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Opinion: Assuring You Have Skin in the Safety Game

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Recently, a Navy commander overseeing 44 active construction sites for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest removed a site safety officer and a project superintendent from a $100-million jobsite in Southern California after workers struck several underground utility lines. Although

no one was injured, the strikes constituted serious safety infractions. As the commander saw it, the supervisors were not doing the job, which was unacceptable.

This incident is not an anomaly. As T.B. Penick & Sons' safety director, I feel the same way as my boss, Tim Penick: The Navy will not stand for lapses, even when no one is hurt. For contractors who work or aspire to work on military projects, the message today is clear and unambiguous: Safety is a core value, and the Navy is committed to achieving a zero-mishap record on its jobsites. Contractors and their subs can either get on board or get out of the way.

The Navy looks to its contractors to study and emulate the safety practices of successful industry leaders such as DuPont, Parsons Corp. and Jacobs Engineering.

And the Navy holds everyone accountable in front of their peers and military brass. A contractor has a lot of skin in the game.

Even the selection criteria for NAVFAC Southwest design-build best-value contracts have been modified to place greater weight on safety. While safety was previously a subordinate selection criterion, it is now one of four key factors.

Navy Captain Mike Wiliamson, the officer in charge of construction for Marine Corps Installation West, is leading the charge along with Captain James Wink. The ultimate support comes from the commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, Capt. Keith Hamilton, and his successor, Captain Cliff Maurer. They have overseeing NAVFAC Southwest's installations and have implemented a comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to drive home the emphasis on safety.

All Mishaps Noted

Naval officers and NAVFAC construction managers are personally involved in monitoring site safety compliance; enforcement is hands-on and face-to-face. A Contractor's Serious Incident Report is filled out after any on-site mishap—which includes striking a utility line.

These reports are detailed and drill down into direct and indirect causes of the incident. Owners and executives from both the general contractor and the subcontractor get involved and take actions, including sanctions for those not following safety protocols and, if necessary, new processes to avoid reoccurrence of the mishap.


Everyone up and down the chain of command knows the names of workers involved in a mishap. It's not unusual for a construction executive to get a call from a commander or a captain inquiring about an incident.

The Navy assesses not only lagging indicators—such as experience modification rates and loss statistics—but also leading indicators. "You need to be showing consistent effort and constant improvement to stay in the game," says one contracting executive who has worked with NAVFAC.

On jobsites, NAVFAC Southwest officials aggressively monitor compliance at all levels, requiring more and better safety training and hazard identification methods and calling for additional safety and health inspection personnel as well as added redundancy measures. Besides requiring safety and health officers at more small and mid-sized sites, the resident Officers in Charge of Construction (OICC) are calling for greater use of activity hazard analyses at all sites. Site personnel are required to write out every step of every task, identify the potential hazards, prepare preventative measures and implement safety controls.

The Days Away, Restrictions and Transfers (DART) rate for NAVFAC Southwest sites provides evidence of the impact these measures are having. According to data for 2010, the DART rate for OICC Marine Corps Installations West stood at 0.58%. This percentage compares to the U.S. Labor Dept.'s national general construction DART rate of 2.3% for the same period, an astounding 75% improvement over the national industry average.

Clients who aggressively demand jobsite safety in this way help transform our industry. I agree. The military sees jobsite safety as a moral imperative, and they are holding contractors accountable as never before.


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