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The Daily Huddle: The Key to Safe and Winning Job Sites

By: Bill Burke, Madison Risk Group

Football season has arrived and Americans once again have weekend schedules filled with Friday night high school games, Saturday college contests and, of course, the NFL on Sunday, Monday and now Thursday nights.

After watching a game one Sunday evening I began to consider how football has many similarities to the construction industry—specifically construction safety.

In football, at any level, the most successful teams are those that communicate clearly and often.

The trend in the NFL right now is ‘no huddle’ offense which essentially denies the defense time to substitute and communicate effectively. This leaves teams exposed to mistakes which results in missed assignments and ultimately, the offense scoring points.  The ‘no huddle’ offense depends on effective communication among the entire offense via hand signals and code.

I am not convinced the construction industry is ready for that…so I prefer the old style, which includes the huddle. In construction safety, effective communication is the key to avoiding accidents and injuries—and the daily huddle is the answer to effective communication.

Over the years, companies have realized the significant value in safety training including safety orientation, site specific training, OSHA courses and tool box talks. These methods assist companies with informing employees of on-the-job hazards and protective measures by outlining the risks and clearly demonstrating to employees how to protect themselves. Now, it’s time to adapt the value of the daily huddle.

The Power in Pre-Game Huddle

Whenever I visit job sites, particularly in the early morning, I see workers milling around, gradually making their way to their respective work areas. Once they arrive, its business as usual and they begin their tasks.

There is no coordination.

There is no communication between leaders.

There is little communication between workers.

Occasionally, a supervisor may stop by and engage an employee in conversation, but employees and supervisors largely don’t communicate until break time.

Can you imagine the disasters that could ensue if coaches and players didn’t talk until halftime?

Safety concerns relevant to each crew’s work as well as other contractors working in the area should all be discussed prior to starting the work day.

The daily huddle—a 5 to 10 minute meeting—should be completed on every job site, by every crew leader…every day. It is invaluable to work flow, productivity and most important, employee health and safety.  Consider the accidents that have occurred over the last few years in your area.  How many could have been avoided with a simple 5 or 10 minute meeting?

Changing the Game: Collective Responsibility

We have all heard owners and employer’s say that safety is everyone’s responsibility. But how is this concept deployed?

The daily huddle allows everyone to be involved and opens the door for bottom-up communication.  It provides a daily venue for team members to discuss project concerns, safety issues and general work flow, voice concerns and even provide assistance to other employees including management.  Your employees are your greatest asset.  What better way than a daily huddle to tap into the experience of your assets? It allows the message to come from the worker, not management.

The daily huddle has multiple other benefits beyond opening the lines of communication:

Job Fitness: Your workers have varying habits after the work day ends. The daily huddle is a useful tool to assess each crew member’s fitness for duty that day. This may not on its face, be a major problem, but it’s a reality.

Injury Assessment: Use the huddle to ensure there were no injuries that occurred on site the day before. The huddle leader should ask the crew: “Were there any accidents, injuries or near misses that occurred yesterday?”  If there were, the daily huddle provides a highly effective platform to discuss the cause/ causes and identify preventive measures.  An essential method of accident investigation is to ask all parties involved what they believe caused an accident and what they think could be done to prevent reoccurrence.

Hands-on Training: For example, let’s say the work for the day is going to require an employee to be exposed to a fall greater than 6ft.  The daily huddle is the perfect time to make sure that he or she knows how to properly wear their harness, as well as any other fall protection issues.

How to Kick-off the Huddle

Contractors with effective safety programs are implementing the daily huddle and have formalized these meetings.

Here’s what you need to begin an effective daily safety huddle:

  1. Consistency: Take time for the huddle every day—no excuses—and start day one of any project.  Make these huddles a value within your organization.  Beliefs and habits change, values do not.
  2. Supervisor Buy-In: Supervisors must believe in the power in the huddles and make them informative and relevant. Project managers should participate as well.
  3. Documentation: Employees and supervisors put a higher value on tasks that are measured.

If any of the above mentioned elements are missing, the daily huddle program will fail.

Stop waiting for an accident or hazard to occur to respond to it.

Change the game with these proactive and preventative daily events that will pay big dividends on your sites immediately.

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Bill Burke is Vice President of Risk Management and Claims Services at Madison Risk Group, a specialty construction insurance brokerage based in King of Prussia, PA. www.madisonriskgroup.com