Why Safety Ratings Matter

May 26, 2015

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

Safety ratings, either compiled by the OSHA metric in the United States or in Canada by CAPP guidelines for total recordable injury frequency (TRIF), could be considered an invitation to play with the big boys.

The ratings mirror each other in that they are measurements customers frequently use “to thin down the herd, so they don’t have to look at quite so many proposals,” says Paul Paterson, equipment division manager of Texas-based CCC Group.

“What I mean by that,” he says, “is with super large projects that are half a billion dollars and up, you’re not looking at a great field of contractors. But when you start to deal with $50 to $100 million projects, the number of companies that would submit bids skyrockets. You end up with a whole lot of pre-qualification packages that may ask any number of questions about your company, your fleet size and your past work. Safety is always a big one.

“If you want to get your foot in the door in construction, especially industrial or anything that has to do with mining, safety rating is critical,” he says. “If that rating is poor, you don’t even get a chance to bid on the work.”

The ratings are calculated by taking the number of recordable and non-recordable incidents that occur during a predetermined number of man-hours.

A non-recordable, for example, might be a worker who is not wearing proper protective gear such as a hard hat. Reviewing these types of incidents gives fleet managers an opportunity to see how they could have been prevented. After all, it’s one thing to have the safety hard hat on, but what’s better is to not have something fall on your head in the first place.

Recordable incidents, on the other hand, include employee injuries or illnesses. A misconception exists that if your rating falls right in the middle, it is okay. Actually, you don’t want to be there. As with golf scores, the name of the game is to keep the number as low as possible.

“Obviously, the fewer the incidents, the better the rating,” Paterson says. “A good rating means you’re doing something right.”

OSHA takes the incident number and multiplies it by 200,000 as a way to “normalize typical medium-size operations,” says Kirby Yakemchuk, P.E. and director of business operations for Ledcor Equipment Group, Vancouver, B.C. “It represents a 100-person operation 200 hours a year. If you don’t use the 200,000, you get into numbers that are six figures as opposed to a single digit as far as TRIF goes. It’s just a way to get that magnitude down to a more manageable figure.”

Safety ratings themselves, Yakemchuk says, guide his business on the customer side as well as internally.

“The rating really is a measurement that shows you where the company is when it comes to safety. The rating doesn’t reflect on the company’s safety policies and habits,” he says. “It’s the other way around. The safety habits and culture of a company reflect on the TRIF rating. It is a measurement of your safety program that includes all your policies, culture and management commitment to that number.”

Ledcor senior management made that commitment years ago, Yakemchuk says, after they realized something important was going on and flew down to attend oil company sessions on how to improve safety to a point that had not been achievable before.

“We’ve been on this journey for awhile now,” Yakemchuk says. “Being in western Canada, we work on the sites of a lot of oil companies, such as Exxon and Shell. We also work in the U.S. When senior management returned from Houston, they put us on a path of achievement and made sure a tremendous effort, an everyday effort, was made from senior top level through middle management down to everyone in the field. There was no question that this was being taken seriously.”

At the same time, says Yakemchuk, it also was made clear the purpose was not to assign blame, but, in the future, “to look at the latent causes of incidents.”

“Where did we see our biggest improvement and what needs to be done to continue that? What can we do better next time or what can we do to prevent that? It’s really been a top-down approach to safety throughout the entire organization, and it created a culture of safety,” Yakemchuk says.

Since that culture has been established, there has been an 80 percent improvement throughout the organization. Paterson also says building a safety culture is the most important achievement to which a company can aspire.

“When we hire a new technician or operator, the first thing they do is meet with our safety site manager to cover safety basics,” he says. “You might think anyone would know better than to touch a grinder when it’s turning, but they don’t. When someone comes green off the street you have to cover every detail.”

In addition, CCC Group has a lockout/tagout program to make sure everyone understands the program and their role in the system, in order to ensure the program is effective.

“We talk to the person attaching the tag so he knows what the specific hazards to people and machines are and what steps he needs to take to mitigate the risks to the machine operator and the people working on it.” Paterson says.

Companywide safety reviews are done monthly, he says.

