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From tough guys to tears: The construction industry embraces safety

The construction industry has a reputation of tough people who do a dangerous job. And while a lot of people see our projects, they do not get to witness what we are building: a profound culture of safety.

These days, our tradesmen are trained from the start to think about how shirking safety can devastate lives – not just theirs, but those of their kids, spouses and other loved ones. The consequences become more real, the message sinks in, and it is not surprising to see even the most rugged worker get tears.

{mosads}When employees begin their days thinking of how to ensure that they and their coworkers get home without incident, then you have the making of real change. This mindset is not happening by accident.

It has taken a realization from leadership to the line workers that safety does not just matter; it matters most of all. The old macho reputation and behavior that went along with it have given way to new practices that are now common, like the wearing of gloves, safety glasses, harnesses and bright vests.

The big-picture impact is enormous. Our industry employs roughly 10 million workers in the United States, many of whom work on job sites of sophisticated movements and demanding tasks. Since 2006, overall construction fatalities are down 36 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That amounts to hundreds of lives saved. Yet we think in terms of individuals – every single person on the job, every accident that must be prevented. Progress is not enough. We know tens of thousands of workers are injured in our line of work each year, and tragically, hundreds die. Our mission is to get to zero.

The responsibility starts at the top. To keep up the sense of urgency, 44 leading companies from the industry joined forces this year for Safety Week, a period of training and awareness that typifies our year-round safety commitment. Our effort has garnered much valued support from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (known as OSHA) and several industry associations.

The daily safety process takes providing all the right gear and giving proper training, and our companies take those responsibilities seriously. Yet the deeper challenge is winning over hearts and minds.

That is why our safety orientations are not just about making employees aware of work requirements. They are about understanding the true cost of unsafe work. We bring in the children and spouses of the workers and remind them that their loved ones are counting on them. We drive home the point that no budget or deadline is ever worth cutting corners. Culture, caring, caution – this is how we stay safe.

As our industry continues to embrace the safety culture, the driving motivation is our workers’ health. In a survey of construction contractors nationwide, McGraw Hill Construction found that the most common reason why firms adopt safety practices is a concern for their workers’ well-being. Yet it is important to note that promoting safety helps give our industry all kinds of other advantages, too.

In the McGraw Hill Construction survey, 71 percent of respondents said safety programs have had a positive impact on the number of reportable injuries. At the same time, a little more than half of those surveyed said safety practices had a positive effect on their projects’ return on investment, too. Safety, productivity, workmanship and good business all tie together.

Our firms value our role and our home in the communities that we help build, and we want the public to know that safety is a big part of our story.

The tough-guy construction image may not go away anytime soon. But the next time you see one of the millions of men and women of our industry wearing a hard hat, just know there may be something you do not see – the photos of their children tucked inside, as their daily reminder of why safety matters.

Bacon is the chairman and CEO of Limbach Facility Services and Morgan is senior vice president of Fluor Corporation. They are the co-chairmen of the construction industry’s Safety Week 2015.


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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