No one wants injuries—either for yourself or for your employees. And when a fatality occurs, the emotional ravages of human tragedy endure a lifetime. The obvious solution: accident prevention and the promotion of jobsite safety within your company.

Overcoming Barriers and Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Despite everyone’s ready acknowledgment of this truism, a number of very natural forms of resistance hold back the promotion and implementation of safe practices. Under the pressure of keeping a job on schedule, many workers find it inconvenient and time-consuming to follow safe practices. It is easier and faster to use the saw without the guard. Getting the right ladder and stabilizing it is a pain, especially when you are just finishing up some small project. Properly wearing and attaching a harness feels like a waste of time and slows progress down—all costing time and money! 

What makes this worse is that the guy you are competing against ignores all these procedures. You are in danger of losing out on the work to him. If you do it right, you’ll have to charge more and your jobs will take longer. There goes the competitive advantage. 

Why lose out on this advantage when it’s highly unlikely that anything will ever happen? Accidents don’t happen here. Many of our workers are young and in their prime, where they live with a sense of being invincible. Risk-taking demonstrates that they aren’t sissies, and caution can tarnish the image. Nothing bad can happen to them, they think, for they haven’t experienced much loss in their lives!

The problem is that accidents do happen—all too often! Older, more experienced workers realize it. Sometimes the injuries may be small, but with nagging, long-term consequences. And when the worst happens—and someone dies on your construction site—someone needs to make the call to a daughter, or to a spouse, telling them that their dad, or husband, won’t be coming home tonight. At that point, things like saving time, competitive advantage, being macho, and being invincible suddenly all take their proper perspective in the big picture of life. 

Because “safety is the right thing to do,” the greatest motivation to implement safe practices in your work flow is “a matter of the heart,” according to Dana Nathan Blose, Manager of Loss Control with the Builders Insurance Group in Atlanta. He points out that there are many solid financial reasons for caring about safety. But to become part of your company culture, the commitment to safety needs to be felt by all, especially those in leadership positions. With that passion driving it from the top, the necessary disciplines can then be implemented company-wide to make it work.

Show Me the Money—Money Not Spent
Despite the need for a heart passion, business is business, and an owner also needs to understand that safety—even though initially costing money to implement and maintain—ultimately should be viewed in terms of cost-savings for the company. The greatest savings are difficult to measure because you never know how much the accident which was prevented would have cost you and your company. But the fact that you are working in the construction industry makes it more likely that these will be real savings. The US Department of Labor states, “According to OSHA, out of 4,379 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2015, 937 or 21.4% were in construction — that is, one in five worker deaths last year were in construction.” (https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html)

The construction industry does not rate well when compared to other forms of industry in terms of safety. Most industrial environments have four walls and fixed machinery where the same task is repeated with relative consistency. In these contexts, it’s relatively easy to put controls in place. In contrast, a construction site is temporary, always in flux. The equipment and machinery used is designed for movement and portability. When it is “set up,” it is set up only until that part of the job is complete. As the building proceeds, the focus of work continually changes. This makes it much more difficult to have controls in place that can cover all the eventualities of such a fluid environment. 

Tom Maupin, Senior Vice President of Marketing for the Builders Insurance Group, points out the effects that they’ve observed from this fluid environment on workers comp claims: “In the controlled environment there are bumps, bruises, cuts, etc.—not the severe claims. On the other side, construction has fewer claims, but these claims are usually severe. Many times, even a person’s entire career is in jeopardy.” Workers in the construction industry have two strikes against them in terms of safety: the environment itself is more prone to accident and, when accidents occur, they tend to be severe. In this context the prevented accident can be a major financial bonus for a company. 

The cost of insurance, Workers Compensation and General Liability, must also be factored into the decision to develop a culture of safety in your company. Seasoned safety consultant, John Nain, of Nain & Associates, warns, “Remember, we have a very litigious society. Workman’s Compensation Insurance is a state requirement. Many/most states have lifetime medical responsibility attached to a worker’s compensation injury. Consequently, even something as simple as a back injury can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars in indemnity, medical, and legal costs. A fall resulting in paralysis could result in millions of dollars of cost. This can drive workman’s compensation premiums to the point of putting a company out of business. Subcontractors or their families can civilly sue a general contractor or property owner, or both. This can also cost your general liability carrier hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.” When claims go up, the cost of insurance goes up. These are out-of-pocket costs.

Just as real, though, are costs to the company not paid by insurance. If an employee is injured, what costs will result from the lack of production? How long will it take to get that employee back up to speed? Will that employee be able to perform at the same level he or she did before the injury? If that person needs to be replaced, how much does it cost to find their replacement in a challenging job market and train that person in? In addition to employee-related costs, you’ll also need to think of repairing or replacing damaged equipment. And, finally, not to be forgotten is OSHA. If you have not been following the OSHA guidelines and an accident occurs, the fines can be crippling and you may be facing jail time. 

On a positive side, establishing a culture of safety can be very positive for company morale. If workers in your company, from the top down, experience a genuine concern for their safety and wellbeing, they are more likely to be more committed in their work and to stay with you. Turnover costs are reduced and better work results. 

Simply said, safety isn’t only the right thing to do, it pays. 

Contributors to this article series:
Dana Nathan Blose, Manager of Loss Control, Builders Insurance Group.
Blose is responsible for development and management of Loss Control. He brings more than 20 years of proven experience in analyzing business operations and development of cost effective loss control solutions and the implementation thereof.

Tom Maupin, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Builders Insurance Group. Maupin oversees the promotion of the company’s products in 17 states through a network of over 650 independent insurance agents. He provides “big picture” business and strategic information with regard to safety training.

John Nain, Owner, Nain and Associates. Nain provides safety training, safety monitoring, OSHA compliance, and accident mitigation services to business owners, including those involved in residential construction through heavy industry construction, as well as to engineering and architectural firms. He works primarily in the southeast U.S. and uses his 30 years of experience as a safety professional and 10 years of experience in owning a business to bring a “real world” perspective to the subject.