Safety has always been paramount in construction. But with COVID reshaping how we work, construction professionals are rethinking safety programs and implementing new innovations to build a better industry.
Here to talk more about the topic is Kaitlin Frank, Superintendent at Dome Construction and Co-Founder of the eMOD Safety App by BuildSafely, LLC. As someone who’s passionate about construction safety, Kaitlin has plenty of insights to share on the safety standards and processes the industry should adopt and what we can expect as we move towards a post-pandemic world.
Have a look at what she has to say.
Tell us about your role at Dome Construction.
Dome Construction is a mid-sized general contractor primarily in the San Francisco Bay area and southern California. My main function at Dome has evolved recently from primarily focusing on the field to training our 65 superintendents.
I’m working on building out a Field Bootcamp that would entail everything from onboarding our field staff to continuous training and improvement throughout our team’s careers at the company.
This initiative emerged when we realized that our training needed to be adjusted for our field teams. Our Department of Innovation and Learning has built out amazing training programs and our foundation series. My goal is to make sure our training is fit for the field and make sure our field staff has training that is specific to their day to day lives.
I’ve dabbled on the innovation side of things at Dome, but I kept falling back into a content creation and training role. I’ve switched over to focus on creating a boot camp to improve our success in the field.
Can you tell us more about eMOD?
eMOD is a one-stop shop for safety. It started off as a Dome tool, and we built it because we realized that we had a gap.
Our CEO asked our safety department, “Can you confirm compliance at all of our jobsites?” And the answer was not easily or quickly. There was no way to see what was being done in the field and relay it back into the office.
A lot of safety documentation gets done on paper, and it was supposed to be scanned and uploaded into a platform or folder. But there’s not a one-stop-shop to show things like whether every company has all their documents uploaded. You may be able to do it at a project level, but you definitely couldn’t do it at a company level.
There was no transparency from the field back into the office. As a superintendent, I was spending so much of my morning chasing administrative paperwork, trying to make sure that everyone had signed in and had filled out these daily safety plans. Those admin tasks were preventing me from doing my job and focusing on planning to prevent safety issues.
This was a big enough issue for Dome that we decided to build a solution.
We built the app and started all of our trade partners on it. We quickly began seeing all this information that we’ve never had visibility to before. That’s why we decided about two years ago that we were going to separate the companies completely.
Now, eMOD is owned by BuildSafely, LLC. Our co-founders are from Dome, but the company is separate now.
What inspired you to co-found the company?
It’s an interesting story. I was building a yoga studio downtown and was working with an electrician who was about to retire. I had worked with him for about six years at that point, and we were installing a step-down transformer on an electrical panel.
It was a small project, and he said, “Kaitlin, I don’t want to do paperwork. I just want it done quickly.”
And I came back to him because I’ve known him for a while. I told him, “Bill, I’m not doing this for you. I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for your daughters.”
See, his daughters were a couple of years younger than my sister and me. And my father is a general contractor — he’s a carpenter by trade. I never wanted that phone call saying he got hurt or wasn’t going to come home.
It moved me to watch this electrician who was about to retire and say, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years — I know what I’m doing. It won’t happen to me.”
But that’s the thing: it could happen to you.
I think a lot of our industry thinks they’re lucky and they’re immune to something unfortunate happening. What happens when your luck runs out?
There are a lot of safety solutions out there that stop at the foreman level. As an industry, we need to get the entire field crew involved in safety. For me, eMOD was a way to get the entire field team involved in safety, not just the foreman. This is the opportunity for people to get up and running with safety technology before they get left behind. It’s not going to be long before there’s another reason to prioritize safety, so it’s important for people to take action sooner rather than later.
I’ve said it again and again, “I don’t care how much time and energy we put into eMOD. If one more person goes home safe who might not have without eMOD, we’ve done our job.”
Do you think COVID will have a lasting impact on safety standards and processes in construction?
Yes. I think COVID brought safety to the forefront. Safety was always in the background everyone knew safety was important, but it was still an afterthought. Everyone was so focused on time and budget and getting things done. Meanwhile, safety meant paperwork.
But COVID raised a lot of awareness for people. And it’s important to keep safety at the forefront because we don’t know what will happen next. Is there going to be another pandemic? Will there be another one in the next couple of years or 10-20 years?
The pandemic showed people that we have to figure out another way to work. I also think this pushed companies to adopt technology.
As the industry transitions to a hybrid work environment and more people are back on the site, what should firms be keeping in mind to ensure safety?
One of the biggest issues we’re facing is communication — whether it be working from home or a hybrid arrangement where half of your team is at home, and the other half is on the jobsite.
Communication is important. There should be transparency about what the plan is and how we’re going to move forward.
It’s tough in the field because things are constantly changing. I think being able to graphically explain what’s going on would help. What protocols are changing? Where are people moving? How do we keep people separated?
Another big thing is psychological safety. How do we have conversations with people to make sure that they feel comfortable bringing things up?
When we talk about safety, we’ve always talked about physical safety, but there’s also the psychological side of things.
A lot of people are going to realize the psychological impacts of COVID are going to be different. People don’t always talk about it. But how do we get them there, and how do we change that mindset?
At Dome, we’ve been talking internally about how we’re going to roll this out and start those conversations. We’re going to break that barrier with our superintendents and then break them with our internal team — including our carpenters, laborers, and internal workforce.
Which other safety innovations do you think will be essential in our industry’s future?
We’re at a point where everyone’s trying to take safety from a paper process to a digital platform. We’re at phase one now.
In terms of where we’re going, we need to be proactive. What are we predicting? How can we track trends more frequently? These are important considerations, but a lot of that isn’t going to work for us until the field is at a point where they’re actually giving us good data. Once we get them to provide the data we need, we can be proactive and use information to create more analytics.
One of the questions we’re looking to change and add to our platform when we fill out a daily safety form is focusing on urgency. How much urgency or pressure are you under to complete your tasks today?
Are we going to see that there are more incidents when someone feels like they’re under a lot of pressure to finish what they’re doing to get to the next job? What type of pressure would that put on the field? I think that’s the next step of where people are going.
I can also see more emergency alert-type systems start to emerge. That way, when disasters occur or something happens on the jobsite, there are text messages that go out to people letting them know to evacuate or let us know if there are people still in the building.
Lastly, I feel that as things progress and as we start to attract more of this data, we’re going to have a stronger ability to evaluate and manage risks.