Best Practices for Improving Construction Site Safety | Construction Podcast

Construction site safety is a priority across the construction industry, but it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly which practices are being employed to ensure construction safety. Listen to “A Podcast That Builds” host Ben Johnson and Dodge’s Donna Laquidara-Carr discuss the ‘Contractor Use of Safety Best Practices’ report, including key information on how the construction industry approached safety practices. Listen to this podcast to prepare for Safety Week! Below is a transcript of this construction podcast.

Ben Johnson:                    

Hello and welcome to A Podcast That Builds. I'm your host, Ben Johnson. And to celebrate Safety Week 2019 today we will be discussing the recent report ‘Contractor Use of Safety Best Practices’ that Dodge created. And we have the report's author, Donna Laquidara-Carr, here today to join us. Welcome, Donna.

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr:

Well thank you, Ben. Nice to be here.

 

Ben Johnson:                    

So how did you pick which construction site safety best practices to study?

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Well this is interesting because this was actually a rather unusual report for us to produce. We've been doing studies with CPWR every two years that are very formal with a very thorough idea of what we want to examine and what we're interested in reporting out to the industry. And that's typically how we do studies in general. But in this particular case, CPWR came to us and just asked us if we could do some quick studies to look into a few topics that they were interested in. However, when we got the findings, they were really interesting. So we decided with CPWR that they were worth sharing to the industry. So this is sort of a collection of two separate surveys that weren't really designed to be one report but really have some interesting findings.

 

Ben Johnson:

So, you, you kick off the report looking at noise reduction practices. Why did you choose to feature that?

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Well, we did look at a lot of different practices in those two studies at what people are doing to improve construction site safety and avoid health impacts on workers. And out of everything that we looked at, it became clear that noise reduction seems to be getting the least amount of attention in the industry. But it is a very critical issue for the industry to address. You know, NIOSH has data demonstrating that construction has one of the highest levels of workers suffering from hearing impairments of any U.S. Industry. And while most companies do actually do some work on this, they do some advanced planning, they purchase quieter equipment in advance of work starting. Nearly half of the contractors who participate in this study thought that their company could be doing better at this. In fact, we see only 6% of contractors report that they only use low noise equipment on all of their projects. And even hearing protection. What, you know, that the head, the headphones that we, most of us associate with, the contractor equipment, it's used by less than half of the contractors all the time on their projects. So, you know, there's clearly a lot of room to address this, to bring it to the forefront, make people more conscious about it. And since most jobsites include loud equipment, dealing with it is also important. However, we only see 35% of contractors reporting that they put loud equipment behind barriers and another 43% who say that they it from work areas on at least half of their projects.

 

Ben Johnson:                    

So why do you think more contractors aren't doing anything particular about noise?

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Well, I think the most common belief that I've found when I've discussed these findings with other people in the industry with CPWR and others, and this is a belief that I share is that, you know, a lot of people consider construction noise just part of a construction project. It's part of doing business on a site and you know, that can lead to people not even thinking about it as something that needs to be addressed. It's also a lot harder to observe hearing damage, which happens gradually over time. They notice that someone has physically injured themselves in much more, a much more visible way. So you know, workers are probably less likely to be raising that as an issue.

 

Ben Johnson:

Yeah. And speaking of more physical construction site safety practices, you also focus on practices that help avoid musculoskeletal injuries. So on that, what are the most interesting findings?

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Well, one of the things that we found, and this is typical of a lot of the safety studies that we've done in the past, is that large companies tend to be much more likely to utilize practices that have been demonstrated to work. Things like formally planning how materials will be handled, storing materials off of the ground, setting weight limits for manual lifting and things like that. So figuring out how to get more small companies to do these things. You know, a lot of these don't necessarily take a massive amount of resources, but you need someone who's putting policies in place and small companies seem to struggle with that a lot. So, you know that just reinforcing the need for more resources for small companies is definitely one of the top findings there. Second, and this is related directly to that concept, there are a lot of online resources that address these issues. Things like a site called stop construction involves another one called choosing choose hand safety and CPWR has their own construction solutions site. Now we found that over 70% of contractors who use sites like this find them to be a great value to improving their construction safety programs. However, we find that, well less than one quarters of the contractors that we surveyed tend to use these sites. So there is help out there that's available and free that I just think the industry needs to know more about.

