Tag Archives: construction site

Construction Safety: Listen, Learn and Lead

I start this article with listening, as that truly comes first. Learning and leading follow. Used together, these tools can make the construction site a much safer place indeed.


When I was on the farm, we broke the axle on a piece of equipment that cut grass to bale. Dad took me to the John Deere dealer, and the conversation went like this: “Max, my haybine is in the middle of the field on its belly. Broke most of the knives, so I need a dozen or two, and the main axle sheared right off.” “Well, Robert, I never had an axle break on a haybine since I owned this place. But, let me get you one.” (As an aside, dealer Max was no fan of my dad.) As Max left to grab the part, Dad whispered to me, “If they never break, why does he keep them in stock?” This was my early lesson on listening.

In construction, we easily criticize the guy falling off a ladder. “Of course he fell, he was on the top step!” If we had asked the injured worker and listened to why he was on top, he likely would have replied, “That’s the ladder they gave me.”

My firm works in semiconductor factories and manufacturing plants across the U.S. Today, we celebrated one full year without a recordable incident at our largest site. Most of our projects are routinely injury-free. At a recent site gathering of safety managers from other trades (and our client), the conversation centered on how some of the workers could just not “get it,” and the thought was offered that stricter requirements or more scrutiny would turn them around. We offered that we had a similar project 20 miles away that many considered a safe, model site. No injuries, no drama and a happy workforce.

We proposed a challenge to the group. (This is the “leading” part of our safety philosophy and why our firm is considered a leader in our field.) We told them (not suggested) that we would interview that model project’s team and share what was working at their site with everyone.

So we took the time to listen to our “model” team: John Wood and Steven Enright, our safety managers; Mario Gabriel, our project director; and Brian LaRosa, one of its foremen, who truly stands out. These guys were excited and happy that someone took the time to listen. Filming was simple: a cellphone on a stand in a break room and lighting supplied by a window. It was a big success, and the lamenting group, after watching our interviews, went on and interviewed 30 other folks in the field who know what works. That’s how you lead. You may think it odd I included the names of our team, but we need to recognize success more often and spend less time publishing rates that highlight our misfortune.

See also: Adopting New Standards of Safety  

Summing up, take the time to listen to those doing the work. When there is an accident (remember the guy on the ladder?), interviews are the first thing we do to learn more about what went wrong. Consider the power of asking what he needed to be safe—before he fell. And then remember to thank the person who taught you. It is critical to let those who share their tips know how valuable they were to others. Before you move on to your next battle, thank the warriors from the last.


I love the idea of simplification. I do not like clutter. So when I spotted the practice of piling as many tools on a cart as we can to take into a clean room, I asked why? “Well, that’s how we have always done it.” That, of course, grabbed my attention. But, consider the fact that a pilot uses the same preflight checklist every time. If you ask him or her why, the reply may be: “We have always done it this way.” Considering we have not had an air disaster in the U.S. in  years, we do need to listen and learn from the experts. However, remember, someone once suggested the idea of a checklist to a pilot.

So, I reviewed the data for the last few years—had we ever had an incident or injury from a messy cart? No. Does the cluttered cart pose a hazard to anyone? Kinda. Have we ever had complaints from the customer on how we use and store these carts? Yes. Should we take the time to organize these carts to simplify? Yes—but with the users. To step in and organize a good worker’s cart or toolbox would be like rooting around in my wife’s pocketbook; something you never do. New to safety, I was once pointedly told by an upset ironworker in Philadelphia (as I searched through his gang box for unsafe things) that you need to ask the owner first and then look with him, my listening lesson.

Back to learning and listening. When I asked a foreman why the cart was often messy, he replied that it was a real hassle to leave the work area (clean room), ungown, get the tool he needs, wipe down the tools, regown and return to the work area. That system was the contributor to clutter. I asked why he didn’t install a simple shadow box rack on top to hang his tools; his answer: “They just give me the cart.…” I replied, “If we can cut down the time it takes for you to search through the clutter to find your level and make sure everything you could possibly need is on the cart, would that make the job easier and faster?” That’s what we are figuring out, together, today.

Great workers treasure their tools and are proud of how they are used. Any changes we recommended must answer his or her classic question: “What’s in this for me?” The answer we are working toward is for those users to be part of something big (leading) and for them to want to share their knowledge (listening) and then share that outcome with the rest of our company, our clients and the industry (leading).


