It is evident that the traditional means of safety leadership are no longer working very well in the construction industry. While the industry continues to use traditional forms of managing safety with an emphasis on continuous improvement, it continues to produce the lion’s share of workplace injuries and fatalities. The real focus needs to be in transforming the industry to hold safety as core value and where leadership clearly defines a safe work culture the employees can embrace.

Stark numbers

Preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that during 2010 there were 4,547 work related fatalities. Construction fatalities once again accounted for the largest share at 751 or 16.5 percent. This has been the same story for many years; there were 726 and 816 construction fatalities in 2008 and 2009, respectively. These statistics verify that much work is still needed in an industry that continues to produce the largest number of fatalities each year.

This area can be significantly improved with the employment of certified safety professionals, technologists and supervisors. By requiring certification, employers ensure there is proven competency in both technical knowledge and broad experience. Testing in the certification process demonstrates that certificate holders have leadership, communication, people and management skills to help guide management in the development of a strong safety process and culture. Leadership drives the culture and culture drives the safety process.

Certification benefits

How can safety certification help in the construction environment? A key component is the quality of the certification being attained. At present, there are over 300 certifications available in the safety profession. Of these 300, approximately 12 meet the necessary criteria to hold the standard of National/International accreditation. Two of the key accreditations are American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Both of these accreditation bodies have stringent criteria to meet their standards and include:

  • Governance with nominations/elections from current credential holders, peer participation along with public participation and interest.
  • A financial component that clearly shows stability and where the money goes.
  • Quality education and experience play key roles in being allowed to pursue the certification.
  • Certification is then gained through examinations which must show content validity, reliability and established passing scores in order to provide all candidates an equal chance.

What it’s worth

What is the true value of a quality certification? On a personal level it is increased self-image, a sense of accomplishment and the opportunity to compete for higher positions. On a peer level it means you have achieved a peer-based professional standard and provides for leadership opportunities. For the employer it is the assurance of practical knowledge, education and assistance with selection of the most qualified candidate. For the general public it is in knowing that there is credibility and reliable performance from the professionals, technologists, and supervisors that hold a quality certification.

Ensuring continuous improvement

Developing a quality certification involves several steps, which include validation/revalidation with subject matter experts (SME) who convene to review/revise domains and tasks with corresponding specific, defined knowledge and skills.

Once this is complete, credential holders are requested to review, rank and validate the information. The results are then validated and a new blueprint is developed to show the different subject domains and tasks, along with knowledge and skills requirements.

A new exam is assembled, guided by the results of the new blueprint. The exam is then submitted to psychometric experts who review the exam for wording and bias.

The next step is the coordination of different SMEs in a cut score meeting to establish the passing score for the new exam. This involves the participants taking the exam and then examining and ranking each question.

Now the new or revalidated exam is ready for delivery.

This entire process is repeated every 5-7 years, in compliance with accreditation standards, and to ensure that the material is current and a quality, relevant exam is delivered.

While certification on the professional level is critical, the role of the supervisor is crucial in providing safety in the construction environment. Most supervisors have responsibility for 7-10 workers and these workers look to their supervisor as an extension of the company and for general guidance.
The U.S. National Labor Relations Act defines a supervisor as:

Any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.

Invest in your supervisors

Companies need supervisors that are qualified, experienced, trained, and competent leaders. The problem is most companies do not spend the time, energy or money resources to develop a quality supervisor that can render independent judgment. Often the best worker is promoted without true consideration to key factors. In most cases this leads to: 1) you have lost your best worker; and 2) you now have your worst supervisor. They move from working on their tools to leading people, which requires adequate training and education.

Fortunately, companies can change and transform the stigma of the construction industry. If you examine companies that are utilizing the Safety Trained Supervisor (STS®) certification you will find most if not all of them are enjoying a remarkable return on investment. The STS® certification requires training, experience and passing an exam.

One success story

The Energy & Construction Division of URS Corporation, headquartered in Denver, CO, requires quality certifications for their safety professionals. Those professional safety resources are supplemented with management attaining the STS® certification. They are the biggest utilizer of the STS® process involving all levels of supervision including executive leadership, middle management, engineers, project managers and supervisors. They feel that the STS® process is one of the biggest contributors to their successful and safe completion of projects. Over a 12-year period they have seen quite a return on their investment. Here are a few of the benefits they are enjoying in their continuous improvement process:

  • 85 percent reduction in workers’ compensation cost and injury metrics
  • Low Experience Modification Rates
  • Increased competence and involvement in supervisory safety decisions
  • Improved productivity and profitability on projects
  • Enhanced technical confidence level
  • Improved quality of safety inspections and audits
  • Of the current 400 projects where they are working, 85 percent are working without a recordable injury and 95 percent without a lost-workday case

Brad Giles, URS senior vice president of EHS&Q, states, “The STS process for training, testing and validating safety knowledge for supervision is the single, best approach to getting supervision integrated.”

Companies that invest in their safety personnel and supervision by requiring quality certifications are enjoying better than average safety records, positive employee morale, increased profits, and an overall safer worksite. Investing in quality safety certifications is truly the way to make a positive influence on an industry that needs a major transformation as it pertains to occupational safety and health.