A miner walks between mounds of coal wai

The old joke about how do you eat an elephant – one bite at a time – can apply to safety. How do you go months and years without a single job injury? One day at a time. Thus Black & Veatch experts say that success begins with what is referred to as a “Zero Injuries Today” plan. Success comes when that plan is widely embraced by skilled craft, supervisors and office personnel.

“When you ask a simple question, ‘Can you finish your shift today without being injured?’ 100 percent of the time, everybody in the audience raises their hand,” said John Johnson, Vice President, Environmental, Safety, Health & Security for Black & Veatch. “It is important to have an achievable, realistic goal. That goal has to be something that people can easily understand, but more importantly, achieve.”

Some EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) and design-build programs emphasized goals of zero injuries over a span of a year or more, and Johnson said that oftentimes people wouldn’t necessarily view that as achievable.

“But a single day of being injury-free across an organization can turn into two days, then three days, then a week, and later a month and on and on,” Johnson said. “Then you advise teams to come back to work tomorrow and refocus and do it again. When you present that concept in those terms, people can relate to that and are more apt to be successful.”

A Strong Difference in Safety Programs

Every construction company has some sort of safety program. But a close examination of Black & Veatch’s safety program reveals four key areas that helps distinguish it and are responsible for posting some industry-leading statistics:

  1. Zero Injuries Today – The aforementioned program is designed to keep the safety perspective “now.”  It is characterized by the “Think, Plan, Act” goal that always puts safety at top of mind.
  2. Emphasis on reporting near-miss incidents, in order to better learn – Leadership takes the attitude that the more near misses reported, the better safety across the globe can be achieved, since construction is often a repetitious process, regardless of geolocation.
  3. Focus on changing behaviors, not conditions – Most recordable injuries are usually the results of poor, at-risk behaviors, yet traditional emphasis has focused mostly on working conditions.
  4. Execution of the program – All the PowerPoints, brochures and safety logos in the world won’t do any good if the program is not executed across the entire company, and acted upon from the highest senior management officials on down the ranks.

Ernie Wright, Black & Veatch Senior Vice President, Energy, said the near-miss reports are vital to establishing a culture of safety.

“A near-miss is something that has to be taken as seriously as a real accident because the only difference between a near-miss and a very serious injury is that there wasn’t somebody in the line of fire,” Wright said.

He said by taking a near-miss seriously, it allows for more people to be engaged and provides for the ability to do in-depth, root cause analysis. “That’s how successful companies get meaningful information so they can take corrective action,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of injuries can be tied directly to behaviors and yet, historically, most of our attention is given to conditions. So there’s a need to change and to correct at-risk behaviors. We do this primarily by providing positive recognition of safe behaviors and approaching at-risk behaviors appropriately, with a heartfelt expression of concern for the individuals involved.”

Impact on Scheduling and Productivity

John Murphy, President, Black & Veatch Construction & Procurement, said safety is strongly emphasized because it is the right thing to do, and everyone wants their workers to go home safely each night. But from a financial point of view, a construction accident can also greatly impact productivity, schedule and on-time performance at a job site.

“If somebody gets hurt, that project can be shut down for a period of time. And if you have x-number of people on the project – 100, 1,000 or 10,000 people – that lost productivity translates into real cost.” Murphy said. “There are stand-downs that occur. There’s an interruption of work that occurs, and then you have to restart, you have to get people back engaged, and you’ve lost productivity. In addition to lost time, there is a very real morale issue that can’t be overlooked.”

Construction Safety as a Project Indicator

Johnson said project owners can view safety as a great indicator for determining the quality of a project, its on-time scheduling, and its overall performance in the future.

“Progressive companies use safety as a barometer to help analyze how successful the project is going to be,” he said. “Typically, when projects are safe and they have minimal impacts, minimal injuries, minimal unplanned events, then the outcomes as far as quality, schedule and safety are directly related. Projects that struggle with safety typically have a problem with quality, schedule or budget, or all three.”

For this reason, a lot of attention is paid to key safety statistics, such as recordable injuries, or lost time workday rate. But in addition, Johnson said the focus should be on leading indicators.

“A leading indicator could be how many safety observations are performed in a week or a month. Others include how often we perform audits, conduct safety meetings, do inspections, or perform checklists and protocols for training,” he said.

Practicing safety is a conscious action, and it all boils down to how it is executed.

“The best companies use consensus standards, they use best industry practices,” Johnson said. “But what’s critical is how well a team can execute. Success requires the best people to manage projects. It requires outstanding leadership that truly values safety and health.  This is then cascaded down throughout an entire organization because they truly care. And when it gets down to execution, that caring helps the best teams get across the start line and get to the finish line a lot quicker and a lot easier.”

Communication Is Key to Success

Black & Veatch leaders put an emphasis on positive communication so that reporting an issue doesn’t turn into a negative event. The company implemented its Employee Involvement Plan, which has three parts – peer-to-peer observation, a supervisor safety check and the “good catch.” The later program encourages workers to report potential safety issues, with positive reinforcement for spotting an issue.

“If we don’t know there’s a problem, we can’t fix it, so the more we know, the better off we’re going to be at providing a safe and helpful work environment,” Johnson said. “Those three elements of our observation program all blend well together so that we have a good and robust plan for communication. Communication is what drives everything successfully.”

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a six-part series on EPC/design-build that can be found in the Solutions Online library on bv.com.

— Story by Gordon Heft, Black & Veatch 

Published originally on Black & Veatch Solutions