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The 2021 Guide To Improving Construction Safety


Improving construction safety. Construction is one of the most danger-prone industries there is – responsible for approximately 1 in 5 workplace fatalities. How can construction companies successfully create a safety program and achieve buy-in?

In this Guide, we’ve spoken with industry professionals Steve Mellard, National Safety Director at Anning Johnson, and Desire’e Ropel, Safety Manager at Hermanson to get an insider look into how to manage safety in the construction industry.

Improving construction safety

1. Considerations When Improving Safety in the Construction Industry?

The construction industry poses unique health and safety challenges. In fact, 1 out of every 5 workplace deaths was in construction. Luckily health and safety processes play a vital role in minimizing risks. And while the construction industry is heavily regulated, having a safety program in place to make sure these processes are being followed is a major challenge for the industry as a whole.

Here are 4 issues to consider when looking to improve safety on construction job sites.

Create a Safety-First Workplace Culture

Having a safety-first work culture is one of the top ways that construction companies can keep workers safe on the job site. And while your own company culture can be strong and safety-oriented, new workers may not share the same values. Getting personnel from other companies and cultures comes with unique challenges: old-school values and cutting corners may be the norm for some employees who don’t yet understand the importance of “doing it right”.

Provide Consistent and Regular Safety Training

Desire’e Ropel at Hermanson points to consistency of training as a key factor to a successful safety program. Even when a safety item may seem like common knowledge, consistent training and reinforcement from top-level management are crucial to making sure that safety procedures are top of mind.

Have Realistic Budgets and Deadlines

Construction companies are constantly under pressure to meet project deadlines on time and within the budget – it’s the nature of the business.

However, when budgets and schedules are tight – or tighter than you expected – it is often safety that takes the hit when working under pressure. Safety often takes a back seat in the minds of front-line managers and workers when racing against the clock. Just as you wouldn’t speed through a crowded school zone because you are late going somewhere, giving safety management the short shift because a project is running over schedule could end in disaster. Given the nature and number of hazards on a job site, even the slightest oversight can be catastrophic.

Consider “The Human Factor”

Steve Mellard from Anning Johnson cites the “human factor” as one of the key factors to consider when thinking safety as it contributes to – or is associated with – almost all incidents. Employees can make poor choices knowing full well that their actions could be detrimental to their safety – and/or the safety of others. This is why a safety-first workplace culture that reinforces training and rewards safety over risk and time-saved is so important.

Instead of facing potential legal action, fines, and lost productivity, the construction industry should work to ensure they are not falling short when it comes to safety.

2. What Must A Construction Safety Program Include to Be Effective?

The construction industry is responsible for more workplace deaths than any other industry. This makes implementing a robust health and safety program extremely important. Not only is there a concern for the well-being of employees – but losing money is also a risk for companies who do not take their health and safety seriously. There is a large financial burden that is also at play: in the United States, it has been estimated that employers pay nearly $1 billion per week for direct worker’s compensation costs alone, including workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and costs for legal services.

Successfully adopting a health and safety program can significantly ease these costs. For example, a study conducted in Ohio of small and medium enterprises showed that after a health and safety program was implemented to fit with OSHA standards the following benefits were accrued:

  • Claims decreased by 52%
  • Cost per claim decreased by 80%
  • Average time lost per claim decreased by 87%
  • Claims (per millions of dollars of payroll) decreased by 88%

But having a safety program in place isn’t enough. What must a construction safety program actually include to be truly effective?

A Safety Program Needs To Be Tailored to Your Company

A safety program that simply covers the basic OSHA standards and requirements will not be enough to be truly effective. The construction industry spans such a large number of activities that one type of policy cannot cover all of the needs of every organization. National Safety Director at Anning Johnson, Steve Mellard, encourages construction companies to create safety programs that are specifically tailored to the type of work they do. Only then can the program be truly effective.

A Safety Program Needs Employee Buy-In

Having an all-encompassing safety program is certainly important, but if this program isn’t followed or enforced, it has little meaning. Desire’e Ropel, Safety Manager at Hermanson points to the importance of buy-in from all employees. From the highest level of management to front-line employees, a safety program must have buy-in for it to be successful. Getting employees excited about change is not necessarily an easy task (and we will cover employee buy-in in an entire article as part of this series). Laying out the vision, managing resistance early, and offering rewards and incentives are important first steps to achieving company-wide buy-in of your company’s safety program.

