ISHN Guest BlogA number of companies have made significant improvements to their safety cultures. Their progress is so dramatic, they often come to the realization that it is highly probable that their next fatality will come from a contractor they hire. To safety leaders, this is not an acceptable risk.

These companies have two types of contractors -- ones that they use constantly as contract employees/services, and contractors who are building their large dollar capital requirements. The safety leaders believe that by focusing on the contractor safety culture and its improvement, they are able to hire and retain the best construction contractors, no matter where they work on our planet.  

As a part of contractor selection, these leading edge companies perform two phases of screening. The first is based on the published injury rates. From the best quartile of these, they do live interviews of the upper management of the firms and ask open ended questions about the managers’ beliefs on safety.

They do not really talk to the safety pros because they want to determine the viability of the contractor’s visible upper management commitment to safety. They then go into the field and ask similar questions of front-line leadership who must walk the talk and be doing what upper management says. They try to find out “Do we want them?” and “Do they want us?”     

Interviews of the management team are to see if “they get it.”  The scenario-based questions include things like:

  • If you had a work group that was not up to standards, what would you do?
  • How do you evaluate subcontractors?
  • If you felt you had a drug/alcohol problem, what would you do?
  • Tell me about your safety training
  • How do you determine and build competency?
  • How do you discipline employees who exhibit ‘at risk’ behaviors?
  • How do you train around ‘at risk’ behaviors?

The leading edge organizations provide training for the weak contractors who ‘get it’ to build them up, and also for the ones who are strong, to ensure the contractors continually communicate excellent safety standards. The training for these contractors almost always includes their own company’s safety training program.

One of the hiring company execs, not a safety pro, introduces the training which starts with a slide that reads something like “When you step onto our site, you are stepping into the safest environment in our industry. Here’s why we are different. Here’s what we expect of you. Here’s what we believe. We only want to work with the best who are ready to do this with us. If you agree to support this culture, then stay with us. If not, it is time to leave.”

The safety culture leader companies also review details of the interviews to discover the gaps, and then put together a program for the contractors to close those gaps.

The field work concentrates on contractor supervision, which has proven to be mission critical. They screen these front-line supervisors carefully. Safety culture training at the workface is beyond the regs. Because of turnover, it is crucial to keep training excellence in safety culture. Supervisors must support this, mentor this and help employees do this. As a part of this approach, they typically have two safety culture training programs that address:

  • Young employees with little experience at this company and who require mentoring
  • Longer service employees who require deprogramming of a past shortcut mentality and bad safety attitudes (It is harder to instill new values in this group)

The same safety excellence companies do have an observation program for their onsite safety pros which checks to see that their philosophy is operating. An interesting sidebar is that a cost-benefits analysis of this approach revealed that the initial cost for the best safety contractors and all this interviewing and training was higher than just hiring contractors for about the first three months. Then, time and motion studies showed that the lack of job shut downs for injuries made this group the most productive, cheapest contractors in industry.

Where do you stand with respect to achieving contractor safety culture excellence?

-The Doc