For the past several years, up to three of the top five concerns expressed by respondents to CFMA's Construction Industry Annual Financial Survey have been insurance-related. And, contractors continue to seek how to leverage their investment in safety and risk management.
The traditional view of safety has been as a line item expense calculated within administrative overhead or as a cost center. Construction Financial Managers use a variety of techniques to evaluate the cost effectiveness of recommended safety and risk reduction investments. These include: ROI, ROE, and/or ROC calculations; cost benefit analyses; and breakeven analyses.
However, some forward-thinking contractors have gone beyond seeing the direct link of profitability from safety and risk management to establishing safety as a profit center. A select few have captured even greater value by making safety part of their brand image.
Either way, a program that measures safety — and risk-related leading indicators, loss analysis rates, and indirect costs can provide contractors with a competitive advantage that goes far beyond lower insurance rates.
Some companies understand that the fixed cost of insurance, the premium, is the smallest piece of the insurance pie. They recognize that true savings more often result from decreasing the variable costs of their insurance program — the loss dollars from claims.
These companies have learned that proactive safety and risk management programs increase profitability — they reduce risk, prevent claims, and contain costs through aggressive claims management.
What is their secret? Through the ongoing measurement of risk indicators, these contractors establish goals for improvement and continuously monitor their company's performance. Some traditional measures include such frequency and severity incidence rates as:
- Total OSHA recordable cases
- Total lost workday cases
- Total lost workdays
- Number of fatalities1
Called lagging indicators, these measures are passive metrics of prior results without consideration of the activities that influence the results. Also called downstream measures or trailing indicators, lagging indicators provide feedback on data collected and analyzed "after-the-fact." These metrics are diagnostic and sometimes prescriptive; they reveal past performance and highlight improvement opportunities.
In contrast, current and leading indicators provide different views of safety and risk performance. Designed to influence real-time outcomes, current indicators provide almost immediate feedback on present activities. Current indicators include a supervisor's same-day completion of an incident report or the number of job safety observations completed on a project each day vs. an established goal.
Leading indicators are proactive measures of focused activities to prevent incidents of a general or specific nature. Also called upstream measures, these metrics are "beforethe-fact"2 and can predict future performance.
For example, a high number of safety orientations should help decrease the frequency and severity of onsite accidents. (The first table below compares lagging, current, and leading indicators for safety performance. The second table lists examples of emerging leading indicators for productivity, quality control, and risk management.)
|Lagging, Current & Leading Indicators
|Emerging Leading Indicators
Measured by the Number of:
Measured by the Number of:
Measured by the Number of:
|Field supervisors with laptops or hand-held technology
|Independent third-party expert reviews on prototypical designs or materials
|Pre-bid constructability, scope, and schedule reviews completed
|Administrative staff trained on automated functions
|Architect and engineer approvals for changes to specified materials or design specifications
|Pre-qualified or pre-approved subcontractors on the eligible bidding list
|Open trade/craft employee positions filled compared to percentage needed
|Quality assurance inspections completed
|Subcontracts signed before starting work
|Days with no idle equipment
|Detected defects corrected
|Project sites properly planned and laid-out for logistics, traffic control, and work zones
|Projects with proper sequencing of trades
|Project files with digital photos of conformance to specifications
|Project sites inspected for compliance to safety and risk controls
|Projects completed on time
|Completed projects with no open punch list items
|Projects that had a post-mortem review of project risk performance
While many contractors know their basic loss picture, fewer understand the factors that cause or contribute to accidents and claims. To leverage safety and risk management, contractors need to identify where to invest time, staff, and other resources. An analysis of historical claims and loss experience provides an excellent starting point.
There are many methods of analyzing claim and loss data, but it's important to conduct both macro- and micro-level analyses, which provide the clearest perspective on what types of accidents are loss leaders, in addition to clues about necessary prevention activities. Trend, type, causal, and lost workday case analyses are four basic and reliable methods.
A trend analysis determines the number of claims and the total incurred losses (the dollars paid plus the dollars reserved to pay for the future cost development of the claims) for each line of insurance coverage over a period of time. This provides a quick "big picture” view of claim count and loss experience by policy year.
A type analysis summarizes the frequency of claims and the resulting incurred claim costs by type of loss. This method uncovers the leading types of loss for your company. For example, you may learn that two or three leading types of loss account for greater than 70% of your loss dollars.
By highlighting the areas that have the greatest impact on risk management performance, this analysis helps focus prevention efforts.
A causal analysis determines the reasons for accidents and resulting claims by evaluating various causal factors for each leading type of claim. It indicates areas for possible incident prevention activities and safety management controls.
Ideally, you'll be able to determine the job classification with the greatest number of claims and highest claim costs. For example, you might learn that "falls" are your company's leading type of workers' comp claim, making up 20% of your total claim count and 65% of your total incurred losses.
By evaluating the causes of your company's losses, you may discover that 60% of the falls were the result of a fall from an elevated surface — with 40% resulting from slips, trips, and falls on the same level. You might also learn that 10% of the total falls from elevation claims occurred from a scaffold or ladder, but that the other 90% resulted from getting into or out of vehicles or heavy equipment.
The safety and risk management controls for each of these causes are different. Depending upon the findings in the causal analysis, additional drill-downs should provide even better clues.