A Safety Program Needs Strong Leadership

Going hand-in-hand with employee buy-in is having a strong leadership team to enforce the safety program. For the program to be successful, leadership must be fully committed to the safety program and lead by example. Leadership must also be prepared to enforce the safety program and nip any employee resistance in the bud.  This is a crucial ingredient in creating a safety-oriented work culture.

While implementing a successful safety program involves more than an employee handbook, it is the responsibility, and to the benefit, of every construction company to take these steps. And be sure to remember that aside from saving your company money, a safety program also comes with other benefits, including:

  • Improvements in quality and production
  • Increased employee morale
  • Gains in employee recruiting and retention
  • A more favorable image and reputation among customers, suppliers, and the community

3. How Leadership Style Affects Safety Performance in Construction

Ensuring safety in the construction industry is vital for both employees and the public. But implementing a successful safety performance program involves many moving parts and a constant commitment from the entire company. This is why one of the most important components of a construction safety management program is arguably leadership.

The Importance of Fostering a Safety Climate

Safety on the job site is not just the responsibility of the safety manager. One of the most important things that leadership can bring about is widespread cultural change around the topic of safety. Steve Mellard, the National Safety Director at Anning Johnson, points to the importance of discouraging a “safety cop”. Viewing a safety manager as the only person in charge of safety makes it almost impossible to get employees to buy-in. Mellard recommends avoiding authoritarian-style safety leadership, and instead promoting a leadership style that values speaking to employees using their own terminology and referencing past experiences in the field.

This has implications for hiring in leadership positions. Mellard recommends hiring safety managers based not only on their degrees but also on their experience in construction and their ability to relate to employees and the demands of the job.

Desire’e Ropel, Safety Manager at Hermanson also points to the importance of leadership being seen as a safety resource. Leadership needs to be level-headed, keep their composure, and be approachable in order for them to be truly successful at their jobs.

Foundations for Safety Leadership

What are the actual characteristics of successful safety leadership? The CPWR – Center for Construction Research & Training has advised that there are 5 Skills and Actions for an Effective Safety Leader:

  1. Leads by Example: A good safety leader will “walk the talk”, demonstrate a positive attitude about safety, and establish safety expectations as a core value.
  2. Engages and Empowers Team Members: Team members should be encouraged and empowered to report hazards and safety concerns, and good leaders should be proactive with providing solutions, reporting near misses, and stopping work if necessary to maintain safety standards.
  3. Actively Listen and Practices 3-way Communication: A good leader will be an active listener and truly seek to hear what team members are saying. They will practice 3-way communication by having the person repeat back the message they heard.
  4. Develops Team Members Through Teaching, Coaching, and Feedback: Leaders should respectfully teach and coach workers, making sure to watch workers perform the proper safe behavior. Leaders should also focus on potential consequences rather than on the individual team member themselves.
  5. Recognizes Team Members For A Job Well Done: Whether publicly or privately, team members should be given recognition when it comes to safety.

Looking to boost your team’s safety leadership? CPWR offers free materials to help train better safety management leaders.

4. Boosting Employee Buy-In To Your Safety Culture and Construction Safety Program

Previously, we discussed how leadership style affects safety performance in construction. A key takeaway from that chapter was that safety on the job site is not just the responsibility of the safety manager. Getting buy-in from employees is absolutely crucial to the success of a safety management program and for creating a safety culture in your organization.

The term “safety culture” was first used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in its 1986 Chernobyl Accident Summary Report to describe how the thinking and behaviors of people in the nuclear plant contributed to the accident. While the concept has been around for over 30 years, successfully increasing employee buy-in is still something that many organizations struggle with. Let’s first look at some reasons employees may not buy into a safety culture.

Barriers to Employee Buy-In
  • Employees with inadequate training/skills/experience are unaware of hazards
  • The organization is growing too quickly and not emphasizing safety practices
  • There is a perceived, or actual, lack of time
  • Employees have a lack of interest in safety issues as they don’t feel it’s relevant to them
  • Employees feel invincible since they haven’t yet had an incident
  • Lack of management involvement & buy-in from the top 

Evidently, there are a number of barriers to employee buy-in that must be considered. When your organization has committed to creating a safety culture, here are some ways to start increasing employee buy-in.

Boosting Employee Buy-In to Your Safety Culture


It’s one thing to have a written policy – it’s another to enforce the policy. Employees need to know that safety is an enforced priority for upper management. Desire’e Ropel at Hermanson recommends giving ownership to employees and field leaders to help develop policies, and that enforcement should come from the leaders in the field. This way, everyone knows that they have a voice and it will be heard.

