Construction Safety Offers Economic Advantages

By Greg Sitek | September 28, 2010

Money cut from safety processes now could have an enormous cost later. There are better and smarter ways to protect the bottom line."

Mainstream news rarely reports the winners of construction safety awards. You'll never see primetime news broadcast zero in on a particularly difficult lift and placement that's executed with unmatched precision. What do you think your chances are of seeing a jobsite safety inspector check out the trench box before anyone climbs below grade?

On any given day there are thousands of construction projects buzzing with fast-paced activity; complex jobsites buzzing with material and supply deliveries; construction equipment moving around, on and off the job; construction workers performing dozens of difficult tasks all with the precision and harmony of a Broadway musical. Only a few notice that this is the routine type of activity on many construction jobsites around the country.

Let an accident happen and everyone notices. The very nature of construction work, all of it, is conducive to accidents. There are so many factors that come into play on any jobsite no matter how large or how small, that unless everyone on the jobsite is safety conscious an accident could happen; this includes visitors.

You don't practice safety, you live it. Safety has to become ingrained in every employee starting with the head of the company and that applies to any sized operation from the largest to the smallest. If the head of the company isn't concerned about safety the attitude carries on down through the ranks to the lowest person on the totem pole.

Jobsite accidents can result in the loss of life, limb and senses. It would be fantastic if we were able to eliminate them from happening, but because we are human all we can do is work at controlling them and doing everything within our power to minimize the risk.

This factor alone should be reason enough to make management the strongest supporter of safety but adding economics into the equation makes being safe even more compelling. A history of accident-free work days is an asset when negotiating insurance packages. Companies with goods safety and security records pay fewer dollars for this very necessary expense.

Another factor, accidents reduce productivity and slow a job. Typically an accident usually ends up involving more than a single individual. If the accident is serious enough, the investigation alone can set a project back days. If you have a good safety record, make sure you let your clients know that it's because you use safer construction methods, practices and equipment instead of less expensive approaches.

The benefit to them is no lost time and a higher level of productivity. There are companies that will walk away from a job rather than compromise their commitment to safety. When you think about it, it does make good sense.

Margaret Willard, account coordinator for Schroder Public Relations, who handles PR for Bovis Lend Lease, a general contractor that has spent millions of dollars on its safety program, makes an interesting and valid observation on the subject of safety. Willard observes, "One angle I've been trying to flesh out is how varying safety standards among various general contractors are keeping incidents rates higher than they should be. Subcontractors may work safely on one site, but if the next general contractor they work for has more lax safety standards, then they revert to unsafe practices and get hurt. If every general contractor met higher standards, then everyone would benefit."

Industry associations such as, Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), American Road and Transportation Builders Association, ARTBA), National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), American Builders and Contractors (ABC), American Subcontractors Association (ASA), to list only a few (in addition to the national organizations most of these associations have state and/or local chapters), have safety training programs, videos and manuals, The government has OSHA and other regulatory agencies focused on the safety in the workplace.

Other associations, such as Association of Equipment Manufacturers, have established safety practices for the maintenance and use of construction equipment. The Operating Engineers have training programs that stress safe practices for equipment operators and maintenance personnel.

In short, there is no shortage of regulations and/or programs covering construction jobsite safety, or at least you'd think so, but there is always room for improvement as noted by Western Builder editor, Mike Larson in his December 15, 2008 Editor's Report (

"A new federal rule put into effect November 24 requires workers who are exposed to moving vehicles and equipment while working in the right-of-ways on federal-aid highways to wear high-visibility clothing.

"The rule affects nearly one-quarter of Wisconsin's roads, including U.S. highways, state highways, many county highways, and some city roads.

"To qualify as 'high-visibility,' clothing must meet ANSI Performance Class 2 or 3 requirements, and anyone working in the right of way — even temporarily, like police officers, emergency responders and magazine editors — must wear it.

"This is a good rule that helps assure the safety of people who need to work in the right of way. When I heard about it, I was surprised it wasn't already a law because so many of the safety-conscious contractors whose worksites I visit already require it."

The point is that regulations are too often too broad. You can be in compliance at one end of the requirement spectrum and still be lacking the necessary company requirements to make your operation recognizably "a safe place to work." The commitment to safety has to come from within the company. The company needs to go beyond the minimum requirements and strive for maximum results — zero accidents, mishaps and or violations of any and all safety regulations.

HCSS, software producer of Field management Software ( suggests using software as a safety tool "by using it to plan safety goals and track the progress toward those goals quickly and electronically. Tracking safety information (safety meeting attendance, meeting topics, types of safety training, etc.) traditionally has been paper-intensive, with valuable information stored in boxes to be used only when an incident occurs. But using field-management software to set and monitor safety goals makes it easy for the company to quickly address gaps in education. If an incident occurs, management has the information at their fingertips to identify exactly the type of training and education that has occurred.

The American Society of Safety Engineers cautions that reducing or ignoring workplace safety during business downturns could be costly. Cutting safety costs is not a consideration. ASSE President Warren K. Brown, CSP, ARM, CSHMM, of Fairborn, OH, states, "Workplace safety processes must be in place at all times. They are even more critical during business downturns." Brown is referring to recent reports of some companies cutting safety processes hoping to reduce costs.

"If companies believe they will save money by reducing or ignoring safety for their workers, customers and communities they do business in, they are mistaken," Brown said."The ongoing positive results are in and have been for companies that have a strong safety culture and continually invest in and implement effective safety processes. Not only does their bottom line benefit positively, but their company reputation stays intact, employees stay safe and healthy reducing health care, workers comp, training and turnover costs not to mention keeping customers, the communities they do business in, vendors and employees happy. Safety is good business."

President-elect of the ASSE South Carolina Chapter Laura Comstock said, "It is especially important for companies to show support for their employee safety during challenging economic times. Employee morale may be low and employees may be carrying additional workloads, such as working additional hours or doing unfamiliar tasks due to cutbacks."

Comstock added, "In order to remain viable long-term, a company must maintain a solid safety process even through difficult times. The most successful companies in the long term also have the strongest safety performance."

"We realize these are tough times, but during economic down-turns, employers seeking to cut expenses may target variable operating costs such as travel, training and safety," Brown said. "Money cut from safety processes now could have an enormous cost later; this can be from injury and health care costs, fines, lost production time, employee morale, or worst of all, employee injury or even death. There are better and smarter ways to protect the bottom line." The South Carolina ASSE chapter suggests employees can also take measures to help companies save money such as by: following safe working procedures and practices to prevent injuries, related downtime and expenses such as costly fines; by properly using, cleaning and caring for protective equipment such as hardhats and respirators; reusing gloves whenever possible for as long as possible; and by keeping track of safety glasses and reusable hearing protection.

According to ASSE, investing in safety pays and contributes positively to a company's bottom line. Businesses spend about $170 billion a year on costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses and pay almost $1 billion every week to injured employees and their medical providers. In addition, a recent investment firm study in Australia showed valuation links between workplace safety and health factors and investment performance. It found that companies who did not adequately manage workplace safety issues underperformed those that did.

Although safety does impact the bottom line, this should not be the driving factor to maintain the highest level of safety on the jobsite. People are involved and are not as easily repaired or replaced as equipment. Investing in safety even during tough economic times will pay dividends long term in improved productivity and employee morale. If your employees know you care about them they are more likely to care about you.