On May 1, the International Code Council kicked off the first week of Building Safety Month by working towards its goal of preserving the building industry’s shrinking workforce. As the week comes to a close, Facility Executive spoke with Scott Cook, safety, health, and environmental manager for Schneider Electric for insights into his approach to safety. Cook’s advice was simple, but impactful: communication is the key to success when it comes to building safety. And technology is constantly evolving — creating new safety procedures and communication challenges. Following is the conversation…
Facility Executive: Can you provide some background on Building Safety Month?
Cook: Building Safety Month is internationally recognized in May to raise public awareness about the need for safe and sustainable buildings. It was founded by the International Code Council and has been celebrated by jurisdictions worldwide for 37 years. The public awareness program was designed to help individuals, families, and businesses better understand what it takes to create safe and sustainable structures. It reinforces the need for the adoption of modern, model building codes, a strong and efficient system of code enforcement, and a well-trained professional workforce to maintain the system.
FE: How does safety impact the success of a facility or business?
Cook: Safety impacts the success of a facility or business in multiple ways. For many organizations, the safety of employees is the primary focus, and I believe the key to the success of the business. An organization’s biggest investment is often its employees. They’re the ones creating products or services and interacting with customers and partners to advance the business. The safer and more prepared they feel in their roles, the better work they will do. I also believe that a known reputation and record for employee safety contributes to employee retention and recruitment.
This focus on employee safety has clearly taken off and has significantly improved in the last few decades due to the efforts of employers, safety and health professionals, unions, and advocates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, worker deaths in America are down on average from about 38 per day in 1970 to 13 per day in 2015. Worker injuries and illnesses are down from 10 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to three per 100 in 2015. This drop can be attributed to continued work from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), state partners, and efforts of employers.
FE: What are the key skills that facility managers should master to create safer environments?
Cook: The number one skill a facility manager should master when it comes to fostering a safe environment is communication. Today’s facility professionals are tasked with juggling the needs of many different groups — from customers, to employees, to contractors, and more. Being able to manage projects and processes smoothly from start to finish requires clear communication with all of these groups of people to make sure they understand how changes within the facility will impact their safety and role.
Also, facility managers are responsible for communicating new standards, procedures, and codes to the groups referenced above. Planning for and executing an effective roll-out of updated code information and safety measures can be challenging if you aren’t a strong communicator.
Recently, OSHA identified the top 10 hazards for workplace fatality or severe injury. The most remarkable thing about the list is that it rarely changes. This tells us that employers are not doing an effective job in providing the proper education and training that’s needed to keep their employees safe. An employer or facility manager can eliminate some of these unsafe circumstances by making sure their personnel are confident and comfortable with the work they are doing on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, the Department of Labor strongly urges employers to go beyond the minimum requirements to create a culture of safety at work, which has been shown to reduce costs, raise productivity, and even improve morale.
FE: Can you provide examples as to how communication skills benefit facility managers?
Cook: Strong communication skills are critical not only for facility managers, but for many roles across the organization. It’s important to be able to ask intelligent questions that address the needs of different individuals. You may need to ask for clarification or favors when undertaking projects and initiatives. Facility managers in particular need to have a good relationship with their own teams, but also with the construction crews and contractors they may work with on projects. From a building safety standpoint, it’s important to show that you value the work and personal safety of the people you interact with, which ultimately will lead to better engagement and more successful projects.
FE: What steps can facility managers take this month to improve their building safety practices?
Cook: Facility managers need to look at their building as a whole — not only the obvious safety measures like installing an intelligent security system, lighting, door access, etc. but also look at safety holistically. One way to do that is to look around your building and uncover any areas where you could be exposing yourself and your employees to undue hazards, then put plans into place to make changes to reduce risks.
Another way where facility managers can make an impact is by looking to the future. Learn about new technologies on the market that are designed to improve building safety, attend webinars and industry events that foster discussions around best practices, and tap the knowledge of their professional networks through social media. Then when the time comes to implement new safety measures, make sure your personnel understands them as well as you do. The true leaders in building safety will be the organizations and individuals that are always looking for new ways to improve upon the safety of their spaces and the people inside them.