Safety Incentive Program

Steve Mellard at Anning Johnson recommends utilizing a rewards program where gift cards and other apparel are given on a regular basis. This helps to show employees and their families that safety behavior is valued and rewarded. These programs should be simple and reward often since safety behavior needs to be repeated on a daily basis. Check out these tips from EHS Today about how to launch a successful safety incentives program.

Individual Approach

While Steve Mellard recommends a rewards program, he emphasizes that nothing beats a personalized approach. Employees need to feel heard and have an open forum where they can discuss safety issues openly and directly. It’s important that this communication is not blame-focused and non-punitive.


Integrating checklists is an extremely effective tool for creating employee buy-in. Safety solutions such as Certainty Software allow for company-wide monitoring, audit and safety scheduling and push reminders, user-specific dashboards, and more. This helps to ingrain a safety focus into everyday work and helps to turn safety procedures into a routine part of the workday.

5. The 7 Most Significant Safety Issues Facing The Construction Industry

Previously in our construction safety series, we discussed ways to increase employee buy-in to your organization’s safety culture. In this post, we’ll take a look at the top 10 significant safety issues currently facing the construction industry – and how you can overcome them. 

1. Workers Need Proper Tools & Equipment

It can be surprisingly common for workers to start a job without proper tools and equipment, particularly if they are quickly switching between tasks. Your organization’s safety program should emphasize that workers should never start any job (no matter how small) without all of the required tools and safety equipment – accidents only take seconds to happen.

2. Continuous Safety Training is Necessary

Laws and policies surrounding safety in the workplace are constantly changing, and a number of factors can change safety policies – including new laws and standards, incidents, new equipment, and new projects. This means that safety training is not a one-time thing! Conducting regular safety training to teach new safety practices, as well as reinforce old ones, is crucial to a successful safety management program.

3. Tracking For Compliance

While your organization may have a robust safety program in place, it won’t be fully effective if proper tracking for compliance is not implemented. Your organization needs a centralized system to ensure procedures are being followed. (If you’re looking for a solution to manage and report business risk, compliance, and performance metrics easily, Certainty Software is here to help!).

4. The Safety Practices of Contracted Organizations

Working on a large construction project can often mean that general contractors and sub-contractors are also sharing the job site. Safety issues can arise if those companies have less than desirable safety cultures. Management should ensure that any contractors present on the job site are abiding by the organization’s safety rules and procedures, as well as following company policy on tracking for compliance (see #3 above).

5. Prioritizing Safety, Along with Schedule and Budget

Being on schedule and on a budget is the bottom line of any construction business. Before standardized safety regulations, many workers were constantly put at risk due to an emphasis on speed and budget. However, these days it’s known that a healthy workforce is also a cost-effective workforce. The total cost of fatal and nonfatal injuries in the construction industry is estimated at nearly $13 billion annually. Safety needs to be considered an equal to schedule and budget.

6. Having an Aging Workforce

Most studies suggest that injuries are less frequent but more severe among older construction workers. Data shows that worker compensation costs increase with the age of workers, in part due to greater lost work time per incident. Organizations can mitigate this risk by adapting the workplace to fit the needs of older workers. This can be done by using lighter tools and materials as well as emphasizing ergonomic working practices.

7. Poor Habits and Resistance to Change

Poor habits from previous workplaces can be difficult to shake. This may be especially present in new employees who haven’t yet adjusted to your safety culture. Very experienced workers can also be resistant to change and may think “we’ve done it this way for 20 years, why does it need to change now?” Continuously reinforcing the safety program, and offering rewards for change will help make sure all workers are on the same page when it comes to safety.

6. #1 Safety Issue In Construction As Told By Top Safety Management Industry Leaders

According to OSHA, nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the United States alone on any given day. With the many hazards present on a typical construction site, it’s no wonder the industry has a higher than average workplace fatality rate.

We’ve asked top safety management industry leaders how they manage safety and compliance on their worksites, and also posed the question: what do you think is the #1 safety issue in construction today?

Distracted Employees

Steve Mellard at Anning Johnson, mentions distracted employees as being a key issue. Even employees who are well trained and qualified can contribute to incidents and injuries that are totally avoidable if they are focusing on issues other than the immediate task at hand. Due to the fast pace of life, in general, these days, the issue of a distracted workforce is certainly not limited to construction safety, but certainly has the potential to cause grave consequences given the many hazards of the work involved.

