Here’s the good news: construction demand is on the rise. The bad news: there’s no end in sight to the shortage of skilled workers and laborers. The lack of a readily available workforce is having safety consequences for contractors of all sizes and specialties.
Historically, the people who get hurt on job sites have more than eight or 10 years of experience, or less than a year. That’s sobering, considering today’s labor market. Industry veterans who are shouldering the burden are working longer hours and know all the shortcuts. They are also more distracted because established routines have changed. That’s a dangerous scenario. On the flip side, those with little or no construction experience are being hired more and more often, and they lack the working knowledge to stay safe.
Despite the challenges of a tight labor pool, there are ways to improve safety. Two of the best: tap your outside resources and empower your team.
Valuable outside resources
Free and low-cost resources are readily available to improve your safety culture, starting with your insurance broker. They have a unique vantagepoint and can handle virtually any safety need—with their own team, through carriers or by engaging outside professionals for you. The carriers have numerous risk control people, but any one carrier may not have the experts you need.
The best brokers navigate carrier resources and backfill with their own people or third-party providers. They also develop a safety plan for you, relieving your short-staffed team of both planning and finding the experts.
Another resource to tap is OSHA. The safety authority has programs like the National Safety Stand-Down, and the Focus Four which provides training on how to avoid the leading causes of injury or fatalities: electrocution, being struck by equipment, being caught in or in-between, and falls.
Engage and empower your team
One of the best ways to advance safety is to maximize your own workforce. It starts by engaging your people. Here are some specific suggestions:
Establish a safety committee
Getting your workers invested in safety requires a constant effort. A workplace safety committee is a proven strategy. Yours can become PA state certified and earn you an annual 5 percent discount on your workers’ compensation premium. Even without certification, the committee can empower your field workers, give authority to your middle management and clout to your project managers, as long as they have a seat at the table.
Make sure all experience levels have a voice. Even recent hires can be valuable as they offer a fresh perspective. The committee can work together on a wide range of initiatives, from updating safety manuals to selecting PPE.
- Reward ideas
Be sure to acknowledge ideas—even the small ones—and if they make sense, move forward quickly if possible. Most importantly, reward that employee and communicate about their contribution across the company.
- Hold safety huddles daily
Make talking about safety a habit, from the very top of the organization to the frontline worker. Effective communication is the key to avoiding accidents and injuries—and the daily huddle is the answer. A 5-to-10 minute meeting should be completed on every job site, by every crew leader…every day. It is invaluable to safety and productivity. It opens the door for team members to discuss project concerns, safety issues and general workflow.
Beyond the safety huddle, make safety an agenda item at every meeting, from project plans and updates to all-company get-togethers.
- Have supervisors lead the way
Your supervisors need to understand the importance of their role as leaders, modeling safe behaviors. The employees are watching and supervisors’ actions communicate far more than what they say.
If you do not already have a comprehensive onboarding and orientation process related to safety, create one. If you do have one, invite feedback from your new hires. Also think, is this the time for retraining your veteran employees on different safety measures?
Put safety at the forefront by talking about it in every meeting, every day. Hold your supervisors accountable for modeling safe behavior. Tap employees’ insights to create a safer and more innovative workplace, and train and retrain your team. Finally, don’t forget to deploy the resources of your broker.
Safety isn’t a one and done; it takes constant effort. But what could be more important than ensuring your workers go home at night safe and sound?