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San Francisco Business Times: Incentives, rewards and culture help Bay Area construction firms avoid accidents
May 20, 2016
By Mary Ann Azevedo
Bay Area construction companies are finding themselves in the enviable position of working on multiple projects in different parts of the regions.
In some cases, they are working in tight urban environments where safety is paramount. Paul Gantt, president and founder of San Ramon-based Safety Compliance Management Inc., which works with contractors on safety, said that as the economy improves and construction projects increase, the most skilled workers go to the biggest, most high-profile projects.
“Other projects are staffed with less experienced workers,” he said.
“This obviously could lead to some issues with safety, both for the workers as well as the public,” he said. “That limited experience, coupled with time constraints can lead to an increase in accidents.”
In Gantt’s view, firms can do the following to help offset safety concerns: add more training, boost oversight by experienced supervisors, increase worker engagement in job planning and expand active safety leadership program. The idea is to encourage workers to discuss safety matters and identify hazards and incidents — such as near misses — without fear of reprisal.
We talked to a few companies to see how they’re making safety a priority in challenging environments.
Thomas Allison, safety director at San Francisco-based Novo Construction, said pre-construction planning is crucial.
“We consider the location and how our work may impact that area,” he said. Novo and its subcontractors then evaluate factors such as how materials will be delivered and the best times for material stocking and debris removal. They also plan out whether public protection such as barricades are needed, Allison said.
“When working in a densely populated location we do work during non-peak hours if possible,” he said “For example, in the Financial District of San Francisco, material delivery and haul out would be from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. or on the weekend when there are far fewer people around.”
If the company is doing work on the exterior of a building in a densely populated area it puts up an engineered scaffold platform to protect pedestrians.
Other measures include researching any city protocols and permitting that may be required well in advance.
With more than three decades of safety experience, Allison is on call 24/7 to deal with any issues that might arise.
Workers and superintendents are recognized among their peers and monetarily rewarded at the monthly superintendents and foremans meetings.
Joel Becks, head of Bay Area regional safety for San Francisco-based DPR, said the company aims to create a culture of communication so everyone feels comfortable bringing up safety concerns.
The company also annually recognizes workers who reach 10,000 hours without an injury with the Troy Metcalfe Safety Award. Recipients get one paid week off as well as a paid trip for their family.
DPR has a team of 50 across the country dedicated to environmental, health and safety issues. All project team members play a role in the company’s safety program through job site safety inspections, evaluation of pre-task plans, leading safety pre-construction meetings, and other ways.
“At DPR safety is a value — not a priority. Priorities can and will change over time. When it’s part of your value system, it remains constant,” Becks said.
In the event an incident does occur, there is a root cause analysis process so that the team can learn from what happened and help avoid a similar incident in the future.
Safety extends to subcontractors as well. DPR utilizes a program called Safety Net that includes daily safety inspections to look for potential unsafe conditions or behaviors on a job site. Anything discovered is addressed through safety meetings with workers and supervisors.
Safety is ingrained in the culture of the company, according to San Jose-based XL Construction’s CEO, Eric Raff.
“What drives our success in building projects safely is something that has taken time to build,” he said.
He describes the company’s safety team as one that doesn’t serve as policemen of sorts, looking for infractions.
Mike Popp, XL’s vice president of safety, said the company has a staff of 10 focused on safety issues. One of the team’s programs includes working with subcontractors so they are clear on XL’s expectations. Those working with XL must show proof of taking an online quiz related to site-specific safety.
The company also creates a custom safety plan for every project that is a living document, changing throughout the job. It has done work for companies such as Bayer, Google and Kaiser Permanente.
As proof of XL’s commitment to safety, Popp said the company has gone eight years without a lost-time injury.
Balfour Beatty Construction
Oakland-based Balfour Beatty Construction currently has six major projects in the Bay Area, including 855 Brannan St. for Equity Residential and 500 Folsom for Essex Property Trust.
Shaun Burke, senior safety manager at Balfour Beatty, said his firm is committed “to accepting nothing less than zero harm for anyone who comes into contact” with its sites.
Earlier this year, the company surpassed the 2 million hours milestone in Northern California with zero lost time due to an injury. Balfour Beatty has a dedicated safety, health and environmental team of about 50 workers nationally that is responsible for developing, implementing and managing programs on its projects across the country. About 10 of those are dedicated to projects in California.
Balfour Beatty has had near-misses, which Burke says are taken as “free-lessons learned.”
The company does not have official safety incentives for its workers because of concern that incidents will go unreported for fear of losing those incentives.
When it comes to public protection, site logistics planning is key, he added.