We kill three people every day in the construction industry. It’s an alarming statistic, especially given the exhaustive training, rigorous risk-management policies and tough laws that penalize contractors for safety infractions, injuries and jobsite perils. But there is another way to reduce this deadly statistic: create personal safety records for individual workers as an incentive for them to assume responsibility for safety.
Recently, an employee made a decision to disregard a company’s 6-ft 100% fall-protection policy and disconnected his lanyard to climb across some formwork that was being stripped. He fell 14 ft and severely injured his knee. This worker had been trained in fall protection three times; his most recent training was just three weeks prior to the incident. The incident will cost the company over $130,000 in workers’ compensation claim costs alone, plus the expenses associated with managing lost productivity on the site, meeting with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the client, tracking and administering the claim, not to mention the negative publicity that resulted from the accident.
This tradesman consciously engaged in improper behavior and deliberately violated his company’s safety policy. His actions triggered a lengthy, costly and unnecessary ordeal. His negligence injured him and could potentially have killed him, injured or killed others.
I am convinced the only way to etch safety indelibly in the hearts and minds of workers is to engage each individual in a way that he or she cannot ignore, a way that makes the worker personally accountable for the individual’s actions.
A simple, effective way to do this would be for OSHA to create and maintain personal safety records for tradespeople, documenting and attributing safety infractions, incidents or accidents to the individual involved. This personal record would be similar to a driving abstract, a credit history or a criminal record. A clean safety record would testify to a worker’s safety awareness and conduct, whereas repeat infractions or egregiously dangerous safety lapses could lead to fines, demotion or other sanctions.
Personal safety records would provide employers with reliable OSHA-certified data about a worker’s safety background and create a strong incentive for workers to internalize the responsibility for safety. They would allocate responsibility for safety to both employers and employees, thus creating personal accountability.
Our company and most contractors are vigilant about jobsite safety. We mandate safety adherence in all contracts with subcontractors; we train workers regularly and monitor worksites conscientiously; we maintain a zero-tolerance threshold for unsafe practices with swift and certain discipline for safety violations; we make an effort to touch every worker in some manner with safety every day; and we demonstrate through the actions of managers and supervisors as well as in the appearance of our equipment and jobsites that we are committed to a culture of safety.
Despite these efforts, lapses occur and accidents result. Why would a worker knowingly put his own well-being in jeopardy? Perhaps it is human arrogance. Perhaps people are reluctant to adopt new methods or new tools. Perhaps cutting a corner or taking a shortcut seems insignificant at the time.
Maintaining personal safety records would address the safety issue head-on, and the benefits of an industry wide personal safety record plan would be manifold. Workers with superior safety records would be in great demand, commanding for the best jobs and the highest salaries. Contractors could hire for safety and proactively control their workers’ compensation premium rates, because insurance carriers would look favorably on a company that could certify 100% of its workforce had a clean safety record for a certain period of time. Jobsites would be safer and more profitable.
Safety consciousness may be the most vital professional qualification for any construction-related tradesperson, yet an employer cannot ask and has no way of knowing about the safety record of a potential employee. Why shouldn’t on-the-job safety be a prequalification for employment? A worker’s professional reputation seems like reasonable collateral to ensure that accountability for safety includes those whose lives are on the line.