Member Voices: Jobsite Safety for Construction Safety Week and Beyond

BY 
May 9, 2019

It’s Construction Safety Week, an important time to highlight concepts and practices that are crucial to the industry year-round.

John Gambatese, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, chair of the CI Construction Safety Committee, explains: “As engineers, we are all involved in safety in some way. When we design and construct buildings, bridges, roadways, and other parts of our infrastructure, safety is the top priority. The ASCE-CI Construction Safety Committee works collaboratively to promote safety on construction sites. Part of the Committee’s effort involves educating the industry about how to enhance safety in their role on projects. Importantly, safety starts at the beginning. The committee encourages students who are learning about the civil and construction industry, as well as young professionals who are just starting out in the industry, to become engaged in safety on projects. Safety will be part of your career, and your involvement can positively impact the lives of others.”

Today’s Member Voices article takes its cue from the CI Construction Safety Committee. It’s a group effort by Miranda Reed, Anil Cercer, and Ifeanyi Okpala, engineering students at the University of Alabama, discussing important safety topics for this year’s Construction Safety Week.

Reed

Okpala

Cercer

Are More Safety Incentives for Jobsite Safety Improvement the Way Forward?

In theory, incentivizing workers with rewards causes a vast improvement in jobsite safety for the construction industry. But there remains great debate among construction managers about whether incentives do in fact improve safety, or if they simply divert focus from the actual work and productivity of workers.

The use of safety incentives requires a good balance between rewarding workers on a timely basis, giving them rewards that are appropriate, and ensuring that the idea of the reward is not consuming employees to the point where they compromise their work and productivity – all this while improving overall safety on the jobsite. Researchers have reported that the greatest effect possible from a reward program is increased motivation from workers and a willingness to cooperate in safety acts and task completion, ultimately reducing the number of injuries and fatalities.

With the alarmingly high number of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry (even when compared with all other industries), there is a great need for safety precautions and methods to involve workers in being proactive about not only their own safety, but the safety of all those around them. Studies have shown that jobsites with a greater attention to safety tend to experience greater productivity, improved worker morale, and decreased costs. Maybe even more important is a decreased total recordable incident rate.

Furthermore, to reach this acceptable level of safety, it is important to demonstrate a level of care and respect for each employee, including providing rewards to those who actively seek to employ improved safety measures on and off the worksite. Rewards should be (1) those items that workers want, and (2) items that are either tangible or intangible depending on the desires of the workforce. Also, employers should ensure that the types of incentives used are those that reflect the company culture and methods of work.

A reward system that is regularly monitored and improved can positively impact a company and bring safety to the spotlight. Safety, if neglected, can involve much more than expenses and lost work time; it can lead to the loss of a life, the most irreplaceable element of a construction project.

By bringing awareness to safety and the importance of having buy-in from all employees, companies can reduce their total recordable incident rate, while improving the motivation, morale, communication, and loyalty of their employees.

Does Lean Construction Really Improve Jobsite Safety?

Construction is reputed to have the highest number of fatalities among all sectors of industry. This high number of fatalities (971 deaths in 2017) is indicative of the dismal nature of construction management in spite of oversight efforts by both government and professional entities to enlighten and sanction erring practitioners.

Generally, issues that further characterize this situation include a large number of RFIs (Request for Information), redesign orders, delays, cost surprises and change orders, productivity losses, and other safety concerns. In recent times, practitioners have begun to adopt a new approach in the effort to sustainably practice construction, optimize project management, and thereby improve jobsite safety. This practice is known as lean construction, defined as a set of principles and tools to facilitate planning and control, maximize value, and minimize waste throughout the construction process.

Lean construction is said to embody a new frontier in leadership, planning, and management. As opposed to the traditional approach, lean construction facilitates collaborative direction and seeks to integrate efforts to eliminate negative iterations. The result of applying lean principles is the development of a “network of commitments” to implement a given integrated and proactive plan.

In practice, documented lean construction principles are these: (1) collaboration between all members of the project team; (2) early engagement of team members; (3) target value design; (4) involvement of all parties in the schedule; (4) elimination of waste and duplicate activities; (5) implementation of the 5 S’s (Sort, Simplify, Sweep, Standardize, and Self-Discipline); and (6) continuous feedback and learning. These best represent the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) option, which advocates for the integration of people, systems, business structures, and practices to a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction. Examples of IPD collaborative tools are BIM and Last Planner.

Just like every concept, there are common misconceptions around the lean construction concept. The misconceptions include (1) lesser-quality project output, (2) compromise of design creativity, and (3) no impact on safety. In addressing these fallacies, it is important to share the value gained by user groups, such as (1) cost avoidance; (2) user input, review, and approvals; (3) fewer changes to design and construction methods; (4) minimal disruption to ongoing operations; and (5) less manpower needed, i.e., decrease in parking needed, safety issues, etc. In addition, researchers have identified root causes of jobsite accidents as (1) mistake/error, (2) absent-mindedness/forgetfulness, (3) uncaring/indifferent attitude, (4) ignorance, (5) poor risk management, (6) and high risk tolerance. It has also been reported that lean design and construction principles have had measurable positive impact in recent times. Notable practices are early involvement of specialty contractors, work structuring, value stream mapping, and Last Planner System.

Conclusively, the benefits of lean construction are enormous. The benefits can be succinctly expressed as cost savings, reduced manpower peak, improved quality, reduced waste, and improved jobsite safety. There is heavy optimism that the continuous adoption of this concept will lead to a reduction in total recordable incident rate across the board. This outcome will be a big win for the construction industry and all associated engineering sectors alike.

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