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 effective.
I don’t 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 much less the number of bullets that somehow missed me in all my ignorance. In fact it wasn’t until I arrived at flight school in Pensacola, FL, that I became acquainted with the subject of safety…and my possible involvement in it.
“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 a body emerging from the tailpipe of a plane, captioned bluntly, “Complacency Kills.” They were the beginning of an immersion treatment in the concept of safety as complete and overwhelming as performed by any cult on the planet.
Naval Aviation’s accident rate for carrier aircraft at the time (1958) was 1.5…one-and-a-half destroyed aircraft for every 1,000 hours of flight time. Even I could do the math on something that said that for every 667 flight hours (something that took less than two years to accomplish) the odds were I was going to destroy an aircraft, with a fairly good chance of losing my life in the bargain. By the ‘70s, the Navy’s aircraft accident rate had been reduced by a full order of magnitude to 1.3 per 10,000 hours of flight time, and today even that rate has been more than halved again. Sure, the aircraft are more reliable, the systems more capable, the carriers better designed and arranged for safe operations, but those are not so much causes as effects of a culture change that emerged principally in the decade of the ‘60s and grows stronger every day.
What’s This Have to Do With Construction?
Actually, a lot, though many of the connections are just beginning to emerge. For one thing, the reporting element throughout the construction field is far better today than even a decade ago, so it’s difficult to accurately compare today’s data with that of yesteryear. For another, there’s been a significant change in the work force in many areas, including size, background, language, and fundamental skill 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?
The 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?”
Over the past several years, an increasing number of project initiators have taken to issuing RFPs stating they 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.). 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 we speak. Moreover, state and federal agencies are catching on and joining the parade as well, meaning that things are going to get really tighter in an already stressed economy.
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. Once you understand that, by definition, one-half of all the people in your field will always fall below the 1.0 cutoff point, you may wonder how your company is going to 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 responsibility?”
Upcoming Forester University Webinars
January 12th, 2012
Planning & Executing an Effective Pavement Preservation Program
As roadway networks and commercial vehicle loading continue to increase and Municipality taxation power remains limited, the need to effectively maintain and improve our pavement infrastructure is paramount. Join David Hein, V.P. of Transportation for ARA, to explore the key concepts of an effective pavement preservation program, program implementation needs and guidelines, and common roadblocks to successful implementation. Read more…
January 26th, 2012
5 Steps to Creating a Successful Public Outreach Campaign
Change starts with people. Whether your focus is stormwater pollution, energy conservation, pavement restoration, or recycling, a successful public outreach campaign resonates with your target audience and leads to long-lasting behavior change. Join Erica Hooper of SGA to explore a proven 5-step approach to crafting a successful outreach campaign based on real-world examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Read more…