By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA
Many transportation design and construction companies consistently perform with top safety ratings. Why? They devote many hours and resources to protecting their most important asset: their employees. In other words, the lead by example. Below, we look at why and how several industry leaders successfully built a safety culture into their corporate DNA.
People, Not Statistics
Safety discussions can turn into a numbers game. And unless the numbers of injuries and fatalities are zero, a company isn’t meeting its target. Statistics are important to measure progress, to be sure, but it’s more important to remember that safety is about protecting, and saving, real lives. Listen to these company leaders and safety executives:
“To me, safety is simple—safety is solely about our people,” says 2019 ARTBA Chairman Robert Alger, chairman of The Lane Construction Corporation.
Ross Myers, chairman and CEO of Allan Myers, says his firm is safe “because of care, concern and personal commitment to one another and to our families and friends at home.”
Those killed or injured are more than numbers on a payroll, “they are people who have names and families,” says Selso Salazar, regional safety manager at Ames Construction.
There is, of course, a business element to emphasizing safety.
“Our competitive advantage is people, especially those in the field, designing, engineering and building our work,” says Scott Cassels, executive vice president of Kiewit Corp. “If we don’t commit to a culture that puts safety above all else, then we’re not only doing a disservice to those who work at, or with Kiewit, but we’re also not making sound business decisions.”
Adds Ben Biller, vice president and general manager of the Transportation Group at Burns & McDonnell: “It’s not just morally right; it’s also extremely economical to the project, because safety supports higher productivity and helps us avoid additional costs.”
Workers and managers alike all have a role in the effort.
“Actively involved and supportive senior leaders are crucial in developing and maintaining a positive safety culture,” says Dave
Hulverson, vice president of safety at Granite Construction. “When our craft employee team members are able to see senior leaders in the field attending safety meetings, conducting inspections, and having one-on-one conversations with them, they know they are valued and supported.”
Myers adds, “all of our employees understand that they are empowered to point out an unsafe act or situation and supported when they do so.”
It’s the same at Lane: “Regardless of title, role, or job, each employee serves as a metaphoric building block in the foundation of our safety culture,” Alger says. Employees have stop work authority.
Biller says safety begins with planning ahead and cultivating an attitude of accountability and innovation. Training and support are also prioritized.
Kiewit is using behavioral science and data analytics to understand why people lose focus or make decisions that lead to safety incidents. “Safety is not about a ‘company program,’” says Cassels. “It’s a ‘people program’ managed and owned by the people doing the work. That has helped us spot new issues we need to address, and has opened the eyes of craft workers on their decision-making and how they can be safer on the job.”
Safety Certification Helps
Myers is co-chairman of the ARTBA Foundation’s Safety Certification Commission, which oversees the Safety Certification for Transportation Project Professionals™ (SCTPP) program. It was created in 2016 to substantially reduce—or ideally eliminate—the nearly 50,000 people who die or are injured in and around U.S. transportation infrastructure construction projects each year.
It is aimed at the thousands of workers, supervisors, foremen, inspectors, designers, planners, equipment operators, manufacturers, materials suppliers and owners who can make a huge, industry-wide safety impact by learning core competencies necessary to identify and mitigate potentially life-threatening on-site risks.
For a growing number of firms and public agencies, SCTPP (puttingsafetyfirst.org) is becoming a key element in supplementing their own safety programs.
“We have found great value in the certification program and will continue to incorporate it as a component in our journey to zero,” says Barriere Construction Company Safety Director Paul Albrecht.
Bryan Stone, safety director at Superior Construction, adds the safety certification program “allows us to demonstrate that value by challenging our leaders in both the office and field to prepare for and earn this important credential.” Stone also serves as a certification commissioner.
Biller notes SCTPP has been accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) under the ISO/IEC 17024:2012 international standard. ANSI accreditation signifies the certificate holder has completed a prescribed course of study designed specifically to meet pre-defined industry requirements and that the program’s sponsor—ARTBA—has met, and continues to meet, international standards for quality improvement.
Burns & McDonnell is committed to having more of its employee-owners achieve certification, Biller says, “making them more prepared to identify common hazards on transportation project sites and prevent safety incidents that could result in injury or deaths.”
Safety-focused firms are not afraid to learn from—or partner with—their industry peers to improve safety. They keep working at it.
“No matter how good your programs and results may be, there is always something to learn from each other,” says Granite’s Hulverson. “Participate in industry associations like ARTBA and don’t be afraid to ask for their help when you need it.”Salazar, at Ames, recommends conducting a self-evaluation to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a company’s safety program. “Improve on those areas, including the strongest of them,” he says.
Remember to keep it simple, says Lane’s Alger. “Safety does not have to be fancy, complex, or intricate.”
He also emphasizes the importance of getting everyone involved in the effort.
“Every safety program or culture has to be driven by actions, not words,” says Kiewit’s Cassels. “And every company needs to look in the mirror to determine if they are as committed to safety as they think they are.”
(This story appears in the May/June issue of ARTBA’s Transportation Builder magazine.)