For the vast majority of construction companies, getting their workers home safely at the end of a workday is their number one priority. Nevertheless, construction jobs are risky by nature. According to OSHA, one in ten construction workers is injured annually. This means that more than 20% of workplace fatalities in the U.S. occur on construction sites.
It’s clear why firms are dedicated to creating and refining construction safety programs with new technology – bringing us to our fifth key performance indicator (KPI) in our 2020 Digital Construction Playbook series.
In our series so far, we’ve discussed foundational digital strategies to improve construction documents, RFIs, change orders, and construction scheduling. All of these KPIs are part of the seven, identified by a recent Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics, that most impact project performance. If you haven’t already, we strongly suggest to benchmark where you currently stand when it comes to these KPIs. Our Construction Health Check – a free 15-minute assessment – is a quick and easy way to do just that.
Are you ready to improve your construction safety program for 2020 and beyond? Let’s explore, below.
The Current State of Construction Safety & Inspection
Truthfully, managing construction safety and inspections is a massive undertaking. Every project is different, and all companies have their own standards. Beyond that, the amount of work inundating contractors and project teams is not slowing any time soon. Global construction growth is forecasted to hit $8 trillion by 2030.
On the one hand, growth is exciting. But it also brings increased risks for workers on the jobsite. As jobsites get more complex, human beings undergo greater physical load and higher stress. Accelerated schedules generally mean field teams are expected to work faster; increasing the likelihood of missed details and mistakes, with construction site safety sometimes suffering as a result.
To better manage safety programs, many companies have turned to technology. Nonetheless, the Dodge study reveals there’s room for improvement:
A (Big) Gap in Use
When it comes to utilizing software to manage safety and/or inspections, more than half (53%) of general contractors report using it on at least half of their projects. Good – but not great. This means that many safety incidents are still being documented with analog processes, siloing issues that cannot be automatically connected to detect patterns of unsafe incidents. Surprisingly, there’s a big difference in the usage of this software in large (greater than $100M) versus small (less than $100) companies. While 56% of small companies reported they utilized safety/inspection software in the majority of their projects, only 20% of large companies used the technology at the same frequency.
While there could be many reasons for this disparity, it could be that smaller companies are more successful at getting policies and practices implemented consistently. On the other hand, large companies might be willing to try things on a project or pilot basis, but establishing full-scale standardization across the company can be very challenging.
Lack of Use from the Field
Perhaps some of the most concerning findings from the Dodge survey is how little safety/inspection software is being used by those completing the work.
A mere 19% of trade contractors report using software for safety and/or inspection on the majority of their projects.
Trade contractors are far more likely to suffer from injuries and fatalities on a project as they are physically on jobsites executing. Sixty percent of both general and trade contractors feel that using safety/inspection software during construction is of high value to improve the process. So why is adoption so slow if the appetite to use is so high?
One likely culprit could be a lack of personnel to set up processes, manage tasks and ensure adoption. The entire global construction workforce is experiencing a severe skilled labor shortage. Therefore, to keep up with both the growing demands of construction and maintain safe sites, construction companies should consider processes that make inspections and identifying areas of risk faster and easier.
A Strategy to Improve Construction Safety and Inspections
Improving construction site safety is not something that happens overnight. Steady and continuous improvements (with refinements along the way) are key to creating strong and lasting safety programs.
In this article, we’ll explore a two-fold approach to improving safety programs, including the inspection process, for construction projects. First, we’ll focus on the foundation of all safety initiatives: company culture. After that, we’ll discuss some of the specific strategies needed to adopt and improve safety programs and inspection documentation using construction software. While there are many physical efforts to improve safety (such as improving PPE and creating “fall-proof” construction sites), we won’t be covering those today.
Now, let’s dig into how you can create a digital foundation to improve safety and inspections.
- Make Safety Synonymous with Company Culture
- Strengthen Your Digital Foundation for Construction Safety and Inspections
First, the safest construction companies have an organization-wide understanding of and buy-in to the safety programs. That means all employees know about which safety processes the company has adopted and how they work. This is thoroughly ingrained in the culture, and employees know it’s part of their job to take action on it. No excuses.
Also, building buy-in on a project basis is crucial to maintaining safe workers in varied environments. As one example, Bancroft Construction takes an in-depth look at safety on all projects. According to a Brand Manager for the company, “We build safety into our projects from the very beginning so that the well-being of workers, facility users, adjacent property owners, and the general public is identified as a priority.”