Trade Stacking

Desire’e Ropel at Hermanson points to trade stacking as an important safety issue. Trade stacking happens when multiple trades are scheduled to work in a single area or portion of the job site – and it usually happens when crews are rushing to get ahead.  The idea is, that the more people, the more work can be done.

The problem is that trade stacking (and having a high concentration of workers in one area in general) can cause stress and distractions, which can lead workers to skip over safety aspects of their work – along with reducing the overall quality of work as well. This is not conducive to a safety-first work environment but can happen all too often.

Personnel That Are Unqualified To Perform Their Tasks

Both Desire’e Ropel and Steve Mellard pointed to unqualified personnel as a top safety issue. It is always the employer’s obligation to educate and ensure that a safe work environment is created. Employers have more control over this when all workers on a job site are working for their company. However, in construction, other trades and contractors can also be on the job site. Employers should of course do their due diligence in making sure contractors are reputable and qualified, but a lack of control over hiring and education, can make achieving a safe work environment much more difficult.

Some of these contractors can just be plain dangerous to be around. Practices that are unsafe and not permitted in your work environment (for example leaving behind tools from a finished job) might just be how another company regularly conducts business. Their poor safety habits are now putting your workforce at risk. The hazards that come from unqualified staff can be difficult to manage when education and training are out of your organization’s hands.

7. How Has Technology Changed Construction Safety?

Technology has had a huge impact on the construction industry. From design to scheduling and everything in between, technology has truly revolutionized construction as we know it. One area that has also undergone a huge technological upgrade is safety in construction.

The construction industry remains the most dangerous industry in the world. Each day, on average, two construction workers die of work-related injuries in the United States. A total of one in five workplace fatalities are construction-related. Technology has enabled more efficient safety training, audits, incident reporting, personal safety equipment, and more, to make the job site safer for everyone. But having the technology available is only one part of the equation.

Today we’ll look at how technology has changed construction safety and how you can leverage technology to create a safer work environment. As always, we’ll hear from safety experts and get their top tips.

Use Technology To Collect and Report Safety Information

Steve Mellard at Anning Johnson, says that a big part of a successful construction safety program is collecting the information and sharing it with all stakeholders. Technology has made this much easier.

The ability to look at overall trends and create custom reports for all districts, divisions, and trades is a huge advantage. Sharing these numbers and facts with management, on-site supervision, and field personnel can have a very positive effect on the overall success of the safety program. [You can learn about how Certainty Software helps organizations collect and share data here!]

Use Technology To Work in Real-Time

Traditional reporting methods involve paper trails and long delays. Technology has enabled real-time reporting and safety stats to be accessible at the touch of a button. This helps to address compliance and training issues much faster – leading to a safer work environment.

Use Technology To Gather Offline Data As Well

Desire’e Ropel at Hermanson, points out that while technology is extremely beneficial for streamlining processes and procedures, not everyone on the job site will have access to it. Some workers will still rely on paper, analog devices, or older systems that aren’t integrated. Furthermore, some remote work environments won’t have an internet or cellular signal. This mix of paper and electronics needs to be accounted for when you’re considering how to use technology to boost safety on the job site.

When you’re considering implementing technology in your safety management program, be sure to find a solution that is designed to work with the unique demands of the construction industry.

Safety Technology Advancements of the Future

While the construction industry has come quite far, there are a lot of advancements that we can look forward to as an industry. Here is what we can expect:

  • Wider use of drones for site surveying, inspection, and worker monitoring
  • Virtual reality exposes workers to more realistic safety training simulations
  • Wearable technology and smart clothing that can monitor vital signs, encourage better posture, and detect potential intoxication
  • Autonomous or remotely controlled heavy equipment that allows so separation of the operator
  • Sensors that can monitor things like temperature, noise, dust, and chemicals to limit harmful exposure for workers

In this series, we’ve looked at how you can improve worker safety on your construction site. We’ve seen that when planning a construction safety management program, there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind – including leadership, employee buy-in, and technology. Safety in the workplace is truly in the best interests of employees and employers alike. Do you have questions about how to create an effective safety management program? We can help with Certainty Software.

Used by more than 100,000 professionals to complete over 2,000,000 audits and inspections annually, Certainty Software by Certainty Software, Inc. is a flexible, powerful and trusted enterprise-level audit and inspection management solution. We’re trusted by some of the world’s biggest construction companies to help manage workplace safety. Find out more and start a free trial today!