 

Ben Johnson:                    

Yeah. And going beyond resources, you also had some findings on construction safety leadership. What did you learn about this?

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Well, we asked a few questions about mentoring subcontractors and obviously, you know, if you think about that, one of the ways to address this issue of small contractors and helping them, you know, improve in terms of their safety practices. Mentoring on the project is critical. So, it also is particularly important to companies that have strong safety cultures themselves to encourage the adoption of their construction site safety priorities. And, the good news is that most companies are doing at least some mentorship for subcontractors. We see 58% of large companies saying that they do it most or all of the time. And a mid-size companies though we see a bit of a drop there. We only see 35% who report doing it at, you know, most or all of the time. So we asked participants in the study what small contractors need most to improve their health and safety performance.

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

And we did find a bit of a disconnect between what large and small companies said. So large companies put their emphasis on conducting a job hazard analysis and on providing construction site safety equipment. But small companies were far more interested in receiving printed materials related to site specific safety and health hazards. They're also more interested in toolbox training talks. Now, the toolbox training talks is actually good news because we did find that 88% of large companies do provide toolbox training talks, but we see a lot fewer. It's still a lot at 71%, but still not all of them, providing those printed materials that the small companies find so valuable. And only 65%, you know, slightly less than two thirds of mid-sized companies are actually providing those printed materials. So hopefully a little bit better understanding of what each side is looking for will help with that.

 

Ben Johnson:                    

So, in the report, I noticed you have a whole section on lean construction. Do you consider lean a safety best practice?

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Well, it's interesting. I did don't have to be leaned to have a good safety culture, right? A lot of firms that aren't lean do. But construction safety is not only a big priority in terms of you know, the things that people strive for when they're trying with it as one of the results of being lean. But a lot of the elements of doing lean can help provide a foundation of basis to build a good safety culture are really good example of that is that when you're looking to do process improvements, typically you get input from those on the front lines. You create better lines of communication between supervisors and managers and the actual workers doing the work and getting that kind of worker feedback and empowering them to feel like they should give feedback is really critical to improving safety culture at a company. So, you know, therefore it's not a surprise that we found in this study that the contractors who had the highest level of familiarity with lean were also much more likely to recognize the relationship between a foreman's safety leadership skills.

And the safety climate on a job site, right? Because every safety culture is expressed and the safety climate on the particular sites. So we also found that, um, the most surprising finding in fact was that the industry as a whole seems to recognize this connection between lean and safety. Because even though only 21% of them self-identify as having implemented lean at their company, and another about 50% report that they're familiar with it, over three quarters of the, of the total respondents believe that there is great value in providing training on a lean construction principle to foreman, project managers and superintendents. And this is critical because even the most sophisticated lean practitioners point out that doing lean is a journey. Looking at a list of lean practices with all that terminology can be very intimidating. But other dodge research demonstrates that there's value even in just doing a few things like poll planning, there's more value, the leaner you get, but still you don't have to do every single lean practice and suddenly be an advanced lean practitioner to gain value from these things. And I think this relationship between safety and lean and the way it's built on the way that lean encourages interaction, in the company does suggest that these initial early steps really help.

 

Ben Johnson:                    

So, thanks so much for sharing this great information on this study, Donna, and happy safety week!

 

Donna Laquidara-Carr: 

Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here again.

 

Ben Johnson:                    

So, thanks again for joining us for this safety week themed podcast. Do download the Contractor Use of Safety Best Practices report for free. Of course, you can see the show notes for a link or visit construction.com. You can also reach Dodge at (877)-784-9556. We hope you and your company have a great safety week. We'll see you next time.

 

Episode Links:

Contractor Use of Safety Best Practices Report

Construction Safety Week Website