How to get to zero accidents

By Bob Miodonski Of Contractors staff Rosemont, Ill. Getting to zero accidents may seem to be an unattainable goal for some construction companies. Yet, research by the Construction Industry Institute in Austin, Texas, indicates that contractors with exemplary safety records share common best practices. The good news is that all industries are getting better at safety, said John A. Gambatese of Oregon

By Bob Miodonski

Of Contractor’s staff

Rosemont, Ill.— Getting to zero accidents may seem to be an unattainable goal for some construction companies. Yet, research by the Construction Industry Institute in Austin, Texas, indicates that contractors with exemplary safety records share common best practices. “The good news is that all industries are getting better at safety,” said John A. Gambatese of Oregon State University Feb. 6 at the 11th Annual Construction Safety Conference here. “Construction is getting better with more worker man-hours, fewer fatalities and lower incident rates.”

Gambatese analyzed two studies conducted by CII since 1993 and other research to determine which techniques are most effective in promoting jobsite safety. CII’s current study, entitled “Safety Plus: Making Zero Accidents a Reality,” seeks to expand upon its 1993 research.

According to the most recent study, which surveyed 400 of the largest construction firms in the country, a contractor would have a better safety record if:

Pay raises are based on safety performance;

Near-misses are documented (to learn what went wrong);

Safety perception surveys are performed (to ask workers how safe they feel on a project);

Training is formalized (since 25% of the firms surveyed provide no formal orientation);

Training is conducted by in-house staff (because this shows that a company is involved in safety to a greater extent than a firm that brings in someone from the outside);

New subcontractor employees are trained;

Workers take a test after receiving training (because they are more likely to study harder if they know they’ll be tested); and

Workers who don’t pass the test are retrained. CII’s 1993 research surveyed 482 people from 15 firms on 25 projects to determine the most effective techniques being used to achieve zero accidents. The study yielded five high-impact techniques:

1. Pre-project planning for safety;

2. Safety orientation and training;

3. Written safety-incentive programs;

4. Alcohol and substance abuse programs; and

5. Incident investigations.

In 1998, a study by the University of Florida found unanimous agreement among respondents from 18 construction firms with four of those five high-impact techniques. Only the effectiveness of safety-incentive programs was questioned by some of the companies, Gambatese said.

He concluded that the other four techniques are the surest way to zero accidents along with these additions:

Minimize employee turnover;

Evaluate employees and subcontractors based on safety performance; and

Get top management involved in safety. “Getting top management involved in safety is a big thing,” Gambatese said. “Top management should review safety reports, visit jobsites and be present at safety meetings.

“You need a safety culture on projects to show that you are proactive on safety and that you will not accept lost-time incidents.”