numbers appear to be dropping, but then that really doesn’t tell the whole
story, does it? Think about how many minor incidents get caught up in the
statistics…how many carpal tunnel syndromes and stressed emotions get wrapped
into the mix. But then there all those people confined to beds or riding around
in wheelchairs, unable to engage in all the activities most of us take for
granted. Does it balance out: the nickel-dime statistic enhancers versus the
serious stuff? You bet it doesn’t. Even if the numbers were 10:1 or 100:1, the
situation would be disgraceful—but that isn’t the issue, and we all know it.
Indeed, we all know people whose options and opportunities for a rich and
rewarding life have been sliced, smashed, severed, eviscerated, or in some cases
blown into oblivion by circumstances that in all too many cases were not only
avoidable but stupidly so.
Responsible for Safety?
question we all need to ask because it’s the first step in firmly planting
ourselves into the equation. Safety can be many things with a multitude of
faces, but while at its core it’s an individual mindset, it must be accepted by
all who share a set of risks in common for it to be
know about you, but I somehow managed to stumble all the way through my teenage
years with absolutely no appreciation for the people I put at risk by some of my
bonehead actions. In fact, it wasn’t until I arrived at flight school in
Pensacola, FL, in 1959, that I became acquainted with the subject of safety—and
my possible involvement in it.
safety program of the time was reactive, employing gruesome reminders in place
of proactive performance measures. “This is the person responsible for your
safety,” the sign stenciled on my bathroom mirror said. In fact, the slogan was
stenciled on nearly every mirror on the base, often accompanied by indelicate
pictures of mangled limbs and bloody stumps emblazoned with such soul-stirring
comments as “Propellers: Sharpest Blades Ever Honed” or “Flightline Surgery
Performed Without Anesthetics.” Best of all was the cartoon showing the bits and
pieces of body emerging from the tailpipe of a plane, captioned bluntly,
“Complacency Kills;” yet for all the gore, Naval Aviation’s accident rate stood
at 0.66 per 1,000 flight hours, which meant that the odds favored my turning my
aircraft—and quite possibly myself—into a pile of rubble at 1,500 hours of
flight time. Surprisingly, my contemporaries and I followed the lead of several
prior generations of Naval Aviators and accepted this as the way things were and
would continue to be.
flying, whether training for or engaging in actual combat, was risky business,
we figured, which was why we got to sport slick sunglasses and little gold
wings, and draw flight pay each month. But change was in the air—the beginning
of an immersion treatment in the concept of safety as complete and overwhelming
as performed by any cult on the planet—so that by the mid 1960s the rate had
been cut by a factor of 10 to 0.69 accidents per 10,000 hours.
Naval Aviation’s rate has stabilized at roughly 1.5 accidents per 100,000 flight
hours, indicating that (1) safety is a process, (2) it can succeed, and (3) it
can always improve. So let’s look at the process, how it unfolded, and what it
means for construction.
wonder just what flying and construction safety have to do with one another, and
the short answer is, actually, a lot…though many of the connections are just
beginning to emerge. For one thing, the reporting element is far better today
than even a decade ago, so it’s difficult to accurately compare today’s data
with yesteryear’s. For another, there’s been a significant change in the work
force in many areas, including size, background, language, and fundamental
skills requirements. Certainly we’ve come a long way in designing safer and more
ergonomically sound equipment and reducing the number and insidiousness of
worksite hazards. Without doubt, we have more and better warning signage, our
people are better equipped and clothed, and we provide better basic safety
training than ever before…but are we
winning the battle?
answer to this lies less in statistics and the reports you make out to satisfy
others than in the evidence of your own senses. Safety is a matter of corporate
culture, I think, rather than any objective rating base, and you—no matter where
you sit in the chain of command—have to ask yourself, “How does my commitment to
safety measure up to my responsibility?”
construction industry has gone to a lot of expense and effort to hold state and
federal safety and regulatory agencies at bay despite its less-than-stellar
record. But not only is this is bound to change; the impetus for the change is
more likely to be the result of private initiatives than regulatory mandates.
Already a number of large companies will not do business with contractors and
subs with Efficiency Modification Ratings (EMRs) of greater than 1.0. (EMR is a
comparison between all organizations in a particular business. Less than 1.0 is
better than average, greater than 1.0 is worse.) So what does this mean to you?
It means that these companies have found that it’s not worth the increased
liability to deal with contractors on the backside of the safety curve—a sound
business decision that is gaining momentum even as you read this. The
implications are short and sweet: Maintain a lower (better) than 1.0 EMR, or
expect to find yourself bidding on fewer and fewer jobs. Sooner or later state
and federal agencies are going to catch on and join the parade as well and
things are going to get really tight in a hurry.
understand that, by definition, one half of all the people in your field will
always fall below the 1.0 cutoff point, you might wonder how your company will
survive—and that’s the best starting point I can imagine for asking yourself
again, “How does my commitment to safety measure up to my