“In our shop, we get together every morning, and if something has occurred, we stop what we’re doing and talk about it,” he says. “Also, we have a monthly, formal safety meeting with shop personnel and service truck drivers to discuss general topics and find out if there is something in the field that we need to address.

“The incident rate is a hard number,” he says. “You can’t really lower it other than by working hard. You just have to go back out there and log more man-hours without an incident.”

Incident risks are high, says Ledcor’s Yakemchuk, who also is a member of AEMP’s Safety Committee. “We have found that two risks are highest around equipment. They are access/egress and inadvertent motion,” he says.

Using dozers and excavators as prime examples, Yakemchuk says access/egress continues to be a problem, although machines are becoming smarter and machine intelligence, such as grade control, continues “to grow by leaps and bounds.”

“The fact remains that we have to have people go up and down machines safely,” he says. “That technology—getting people on and off equipment—has really lagged.”

For instance, on a large dozer, if there is a little bit of wind and you are trying to get outside, it’s a pretty long fall to the ground, he says. “Significant injuries are caused by people trying to get off dozers or excavators.”

Another risk example with excavators is that when you are in the cab, you may be looking down into a trench and not at your levers, Yakemchuk says. You may inadvertently swing the excavator left or right as you are trying to get a better view.

“There might be people working in the trench, so how do we make these machines smarter, not only from a productivity point of view, but also from a safety perspective?” he says. “These are key issues AEMP is working on. We are still understanding and learning from our issues. Hopefully, this will help the industry meet its safety challenges without having to go through them.”

The constant attempt to use risk reduction to improve safety ratings has created “field fixes,” he says, noting many contractors have come up with easy solutions to some safety problems. “But, in addition, what we at AEMP are really looking for is some factory solutions from the OEMs.”

For instance, Yakemchuk says ground conditions at a work site often dictate a field fix, but when that information is passed along to the dealer, no useful solution comes back.

 “Because we operate in pretty soft conditions up here, we put wider tracks on the units for stability,” Yakemchuk says. “The pad that allows the excavator to float extends past that first step attached to the undercarriage, blocks your foot, so that step becomes useless. That means the first step becomes the one on top of the track.”

That type of situation, he says, “is one example of how ground condition dictates safety.”

As Paterson points out, every time you have an incident it’s not only a bad mark against an equipment department, but it also comes at a cost to other resources.

“These incidents don’t forecast well for potential owners if you work on their site,” he says. “Insurance costs and everything that goes along with it increases. That’s why we have to realize the most important thing is for everyone to go home in the same physical condition as when they arrived at work that morning.”

Once a company has a negative safety rating, there’s not much you can do to change it—except to hammer down your incidents. The only other way, says Paterson, would be to lengthen the reporting time period.

“The smaller your group is, the bigger reduction a single incident will have on your rating,” he says. “We don’t want to negatively impact the company in any way. If you have an incident, it is just another number management incurs on its end.”

If an incident does happen, says Paterson, it triggers an immediate safety stand-down. Basically, that means a pause in your other activities to re-emphasize the paramount importance of safety.

“I think everybody understands that construction is a dangerous business and there will be incidents,” he says. “If you see somebody out there with a 1 rating, they’re probably not being completely honest with their figures. But if you can keep your rating low by not having any incidents and document what you are doing to maintain or reduce the incidents, most clients or potential clients will view that as positive.”

Paterson also has run into dangerous situations that were stopped, thanks to a little Yankee (or Texas) ingenuity. “A rash of foot crushes from cranes” broke out. Three such incidents happened in six months, he says.

“The reason was because of the way the outriggers come down at an angle,” Paterson says. “From inside the cab, the deck is very flat and far out. The crane operator is blind to the four corners.”

The solution proved fairly simple. Paterson and his crew developed a 5-foot whip with a flag, similar to a bicycle flag, on top of it. The devices were attached to the toe of the outrigger. “As it is coming out, the 5-foot whip and flag come out with it, so it becomes more visible. It is right at your eye level when the outriggers are moving. The byproduct is when the outriggers are down, you have markers at every corner.“

A good safety rating may be your invitation to play with the big boys, but the game is dead serious.

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