Maintaining a safe environment is one of the major concerns on construction sites, but a safety-focused state of mind is often unrealistic for employees without reminders in place. During a recent webinar, a panel of experts shared their insights about the science of safety and how to cultivate a meaningful safety culture that prevents injuries. The webinar was sponsored by Engineer News-Record and Procore.

“Our team worked together over the course of three years to study serious incidents and fatalities in the construction industry and in particular, to focus on how to incorporate a new concept called precursor analysis into the industry,” said Matthew Hallowell, professor of construction engineering at University of Colorado, Boulder.

Hallowell’s team looked at previous incident reports and identified 43 precursors to safety failures. They sent five randomly selected cases to participating companies and organizations for review. Based on the precursors provided, they had to determine whether that case ended in a fatality, near miss or a safety success.

This process helped fine tune the precursor list to 16, including fatigue, distractions and an employee’s tendency to improvise. Hallowell suggested asking employees a list of open-ended questions to help determine a job site’s safety threshold and the probability for failure. The process involves spending five to seven minutes having engaging with crew members about their preparation for the job.

“I see this as a new technique that isn’t necessarily a new piece of paperwork or a new safety protocol, but a way to have the conversations that you’re already having and make them better and more structured with more scientific validity,” said Hallowell.

Carl Johansen, section manager at Consolidated Edison Company of New York, spoke about safety culture from a quality management approach.

“When you think of safety, a lot of times in the industry it’s not associated with quality, quality management or even risk management. Safety is sometimes just a box to check, but when you add safety culture as a risk to a project you’re really talking about a risk to business through cost overruns and a bad safety record,” said Johansen.

He showed the DuPont Bradley Value Curve, which illustrates how more teamwork results in lower Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) incident rates and a higher ability to achieve operational excellence.

Johansen focused on increasing value by combining quality, risk management and safety management through certifications like the American Society of Quality offers a construction quality manager certificate to achieve this value.

Kristopher Thorne, chief operating offer of Limbach gave a presentation on a “hearts and minds” approach to safety.

“Traditional actions and fines haven’t worked,” he said. “It tends to take a tragedy to get people to sit down and write new policies and procedures. What can we do to make safety a priority?”

The method Thorne promoted is to remind everyone why they want to work safely.

“We have everyone come in, including upper management, and remind them about who they have to go home to. We have everyone write a letter to their family about what they’d want to say to them if they just passed away on the job. It really hits home that they need to be safe on the job site,” said Thorne.

He emphasized the personal responsibility people should take for their fellow workers if they see potentially unsafe behavior.

“We want to educate, enforce safe behavior with extra training, create mentor programs rather than “gotcha” programs and recognize and reward safe behavior,” said Thorne.

According to his analysis of the changes this program has had, worker compensation was down 68 percent and there was a 61 percent improvement of employee’s feelings about safety. Thorne also saw a 43 percent gross profit margin increase.