Safety Matters: General contractors focus on job-site safety with in-house training programs

By Marcy Marro On any construction site, safety is a priority. And to the general contractors, builders, installers and subcontractors that work on that job site, it is especially important that all of their employees make it home to their families each night. “Construction is a hazardous, but rewarding business, and you don’t stay in… Continue reading Safety Matters: General contractors focus on job-site safety with in-house training programs
By Marcy Marro

safety1On any construction site, safety is a priority. And to the general contractors, builders, installers and subcontractors that work on that job site, it is especially important that all of their employees make it home to their families each night. “Construction is a hazardous, but rewarding business, and you don’t stay in business if you hurt people, or negatively impact your clients business continuity, or the surrounding community,” says Tony O’Dea, vice president, director of corporate safety at Gilbane Inc., Providence, R.I.


To make sure that all of their employees make it home each night, many general contractors have their own in-house safety programs. “Our safety program is based on the premise that protecting the safety and health of our employees, customers, subcontractors, the public and the community is a core value of Rudolph/Libbe,” says Mark Hoffman, health and safety director at Walbridge, Ohio-based Rudolph/Libbe Inc. “Our program emphasizes the personal commitment, individual leadership, teamwork and management involvement in order to be successful.”


Safety Programs

Will and skill is the foundation for all of Rudolph-Libbe’s safety initiatives, explains Hoffman. Skill is the training, experience and knowledge needed to work safely, while will is the personal commitment to make sure all the skills are utilized to work safely. “We look at will and skill as being a 24/7/365 culture, because we want everybody to be safe not only at work, but at home as well,” he notes.


“What we strive to do through our training and our meetings with associates is to get everybody to make that personal commitment to safety and understand that everybody is empowered to be a leader in safety, and everybody has the responsibility and authority to stop work and correct a hazard if they see it,” Hoffman adds.


Gilbane’s safety program, Gilbane Cares, rests on five pillars: safety leadership at every level; superior safety training; active, visible management; consistent execution; and a transformational culture. Led by an executive leadership team, the members come together to review performance, look at best practices, emerging trends and share feedback from employees on how programs are being implements. They also direct and advise their respective regions and the company in terms of safety program execution, O’Dea adds.


Gilbane keeps a consistent safety approach across the company, which allows for innovation and creativity as developed on the project and by the respective Gilbane Cares leadership teams, describes O’Dea. Regional safety managers meet with O’Dea regularly for a Safety Peer Group that shares best practices, reviewing and visiting each other’s projects, along with the project of the different business units.


Rudolph-Libbe’s senior management leads its safety program, and actively and visibly demonstrates its commitment to safety. In addition to weekly toolbox meetings, they regularly visit job sites, holding project managers and superintendents accountable for safety on projects.

“We hold our project managers and superintendents responsible, and we look at our safety professionals as serving as consultants to support our safety efforts,” says Jim Philo, Rudolph/Libbe’s vice president of field operations. “If there’s some outside help that the team needs, we will involve safety to help us plan the project.”


Philo goes on to explain that all Rudolph-Libbe subcontractors are also included in the company’s will and skill approach. Subcontractors need to be pre-qualified, in addition to meeting with management and estimators to review his approach to safety, as well as his scope and pricing. “Our project mangers, as well as our superintendents, hold pre-installation meetings on all evolutions of work, including our self-performed work, as well as our subcontractor work,” Philo says. “And safety is an integral part of that planning process.”


Rudolph-Libbe also involves associates in keeping projects safe. Pre-task planning sessions take place twice a day to help identify and mitigate hazards before any work begins. If conditions or a task changes, the expectation is that the crew stops work to hold a pre-task planning session before continuing. “We require associates to complete safety task analysis cards at the beginning of each shift, and we emphasize to associates that this is the moment of truth,” Philo says. “This is the brief time in which an individual can prevent an accident by making the right decision. At that point, we talk about what could go wrong and identify the solutions prior to doing the work.”


At Crossland Construction in Columbus, Kan., safety coordinator Doug Westervelt notes thatemployees are rewarded for stopping life threats and turning in near misses.


Employee Training

Gilbane’s safety training program is managed by Gilbane University (GU). “GU has a number of course designers that work with each functional group in the company to develop courses that teach their respective and collective experience, including safety,” O’Dea explains. “From the first day that someone starts work at Gilbane, they attend an online safety orientation communicating our culture, the resources, contacts, basic safety requirements. That’s followed up by an intensive four-hour incident-free orientation. And along with that, our employees are registered for various safety classes depending on their position, and based on a curriculum for safety for each position that we’ve developed.”

Those courses include OSHA’s 30-hour construction safety and health course, introduction to environmental operations, safety leadership training and accident investigation. The completion of courses are monitored and reported monthly to management, along with being included in employees’ individual development plans. “Every employee has a learning history report that’s run and reviewed during their annual review cycle, to ensure that they are taking advantage of all the instructive online webinars, and various safety courses we have available for them,” O’Dea says.