Reportedly there is a quote at West Point that goes something like, “Before you can lead, you need to learn to march. Over the course of my career, I have witnessed and worked for firms that are more than happy to just march. The interview approach we just discussed is a great example of stepping up in front of your clients and your competitors to lead. Leading is easier in safety, for we love to share everything we know and do not see another contractor’s safety manager as a competitor. We are one of the few groups that strive to protect everyone—not just whom we work for. I call my safety team the “lifesavers” with pride, for that is what true safety professionals are.

The tendency for many firms is to follow because it’s easier. But as with a sled dog, unless you are the lead dog, the view ahead is never pretty. I once had the idea of a national database to share lessons learned among general contractors and our owners. The lessons would be filtered through a well-known safety school and made available to everyone. When I proposed the idea to my boss at the time, he told me, “TJ, it’s not what you can do for the industry, it’s what you can do for this firm.” That’s following.

Organizations that are content with marching, not leading, will realize little improvement in their safety efforts. Rates will be static, and people will be unhappy. Many of us love to lead, and many of those doing the work with us want to be a part of that. When everyone is involved in leading, you are surrounded by leaders, not followers.

See also: Connected Buildings and Workplace Safety  

In one of my most satisfying efforts while working at Turner, I gathered 14 of my safety professionals, and we brainstormed in a basement break room for an hour. While I sat atop a stool wearing a wizard’s outfit and cap, we had a focused and fun conversation on what the perfect scissor lift could look like. No suggestion was too wild. What resulted were some of the freshest ideas from some of the best people. We drove that list of suggestions to Canada and met with the largest scissor lift manufacturer in North America. Some of those ideas can now be seen on lifts today. That’s leading.


As you plan your day, look for those exciting opportunities to lead, and give others the chance. It will bring a sense of professionalism to you and highlight your company, and, for those doing construction safety work each day, you will see excitement in the ranks and pride in their faces, and everyone will look forward to going to work.

This article was first published on IRMI.com and is reproduced with permission. Copyright 2014, International Risk Management Institute, Inc.

Let’s Open Our Eyes to Work Safety Issues

Beware of those who seek to revise history by erasing or rewriting it altogether. This rule applies to the study of history, as well as the history of a subject such as consumer or construction safety. Indeed, for all the safety features that are now standard features in automobiles, from airbags and anti-lock brakes to seatbelts and side impact beams: If we look at how much safer it is drive, it is even more shocking to learn the history of resistance by car manufacturers to the most basic forms of safety.

The same is true within the construction industry, not because of opposition by workers, but because of challenges by insurers; which is to say that, just because a new type of technology increases safety—just because cameras allow a crane operator to see an entire job site—does not mean insurers want to champion the power of sight.

This is not an indictment against insurers, but a reminder that change is a matter of small steps rather than a series of giant leaps. It is a matter of education and engagement by the advocates of change, of attendance at seminars large and small, of speaking to convention-goers and going to conferences of regional influence and national importance, of listening, always, and never failing to answer questions.

See also: Bridging Health and Productivity at Work  

Take Chris Machut of Netarus, whose company develops innovative solutions for overhead cranes, tugboats and construction sites.

I mention his name, and commend him for having made a name for himself regarding safety, because too many otherwise avoidable crane accidents happen—like the one on the 17th anniversary of 9/11, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City—in which the inability to see what is necessary puts workers and pedestrians at an unnecessarily high degree of risk.

While that accident was not deadly, it was nonetheless responsible for traffic delays and gridlock along the West Side Highway. It was also a reminder that a few degrees separate the safe installation of a steel beam and its collapse against a crane, costing lives and the livelihoods of workers.

How, then, can insurers get behind a movement, whose members want to avert danger and stay ahead of possible threats?

In so many words: Pay attention.

Pay attention, not to perceived problems but to certified opportunities to improve safety.

Pay attention to technology that expands visibility and enhances accountability.

Pay attention to the agents of change, be they vendors or those who want to better protect a venue, so you can lower costs and boost confidence with current and prospective clients.

