The safety behavior makes the safety difference

Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” — Arnold H. Glasow

What determines a successful job? Is it under budget? Is it on schedule? Is it zero injuries? These questions are clichés in this industry. Of course the answer is zero injuries at all costs, right? Speaking of schedule or budget ahead of safety is pure blasphemy. Why? Why are these three mutually exclusive? Why can we not aim for a job to be delivered on time and within budget? Delivering a job safely is not an expensive endeavor. As Glasgow so eloquently stated, success comes down to setting ourselves on fire. Success, regardless of your definition, does not just happen. It is not the result of happenstance or fortune. Success is attained via the track we lay for ourselves ahead of the evercharging freight train that is expectation.

As recently as 60 years ago, jobs were planned with an expectant number of fatalities. Think about that for a moment. Over those past several decades, we have seen the advent of OSHA, site-specific procedures, pre-job briefs, job hazard assessment sheets, lift plans, material safety data sheets, confined space procedures, zero tolerance fall protection programs, and on and on. The days of planning an expectant number of fatalities into a job are long since passed. The days of expecting a certain number of injuries are long since passed. The current expectation on any job is and should be zero incidents. We have reached this pinnacle in workplace safety that even if all conscience and moral standing is removed, we are required to be safe on the job because it will affect the monetary outcome of a project due to insurance, lost production time, investigation costs, etc. A job with an injury can and should be considered a failure with all that is simply required by law in this day and age.

Contractors should no longer use safety as an excuse to miss a deadline or to run over budget. Safety is paramount. Safety is the rule of the day and all work should be planned accordingly. We all, as contractors, ought to be able to develop a work plan that factors in any and all standards or procedures written in the blood of those who’ve come before. Nearly every rule or regulation in the industry is written as a result of or in reaction to an incident. Work standards and procedures are only cumbersome and inhibiting when conveniently hid behind and not planned into the work.

Now this all may seem a bit aggressive and perhaps accusatory; however, this is a two-way street. Management must commit to plan and budget work to account for the provision of proper tools, proper PPE, proper timeframe and any other item required for the success of our employees. But in return, the craft in the field must recognize this commitment and be held accountable for their actions. A top down commitment to a positive safety culture from management must be met with a desire and ability to make the proper choice in the face of a hazard. The days of “this is how we’ve always done it” for the craft are just as extinct as the days of “just get in there and do it” for management. Any continued energy put into fighting or circumventing the work standards of the day are only jeopardizing job schedules, job budgets and safety records. Men and women become needlessly injured, jobs become needlessly delayed and job costs become needlessly inflated.

Better planning and acceptance of safe work standards would lead to fewer injuries; fewer injuries lead to fewer job delays; fewer job delays lead to jobs being completed within budget and schedule, and ultimately lead to more money available for investment into future jobs. Zero injuries, within budget and on schedule are not mutually exclusive goals. They are achieved hand in hand with management and craft approaching a task with a mutual acceptance of safe work practices rather than a convenient ignorance to them.

Risk is mitigated by doing what one can to ensure the people employed are going to make the right choice. I heard this best expressed a few years ago as “it is not the rule, but the behavior that makes the difference.” This industry does not need more rules; it needs a better culture.


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