By: Mike Pedro, Marketing Content Coordinator, Magnatag Visible Systems
ABSTRACT: Using a collection of stats provided by the United States Department of Labor, in addition to personal insight, this article will examine why the construction industry is behind the curve when it comes to incident ratings.
There’s undoubtedly some degree of disconnect when it comes to safety and its role in the construction industry—and you don’t need to look too far to prove it: According to stats provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nearly 6.5 million people work at 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. Out of the 6.5 million workers, 1,300 experienced a non-fatal work related injury with an additional 937 fatalities—out of the 4,836 national total—also reported in 2015. With the help of those statistics, it can be determined that .89% of all construction sites located in the US will experience at least one safety related incident per year. While that percentage only translates to a little over 2000 individual contractors, the statistic still plays a massive role in the industry’s 3.5 incident rate (a number that’s calculated by multiplying the number of recordable cases by 200,000, and then dividing that number by the number of labor hours available to a contractor or company), which is roughly 10% higher than the national average of 3.3.
It’s easy to attribute the above average incident rate as a mere outcome of working with heavy machinery and other jobsite specific work hazards, but after taking a closer look at where exactly other industries rank on the US Department of Labor’s Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Statistics from 2015, it appears as though that may not be the case.
THE PROBLEM: Repair and maintenance workers ended the year with a 2.6 incident rate, petroleum and gas manufacturers at a 2.3. Both occupations—in my opinion— arguably rival the risk associated with the role of a construction worker. The three careers exist within separate industries, which creates room for debate in regards to whether or not it is even fair to draw comparison between the three—so before we dive any deeper, I’ll take this moment to ease the skeptics:
On one hand, categorizing the entirety of the construction industry under a single label feels like a broad stroke of the pen. Between commercial contracting, concrete work, heavy construction, and demolition, there are hundreds of job responsibilities in play. To generalize a massive amount of workers under a single, overarching title, seems like a bit of a disservice to the many workers that are required to wear multiple hats to complete a job. Interestingly enough, the same can be said about the manufacturing and maintenance industries. Whether it’s performing multiple jobs on a supply chain, or working on machinery that varies in both style and purpose, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all job description. Both manufacturing operators and repair and maintenance workers are required to fill roles outside their standard responsibilities, paralleling the multi-purpose construction workforce. This is not to say that the risk connected with construction is mild when drawn in comparison to other professions, but this does bring to light an interesting question: If other industries that are forced to wrestle with similar jobsite responsibilities can manage to score below the national average workplace incident rate, then what exactly makes the construction industry the outlier?
THE ANSWER: Standardization. Yes, there are standards set in place by both the OSHA and the ANSI to help establish requirements for how construction equipment is designed and handled accordingly—and that’s not where the issue stands. The real issue with standardization and its relationship with safety in the construction industry is that there’s not a degree of consistency when it comes to daily safety operations. Thousands of regulations can be set in place to dictate what type of headgear you’re required to wear on-site, or which ladder is the best fit for a specific task; all those regulations amount to nothing if there’s no way to reinforce that regulations are being followed. If you were to ask a group of contractors about reinforcing safety guidelines on the jobsite, you’re going to hear a collection of responses that all come with a varying degree of success; some will work better than others, a few contractors will be in the midst of trying out a new system, but one thing is guaranteed: no two provisions will be exactly the same.
For both the manufacturing and maintenance industries, reinforcement stems from a change in principals and culture at the hands of the lean methodology. If you’re unfamiliar with lean, it’s best described as a systematic method for eliminating waste in the workplace—more specifically, within a manufacturing system. Developed as part of the Toyota Production System in 1980, lean has transformed the way success is defined for manufacturers by focusing on the concept of continuous improvement. The system focuses on completing smaller incremental goals within the production cycle to achieve a better end product, thereby enhancing productivity throughout an operation. Over the past few decades, the lean methodology has taken on a life of its own, finding success in a number of industries like aerospace, healthcare, and sales.
Time has shown that the true value of lean is not a collection of tools, but the philosophy and culture of the system itself. The 6S methodology, a foundational cornerstone of the lean program, is directly responsible for the standardization of workstations across the globe. Broken into six phases: “sort”, “set in order”, “shine”, “standardize”, “sustain”, and “safety”; 6S works as a system of checks and balances that helps ensure organization is a top priority in the workplace. Every tool has a place; every item that doesn’t add value to the operation is properly removed; every process has a standard. It’s a cultural thought process that’s completely absent from the minds of many contractors—and to make it perfectly clear, that’s not anyone’s fault. Rather, it’s a severe industry-wide misunderstanding of what it means to provide a safe jobsite. The OSHA and ANSI established laws and standards are a great starting point for jobsite safety, but as many contractors know, being aware of dangers doesn’t guarantee accidents won’t happen. There has to be some sort of instrument set in place to help reinforce safety measures on the jobsite.
CONCLUSIONS: Part of the reason both the manufacturing and maintenance industries are able to keep incident rates at a below average level is because these standards are entwined in their DNA. Companies have spent years tweaking and redefining their culture in hopes of creating a standardized process that works for their business.
The issue is, there has yet to be any sort of program or ideology that resonates in a similar manner for the construction industry. This standardization doesn’t necessarily have to be a 6S system—in fact, it can be anything that will serve as reinforcement—but whatever the answer may be, it has to be something both management and the workforce can get behind.
MEET THE AUTHOR: Mike Pedro is the Marketing Content Coordinator Magnatag Visible Systems, a leading supplier of dry erase systems that show what’s happening in your organization. Visit Magnatag.com for more information.
Contact Mike at: MikeP@Magnatag.com
Magnatag Visible Systems, O’Neil RD, Macedon, N, 800-624-4154, 2013