In addition to a pre-hire orientation, all new employees at Crossland receive different colored hard hats to wear on the job site. Employees and subcontractors also go through job-site orientation and daily pre-task planning.There are also weekly safety meetings, and Westervelt notes that all employees go through the OSHA 10 Hour class, with superintendents also going through the OSHA 30 Hour Class. Additionally, all employees receive yearly OSHA refreshers.


safety2Safety and Technology

Technology can even play a role in how safety is handled on the job site. For example, Crossland uses SafetyNet workplace safety software by Predictive Solutions, Oakdale, Pa., to record all observations whether they are safe or unsafe during an inspection. “If there is something unsafe then we classify it as either low, medium, high or life threat,” Westerveltsays. “At the end of the inspection, the job receives a percent safe score.”


The safety inspection and analysis program helps construction and other companies at a high risk for catastrophic injury or loss to predict and prevent worker injuries while improving quality and productivity. As Westervelt explains, SafetyNet has helped with everyone getting a score. “All jobs are ranked by their percentage safe,” he says. “This gives us a ranking of which jobs are safest and which jobs need help.”


Gilbane uses a combination of lean construction methods and Building Information Modeling, or BIM, to help with job-site safety. “We found that using lean construction methods, such as just-in-time delivery, a commitment to excellent housekeeping, orderly worksites, utilizing pre-fab and pre-assembly has had a significant positive impact on project safety,” says O’Dea. The lean construction methods are used to reduce the safety hazards involved in the installation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, such as the challenges and hazards of working in tight and overhead areas.


O’Dea goes on to explain that BIM is used to better prepare proper access areas for staging, building access, roads for cranes and heavy equipment, along with the general site utilization plan. “With this process, areas are laid out ahead of time to reduce and eliminate clashes in the construction process and make sure work flows efficiently,” he says.


For the building interior, O’Dea explains that BIM helps with ensuring that structural elements, and mechanical and electrical equipment are coordinated effectively to eliminate clashes and reduce the challenges of working on ladders, hot work, working in overhead positions, as well as the challenge of having to demolish or reinstall work because it hasn’t been coordinated properly.


Low Accident Rates


Having low accident rates means a lot to general contractors. It means that companies are doing everything that they can to ensure their employees get to go home at the end of the day. It also means that they get to enjoy lower insurance rates and fewer OSHA inspections and fines.

“Our people and our contractors enjoy being a part of an organization that ensures that lives and livelihoods are protected and cared for during the construction process,” O’Dea says. “And they demonstrate that by their engagement and efforts supporting our safety program. Our clients appreciate that our low rates will ensure the safety and productivity of their capital projects, and adjacent operations. And therefore they provide us opportunities to bid on their exciting projects, and since our insurance rates are among the lowest in the industry, we have a much more profitable bottom line.”


The need for safety on a job site is a full-time, company-wide project. As O’Dea explains: “We are a construction company. We build solutions for our clients, and safety is not merely something that is bolted on in the process of executing a project, or a process of reacting to unsafe conditions when they are found. Safety is part of the operational excellence. Executing a project efficiently and effectively, including safety. The communication and planning involved in executing safety has related benefits to improving productivity and quality. The effective coordination to mitigate hazards benefits the efficiency of the project. When safety is pre-planned in, there is less damage and re-work, which makes projects more efficient and profitable for everyone.”

12 Steps to a Safer Job Site


ACE USA, Philadelphia, recently released a new white paper called “Building a Proactive Safety Culture in the Construction Industry: 12 Steps to a Safer Job Site.” Written by ACE Construction’s George Cesarini,vice president of risk engineering; Geoffrey Hall,senior vice president, and Matthew Kupiec, assistant vice president of risk engineering, the paper discusses the critical need for construction companies to build a culture of safety that is ingrained at all levels, beginning at the top.


The report discusses how fostering a successful safety culture is an investment that can provide real benefit only when initiated as a company-wide effort that entails commitment and participation from everyone involved. “While building a safer workplace requires constant effort and continual improvement, the results are well worth the investment of time, resources and money,” says Cesarini. “Additionally, a proactive safety culture not only helps to save lives, but it also contributes to retaining workers, reducing claims and delays, and enhancing productivity and profitability while strengthening a company’s reputation.”


It also discusses insurance considerations for the industry. “In working toward a safer workplace, construction companies can tap the extensive knowledge of specialists who are well-versed in the unique risk management needs of this industry,” says Kupiec. “Project planners should work with their carriers to determine the most effective risk management strategies before a project begins, while it’s being built, and through completion.”


The authors recommend 12 steps that construction companies can take to help make the job site safer, keep projects on track and manage insurance costs:


  1. Start at the top
  2. Make safety committees and safety managers a part of the job
  3. Recognize success, but hold everyone accountable
  4. Plan safety into the project
  5. Prequalify subcontractors for safety
  6. Train workers for safety
  7. Focus on fall management
  8. Combat substance abuse
  9. Evaluate each project phase for safety
  10. Make safety an everyday topic
  11. Review accidents and near misses
  12. Work with your insurer and risk management experts


To learn more, the white paper can be downloaded at www.acegroup.com/us-en/assets/progress-report-proactive-safety-culture-in-construction.pdf.