The success of this analysis hinges on the depth of your company's accident reporting and investigation process, as well as the quality of the claim coding information. Some of the best factors to evaluate include:
- Day of week
- Time of day
- Date of loss vs. the date of hire
- Objects and materials involved in the loss
Lost Workday Case Analysis
Why focus on lost workday cases? After fatalities, lost workday cases are among the most serious type of workers' comp claims.
Greater than a third of all workplace injuries result in lost workdays. According to the National Safety Council, the average cost of lost workday cases across all industries in 2005 was $38,000, an increase from $28,000 in the year 2000.3
The average for the construction industry is not calculated separately. However, the construction industry figure should be significantly higher for three reasons:
The median number of days for each lost workday case is higher for construction than across all industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports seven days as the median number of lost workdays per case for all private industries in 2005.
In contrast, the median is eight days on average for specialty trade contractors, nine days for general building contractors, and 11 days for heavy and civil contractors.
- The construction industry has some of the highest average labor wage costs among major industry groups.
Modified or restricted duty assignments in formal return-to-work programs appear to be increasing throughout the construction industry.
Yet, pockets of resistance still exist among some employers, employees, labor groups, and medical practitioners — even though such resistance results in longer absences and higher costs per case.
A lost workday case analysis determines the number, type, and severity of lost workday cases by occupation and body part. The most important portion of this analysis is the comparison of minor and major lost time cases.
"Runaway claims" can be identified by comparing the average length of cases greater than nine days (the overall median for the construction industry) vs. the average for cases less than nine days.
The distribution of lost workday cases by duration metric helps underscore the need to evaluate policies, procedures, and administrative controls to improve accident prevention and claim management.
Here's how it works: The chart below summarizes one contractor's average duration of lost workday cases. The contractor's totals were benchmarked against the average Bureau of Labor Statistics totals for the construction industry. In this case, 54% of lost workday cases exceeded 31 days of lost time, slightly more than double the construction industry average.
Further analysis revealed that the median number of lost workdays for each case was 37 days (four times higher than the figure for the construction industry). The average length of cases less than nine days was only three days each; however, the average for cases longer than nine days was 90 days.
This meant that, on average, this contractor incurred a "runaway" claim after the fourth day of lost time for every injured worker. In effect, excessive days of lost work time unnecessarily increased this contractor's total loss costs.
From the contractor's point of view, this analysis helped demonstrate the importance of injury prevention. Severity reduction of lost workdays was identified as the goal and the contractor decided to partner aggressively with the claim service team on:
- prompt reporting and thorough investigation of all injuries;
- coordinated identification of modified duty assignments; and
- better nurse case management to help injured employees return to work sooner.
Indirect Cost Assessments
New, sophisticated tools are now available to help contractors measure, monitor, and align safety and risk goals with overall financial performance.
As already mentioned, risk performance metrics provide useful information about the following key performance indicators:
- leading types of losses,
- their causal factors, and
- possible corrective actions.
The next factor plays to the Construction Financial Manager's expertise: demonstrating the financial impact of insurance claims.
Not only does this metric show the financial benefits of safety, but it also creates a compelling business case for proactive safety and risk management.
Direct vs. Indirect Costs
Like other areas of construction financial management, insurance claims have both direct and indirect costs. For our purposes, the insured loss costs are considered direct costs, and the uninsured loss costs are indirect costs.
The indirect costs are the "hidden" costs and share three key characteristics:
- They act as a multiplier upon direct (insured) costs that increases the total cost of insurance claims.
- They are often not captured or calculated and, therefore, are not consistently charged-back or recovered in job costing systems.
- The net effect of factors one and two is a drain on contractor profitability.
There are many different estimates used by safety and risk management professionals for calculating the impact of indirect costs. Safety industry sources indicate an average ratio of indirect to direct accident costs from 2:1 to 4:1.
One conservative method is available at the OSHA Web site, where a sliding scale multiplier is provided that depends on the total direct cost. Note that the indirect cost multiplier decreases as direct costs increase. To calculate your company's ratio using this method, go to www.osha.gov/Region7/fallprotection/safetypays.html.
Required Revenue Replacement
Achieving buy-in for safety and risk management programs from other construction executives and operational managers can be a challenge. However, the revenue replacement tool is a convincing way to show the additional sales needed to offset the cost of insurance claims.
This number varies based upon total cost of losses and the company's profit margin expressed as a percentage:
Annual Losses (in dollars) ÷ Company's Profit Margin
With this metric, it's simple to see the total additional sales required to offset the cost of claims. Once upper management appreciates how substantial claim costs can be, it's much easier to obtain buy-in for proactive safety and risk management practices.
The most important outcome of risk performance metrics is the focus on continuous risk improvement initiatives. Incident prevention and claim management initiatives can significantly improve a contractor's jobsite productivity, quality control, risk management, and safety programs.
The net effect of this investment is a potentially significant increase in profitability, not to mention a bidding advantage for contractors.
- National Safety Council
- BLS Table R65: Number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by industry and number of days away from work, 2005
- BLS Table R66: Number and percent distribution of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by occupation and number of days away from work, 2005
- Harvard Business Review: "Competing on Analytics" by Thomas H. Davenport (January 2006)
1 Petersen, Dan, "Setting Goals, Measuring Performance: Frequency Versus Severity," Professional Safety, Vol. 50, No. 12. December 2005, pp. 43-48.
2 Janicak, Christopher A., Safety Metrics: Tools and Techniques for Measuring Safety Performance, Government Institutes/ABS Consulting, Rockville, 2003.
3 National Safety Council. (2006). Injury Facts®, 2006 Edition. Itasca, IL.