Unplug: Remove electronic distractions while driving
Three. That’s the average number of daily construction fatalities in the United States. Three per day. And that’s three too many.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of 4,674 worker fatalities in private industry in 2017, their latest data, 971 or 20.7% were fatalities in construction. In other words, one in five worker deaths last year were in construction. Since 1992, daily construction worker fatalities have averaged about three per day, except between 2009 - 2014 when construction activity was in a downturn. Now, at a time when construction activity is abuzz, it’s time to sharpen our safety focus to assure no uptick in the number but, to also drive that number down to zero. Even in an industry that is inherently risky, we should always aspire to do better. Culture, not an afterthoughtSafety in construction has come a long way from the early days of building our cities, towns and infrastructure. Risk management has become a focus in an industry with extremely high risk. Because of the commitment of the construction industry to worker safety and dedicated safety professionals, safety programs have become part of the culture, instead of an afterthought. And construction safety programs have continuously improved. Safety professionals measure safety on many levels to reduce incidents, accidents and fatalities. The success of a safety program is determined using OSHA and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics data such as Total Recordable Incident Rate, Lost Time Incident Rate and Days Away Restricted or Transferred Rate, to name a few. Years of tracking and measuring safety have facilitated the development of OSHA standards and the improvement of safety programs through modification and enhancements. Tracking specific injuries such as trips, slips and falls, falls from height, sprains and strains, struck by’s and fatalities determine where the focus of safety should be within a corporation or specific project. Behavioral-based safety has also empowered the on-site workers to contribute and drive safety for their benefit and the benefit of their fellow workers. Plus, many injuries have been reduced due to safety equipment, processes and procedures specifically designed to target managing outcomes. Although progress has been made in many ways, for over 25 years the number of fatalities per day still averages three. Changing challengesConstruction is inherently risky. Depending on circumstance, construction projects are constantly changing. Work schedules and specifications are modified as needed and worker experience varies. These changes create adjustments and confusion that can distract, even momentarily, workers from safety protocols and procedures. Likewise, in today’s competitive construction market, the talent shortage and the industry’s aging workforce pose additional safety risks. (Read Gary Kaplan’s Constructive Conversations column - Helping clients tackle the labor challenge – to learn more.) Construction isn’t the only industry that’s had to face safety challenges head on. Consider the auto industry. According to the National Safety Council, in 2018, an estimated 40,000 people lost their lives to car crashes in the US – a 1% decline from 2017 (40,231 deaths) and 2016 (40,327 deaths). Despite the 5-digit numbers of fatalities, the industry has taken an aggressive stance to reduce fatalities. Volvo, for one, says it is “Aiming for Zero” by using knowledge and technology to create more sustainable and safe personal transportation. According to Volvo President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson, “Our vision is that by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.” Volvo plans to reduce the number of people who die every year in road traffic accidents by focusing on safety, people and quality. Similarly, the construction industry’s focus on safety, people and quality seems to be a reasonable path to achieve zero fatalities.