the line workers that safety is not just a priority or something that can come and go, but a cultural foundation for effective companies. The old macho reputation, and behavior that went along with it, have given way to new practices that are now common, like the wearing of gloves, safety glasses, harnesses and bright vests.

The big-picture impact of this changing emphasis on culture is enormous. Our industry employs roughly 10 million workers in the United States, many of whom work on job sites of sophisticated movements and demanding tasks. Yet, since 2006, overall construction fatalities are down 36 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That decrease amounts to hundreds of lives saved. Yet we think in terms of individuals – every single person on the job, every accident that must be prevented. Progress is not enough. We know tens of thousands of workers are injured in our line of work each year, and tragically, hundreds die. Our mission is to get those numbers to zero.

The responsibility starts at the top. To keep up the sense of urgency, 44 leading companies from the industry joined forces this year for the 2nd annual Safety Week, a period of training and awareness that typifies our year-round safety commitment. The guiding premise of ‘Many Roles – One Goal’ is for our industry to treat worker safety as a non-competitive and collaborative mission. Our effort has garnered much valued support from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and several leading industry associations.

At A&P, this meant 4,504 construction workers on 60 jobsites from Seattle, Washington to Charlotte, North Carolina participating in daily activities, such as safety talks, crisis management drills, risk analysis and fall protection demonstrations. We also asked each worker to make a personal commitment to A&P’s Choose to ACT and Why I Work Safe campaigns.

Choose to ACT was designed to promote Awareness, Commitment and Teamwork. All A&P employees, as well as subcontractors, are asked to take the following pledge:

  • To be Aware of my surroundings at all times, every day.
  • To Commit to stop any activity on this project that I feel is unsafe, without fear of retribution.
  • To take responsibility for myself and all of my Teammates to ensure everyone goes home safe at the end of the day.

A&P’s Why I Work Safe campaign encourages all employees, both in the field and in the office, to focus on the personal reasons why they maintain A&P’s high safety standards. This often includes a reference to children, spouses and other family members who count on them coming home every night.   

While Safety Week has come and gone, our mission of sending everyone home safely continues. The daily safety process includes providing all the proper training and the right gear while also recognizing and mitigating the inherent risks on a job site. These are tasks that our companies take seriously.

The deeper challenge is winning over the hearts and minds of those in harm’s way. That is why our safety orientations are not just about making employees aware of work requirements; they are about understanding the true cost of unsafe work. We include families in safety awareness events to remind them that their loved ones are counting on them. We drive home the point that no budget or deadline is ever worth cutting corners. A culture of caring and practiced caution is how we stay safe.

As our industry continues to embrace the safety culture, the driving motivation is our workers’ health. In a survey of construction contractors nationwide, McGraw Hill Construction found that the most common reason firms adopt safety practices is a concern for their workers’ well-being. It is important to note that promoting safety helps give our industry many other positive results.

In another McGraw Hill Construction survey, 71 percent of respondents said safety programs have had a positive impact on the number of reportable injuries. At the same time, a little more than half of those surveyed said safety practices also had a positive effect on their projects’ return on investment to include productivity and workmanship. A safe project is usually productive and profitable!

A&P values our role and our home in the communities that we help build, and we want the public to know that safety is a big part of our story.

The tough-guy construction image may not go away anytime soon. But the next time you see one of the millions of men and women of our industry wearing a hard hat, just know there may be something you do not see – the photos of their children tucked inside, their daily reminder of why safety matters.