By Jerry Kingwill
Published in the September 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
It has become increasingly important for facility managers (fms) to hire builders who have implemented extensive health and safety programs. Although many builders have shied away from investing in new safety programs (perhaps due to the uncertain economic environment), the reality is that hiring a builder that is not cognizant of safety standards and regulations can be extremely costly and potentially devastating to a property.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the National Safety Council offer companies a wealth of information on implementing extensive safety programs which can improve overall worker wellness—as well as the productivity and safety of a work environment. Hiring a builder who engages its employees in one of these programs may limit the risk of an injury that could occur during a project while decreasing liability exposure both to the contractor and the fm.
It is important for the fm to recognize that a construction company with a quality health and safety program is invested in the performance and overall well-being of its employees. Above all, this demonstrates an understanding that these programs can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of injuries caused by unsafe working environments.
Qualified builders realize that engaging in a workplace safety program is a cost-effective and necessary part of the construction business. In a recent study, the American Society of Safety Engineers found that for every $1 spent on a quality safety and health program, businesses saved $8.
Even in these difficult times, safety is both responsible and profitable. When fms choose a company that has instilled safety measurements, it proves a socially responsible and financially sound decision.
There are many resources for fms that may help them to understand the importance of health and safety programs in the construction industry. The most commonly referenced organization, OSHA, is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
OSHA focuses on preventing work related injuries, illnesses, and deaths by issuing and enforcing standards for workplace safety and health. Many construction companies have partnerships with OSHA to ensure proper standards for their employees.
According to the OSHA Web site, an estimated 1.6 million Americans are employed in the construction industry. Each year, roughly 38,000 construction injuries are reported, with approximately 21,000 associated days of lost work. Many OSHA standards are directly associated to the prevention of possible fatalities like those documented in these statistics.
Another organization in health and safety regulation is NIOSH. NIOSH is a research agency focused on preventing work related illnesses and injuries.
The organization is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and moderates a WorkLife Initiative which focuses on worker wellness. According to the WorkLife Initiative’s Web site, “The initiative creates an opportunity for both the occupational safety and health community and the health promotion community to develop and implement workplace programs collaboratively that prevent workplace illness and injury, promote health, and optimize the health of the U.S. workforce.”
Lastly, the National Safety Council is a nonprofit, nongovernmental public service organization focused on protecting life and promoting health. Its Web site has a vast library of fact sheets, statistics, tips, and suggestions for safety both in and out of the workplace. The library features over 80 topics that can answer nearly any question a construction professional, fm, or business executive may have on health and safety in the workplace.
Although these organizations offer excellent suggestions and partnerships, the greatest challenge to the success of these programs is long-term maintenance. Fms may be more diligent in their hiring by looking for a builder who has hired a professional safety expert to help engage and motivate employees and managers in safety programs. Safety efforts cannot succeed without the continued enthusiasm and support of management.
Safety experts encourage companies to find ways to promote participation in safety programs (such as establishing incentive systems to get and keep employees involved and motivated). Incentives may include a system of earning points exchangeable for gifts, redeemable “safety cards” signed by management for safety compliance, safety games and promotions, departmental tracking of proper safety precautions, or company wide incentives for days without safety violations.
These methods and others may be used to keep safety in the forefront of the minds of employees. The cost of such incentives is insignificant compared to the potentially crippling costs of an unsafe workplace.
Worker wellness is another facet of a safer workforce, since a healthier workforce delivers higher quality work. Construction companies may promote a healthy workforce by offering smoking cessation initiatives, discounted gym memberships, or even first aid training classes. These programs can improve worker morale and ultimately result in a reduction of sick time, disability, and medical leave. Hiring builders who take care of their employees can ultimately benefit the outcome of any project.
Fms embarking on new construction projects and in search of a builder should be aware that the most beneficial outcome will be provided through those who have instilled safety regulations and standards. A builder’s creation and continued support of an efficient and motivating safety program is a vital component in achieving a happy, productive, and safe workplace. Safety is a small investment that can amount to huge returns while ensuring that a builder’s employees stay healthy and safe. And with a safety program in place, chances are even better that the job will be completed on time and within budget.
Kingwill is principal of Cobb Hill Construction, Inc. located in Concord, NH. He is also a board member of the NH/VT Chapter of ABC and is the author of The Value of a Safety Conscious Builder: How Extensive Safety Programs Encourage a Healthy Workforce.