Safety Culture: Tech Helping Workers Take Lead

  • Dodge surveyed 254 contractors across the U.S.;
  • Field workers now more empowered to be safe;
  • In demand, skilled workers opt for safer firms.

“As sophisticated and as technologically advanced as our industry is today, we still lose three guys a day on projects across the U.S.,” said Autodesk‘s Stacy Scopano, the opening night keynote last week at BuiltWorlds’ first-ever CEO Tech Forum. “That is just unacceptable in this day and age.”

As Autodesk’s senior industry strategy manager for construction, Scopano is as optimistic about new technology making our industry safer as he is about it improving efficiency and profitability. In fact, all three are tied tightly together, he added, in the new Building a Safety Culture SmartMarket Report, available for FREE download here. Conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics, the national study establishes a “safety culture spectrum” based on the performance of 254 U.S. contractors, measured against 33 leading indicators of a safe work culture. Released earlier this month, the survey was sponsored by Autodesk, Procore, MCAA, United Rentals, and a Who’s Who of both union and nonunion AEC players, plus owners.

Safer contractors report higher quality, greater project R.O.I. and better ability to attract and retain new staff

“The findings make a strong case for companies to actively nurture a strong safety culture at their organizations,” says Stephen Jones, Dodge Data’s senior director of industry research, and co-author of the study with colleague Donna Laquidara-Carr. “The leading indicators featured in the report also provide a roadmap that companies can use to improve the safety culture at their companies,” adds Jones.

An update and expansion of a similar Dodge Data report on industry safety released in 2012, the new study was produced in partnership with United Rentals and CPWR, an arm of the AFL-CIO formerly known as the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights. It has been renamed as The Center for Construction Research and Training. Twelve other groups also supported the research, which examines the wider use of safety management practices in the construction industry and more frequently achieved benefits for contractors at the higher end of the safety culture spectrum than at the bottom.

According to the study, contractors are reporting more benefits from investing in safety management practices, in general. There also is wider recognition of the importance of actively engaging workers at the jobsite directly to improve project safety.  “One of the most telling findings is that 85% of respondents now consider jobsite worker involvement to be a critical aspect of a world-class safety program,” notes Jones, adding that percentage measured was up 19% over 2012.

“The significance in the shift of how jobsite worker involvement is seen underscores our need to make safety value-driven and personal,” adds James Dorris, VP for environmental health and safety at United Rentals. “When workers are made a part of the process and are provided the tools and training they need to succeed, safety becomes recognized as the one thing that sets them — and the company they work for — apart from others.  It’s what makes them world-class.”

CPWR Executive Director Pete Stafford also was heartened by the focus on flesh and blood issues beyond the bottom line. “Strong majorities of the respondents indicated that they have adopted sound occupational safety and health practices in order to reduce liability concerns and avoid potential business disruptions,” he says. “But it’s especially pleasing to see that in 2015 — as in 2012 — the leading driver for continuous improvement was concern for workers’ well-being.”

Competition driving safety tech

While the business benefits of reducing injuries and being able to contract more new work are clear, the ability to retain and attract staff is becoming more important to remain competitive as project demands grow and the availability of skilled workers tightens.

“No one should have to sacrifice their life for their livelihood, because a nation built on the dignity of work must provide safe working conditions for its people”

— Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor

According to the report, the ability to attract and retain staff is becoming increasingly important, so firms that appear committed to establishing and maintaining their own aggressive safety culture have a clear advantage over competitors that do not. The most striking leap was among those who find that their safety investments increase their ability to retain staff, which climbed from 46% to 64%, based on the survey responses.

And depending on the size of the firm, those greater safety investments now may include both virtual and augmented reality training, as well as mobile apps and other personal equipment enhancements that skilled workers may now expect prospective employers to possess.

“Technologies that attach to—or are incorporated in—standard safety equipment such as vests and helmets, can be part of a system that warns workers and/or supervisors when risks arise and can also provide data for analysis after incidents occur,” writes Jones. “To better monitor potential safety issues in the field in real time, the construction industry is rapidly moving toward wearable technology for workers.”

Certainly, that is a trend that we have noted here at BuiltWorlds, too, but this new research provides ample data the message of worker safety appears to be penetrating deeper and wider in our industry than at any time in history. Again, for the full report, go here.