The company actively participates in design reviews to account for safety considerations. “Contract documents are revised, if necessary, to be consistent with Bancroft’s and the client’s safety policies and practices. A Project Execution Plan (PEP) is developed in cooperation with the project team and contains comprehensive safety criteria pertinent to that particular site and project.”
Beyond participation for just internal employees, the safest construction companies ensure their culture extends to their partners. For instance, in addition to prequalifying subcontractors for safety records, general contractors should look to educate and build trust with their trade partners on site, so safety standards are met across the board.
For a high standard of safety, a one-and-done training session with a video is not enough. The safest construction companies don’t just strive for the bare minimum requirements, but rather prioritize safety continually and in new and engaging ways. That means offering frequent training and refreshers, full instruction on each new process or piece of equipment, and an open-door policy regarding safety questions.
When it comes to training, aim to keep it as relevant as possible to individual jobs. If your company doesn’t yet have personalized safety training plans put in place for each employee, it’s time to invest in implementing those today.
Furthermore, safety programs don’t have to be strictly obligatory and dull. Many contractors are finding innovative ways to get their teams excited about safety, ranging from safety incentives for zero injury incidents to actively participating in Safety Week discussions and presentations. In fact, creating the right incentive safety and recognition program can be the icing on top of the cake for solidifying employee participation. While traditional incentive programs are controversial because they can sometimes encourage underreporting, there are effective ways to still reward good behavior. For instance, “behavior-based” programs reward employees for engaging in EHS management and reporting issues and near misses. Programs that recognize proactive behaviors, especially ones driven by upper management, will ultimately build participation and help firms meet their safety goals.
Communication and collaboration are essential to building trust and relationships on a jobsite–and a core element to a safe company culture. But to build reliable communications, transparency and accuracy are fundamental. After all, teams can best assure safety when all risks and hazards are known. The world’s safest construction companies always aim to create solid practices around documentation and control, preferably using connected and cloud-based collaboration programs that enable the whole team to access up-to-date information whenever they need it. Simply put, old processes like the heavy reliance on email and using Excel to track progress detracts from transparency as information and data can remain siloed.
By first improving documentation with cloud-based software that captures all changes in real-time, teams can reduce the risk of missing information and data that could create hazards to jobsite staff. Plus, more information paints a clearer picture of what’s going on, so teams are always prepped for the day ahead. If you’re looking to improve documentation on your projects, head over to our first KPI deep dive on construction documents.
Completing construction reports and checklists, whether for construction safety or quality inspections, can often be tedious. In fact, a typical OSHA safety checklist can include over 500 items on one list alone. However, navigating through these lengthy checklists is made easier and faster thanks to project management tools. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting and setting up software to simplify processes:
Create Standard Forms and Checklists
Consistency is a key component of ensuring safety on site. Forms and checklists for safety reports and checklists are no exceptions. When checklists and reports come in a variety of formats, important safety issues or inspection items are likely to be missed. Instead, establish standards using software that allows you to set up and customize templates for Incident Reports, or Safety Checklists. Creating standard forms will ensure all needed information is captured and tracked, ultimately enhancing documentation and transparency.
When software can be used in real-time to capture issues and inspections, it’s more likely to improve safety outcomes with accuracy. Aim to adopt software platforms built for mobile. This means that mobile applications are easy and fast to use across devices, and cloud access ensures changes can be captured even without service or WiFi.
Advanced Issue Tracking
In safety and inspections, details matter. Top project management software will allow teams not only to create checklists, but also assign them–including location details and deadlines–to team members, roles, or companies. Once assigned, site supervisors and even other subcontractors can check in to see the status of unresolved items.
Predictive analytics is on the leading edge of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) applications and their capabilities are just now being explored to improve safety and inspections in the construction industry. In terms of safety, Smartvid.io is one of the companies leading the charge, enabling users to apply machine learning to mine existing data and images. Smartvid.io built its technology to seamlessly integrate with cloud-based project management software like BIM 360, which enables them to gather data directly from the source. Companies like Suffolk Construction and Skanska have successfully used the platform to analyze their visual data for potential safety issues and risks.
Just 2 More KPIs in our Digital Strategy Series
We hope you found our fifth post in our 2020 Digital Construction Playbook series on construction safety and inspections useful. Next week, we’ll dive into our next KPI and one of our favorite topics, labor productivity.
We’re always open to feedback and suggestions on this and other blog posts. Have something to share? Add a comment below!