See also: Agents Must Become ‘Discussion Partners’  

Above all, do not mistake an asset for a liability. Not when the technology that ensures safety deserves support from insurers. Not when we can save lives by acting together. Not when the consequence of inaction is a burden we cannot bear and a hardship we cannot meet, based on a pledge we cannot keep.

Let us open our eyes to safety.

Copper Theft Solution Reduces Claims For Construction Sites

Copper theft presents a significant challenge for loss control.

Unlike other property crimes where “recovery” goes a long way toward mitigating the loss, such as the recovery of a stolen car in an auto theft, the recovery of the stolen copper seldom impacts the size of the claim.

Copper theft is different because the damage done to a building stealing a few hundred dollars' worth of copper can cost insurers tens of thousands of dollars to repair. The typical copper theft claim involves the damage done ripping wires and plumbing out of walls or the coils from a rooftop HVAC system. In vacant buildings, thieves target water lines and sprinkler systems as well as the electrical wiring. Once a vacant property has been hit, thousands of dollars must be spent to bring it back up to code before it can be occupied. It is this “collateral damage” that makes copper theft claims so expensive to an insurance company.

The key to reducing copper theft claims is prompt police response. The faster law enforcement arrives, the less time thieves have to damage the property. Faster police response is what wireless video alarms deliver and why they are a valuable tool for loss control against copper theft.

Copper theft has impacted insurance companies across North America, becoming a mainstream problem covered by television news. The following reports from television news underscore much of what this article is attempting to communicate — a new paradigm to mitigate risk and reduce claims impacting the real world from Virginia to Arizona.

Construction crime is a close cousin to copper theft and has been a black hole for risk management with few affordable solutions. The nature of construction risk is temporary and this means that wired surveillance cameras and alarm systems are simply too expensive and cumbersome to install to make them cost-effective.

The technology challenges are significant: in addition to limited budgets there is often no power, no phone lines, and no easy access to internet. Policy holders do not want to spend large amounts of money for temporary infrastructure that has no value after the job is done. For construction, human guarding is the most obvious approach, but it is beyond the budgets of many job sites. With guarding cost prohibitive, from a loss control perspective there have been very few affordable options for mainstream policy holders to protect their projects. Construction remains a problem child for many insurers who are forced to raise deductibles and implement exclusions to make construction profitable.

The following newscast from Buffalo, New York describes the challenges of securing a construction site and successes found with wireless video alarm systems.

While human guards have become too expensive and unreliable for many sites, technology is improving and loss control has a new tool to secure construction sites. Portable wireless video alarms give loss control professionals an affordable tool to deliver police response to a job site before the damage occurs. These new wireless camera/detectors (called MotionViewers) sense an intruder and send a short video clip of the incident over the cell network to a central monitoring station for immediate review and police dispatch and priority police response.

The immediate review/response with a monitored video alarm has proven more effective than human guards as the sensor/cameras are installed in multiple points across the job site to detect and report any activity. The crucial factor in reducing claims for copper theft is immediate police response, and video verified alarms make all the difference — the monitoring central station operator is a virtual eyewitness to the crime.

Police treat a video verified alarm as a crime-in-progress — they respond faster and they make arrests. Case studies on video verified alarms have arrest rates of over 50%. One construction site in Arizona had 40 arrests over four months on a single site. Arrests make a difference because one arrest prevents an additional 30 crimes — copper theft is typically done by habitual thieves who target construction sites or vacant property.

To be affordable and effective, the camera/sensors must be easy to install, without the cost of trenching cables and running wires. Power is a challenge as many construction sites have only temporary power provided by generators during working hours. Many vacant building have no power at all.

The wireless Videofied alarm systems need no infrastructure to secure a site. They operate for months or even years on batteries, communicating over the cell network to the central station. These portable MotionViewers are more effective than fixed cameras because they can be moved to protect the assets on a job site as the project evolves. Portability is important because construction theft is often an inside job by a subcontractor familiar with the delivery and location of expensive materials or assets — and they know the locations of fixed cameras and how to avoid them. In contrast, magnetic mounts on the wireless MotionViewers enable the job supervisor to move the cameras, placing them on steel studs and tool cribs at the end of the day to protect what is most at risk.

Wireless video verified alarms for outdoor applications mean that loss control professionals have an effective tool to fight copper theft that is affordable enough for implementation by their policy holders. For more information visit www.videofied.com.