The Safety Challenge of Industrial Construction

The construction environment poses unique challenges for any company trying to introduce important changes in safety technology. The entire population of construction workers goes where the work is. This is true from executive managers to clerical staff, from seasoned workers to the greenest apprentices. Pride in workmanship is the rule in the construction industry, which means that these professionals and skilled craftspeople aim for excellence in their own specialties. However, what about more general performance areas such as safety? With the adaptation of behavior-based safety (BBS) in the manufacturing sector since the mid-1980s, there has been a strong trend away from "departmentalizing" safety. The same trend is developing in construction.

Perhaps the biggest difference between manufacturing and construction can be summarized with the word 'continuity.' Factories take continuity for granted but for construction companies there is very little continuity from job to job. Construction projects change radically. The workforce changes radically, not only with each project but also during each project. On a project lasting 18 months, the time that personnel spend on the job site will vary from one day to the full 18-month life of the project, and the total turnover of personnel on the site may exceed 200%. On each job site there is often a mix of non-union and union workers, and the unions themselves are numerous and different. Moreover, as the construction industry has become more global, the workforce has become international. Finally, by definition the job site itself changes immensely as a project moves toward completion. With each phase of the project, the work environment is in constant change, and so are the tasks and levels of exposure to injury. And let's not forget the impact of the seasons and their varying weather patterns.

Faced with these recurring challenges, some construction companies (and construction divisions of manufacturing companies) are looking for new approaches. BBS is one of the approaches those companies are using. The following examples are from two different projects.

Project 1: On a recent project at a Fortune 500 chemical plant, a major construction organization achieved the following outcomes with BBS:

  • Over 950,000 hours worked without a recordable incident.

  • General contractor direct hires worked over two million hours without a Lost Workday Case (LWC).

  • After the kickoff of the behavior-based implementation, the general contractor's direct hires on the project logged 2.867 million hours with continuous improvement in safety trending to an OSHA recordable rate of 1.27.

  • Workers' compensation costs on the project were only approximately $0.18 cents per hour worked, down markedly from previous baseline rates ranging from $0.75 to $0.99 per hour.

  • With a project total of 3,553,200 hours worked, the days away rate or LWC rate was .11 and the severity rate was 0.7.

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