How to Create a Genuine Safety Culture and Change the Contracting Space for the Better

IN THE CONTRACTING WORLD, we see all too often, companies that simply just check boxes on safety, quality, and paperwork in general. We often see these same contractors underbid jobs and then fail to execute the project safely or with quality, hurting the industry. It is aggravating to see these contractors underbid and then underperform on safety and quality.

It is not uncommon for contractors and customers to mishandle safety issues.

I have seen customers fire good contractors because of a minor incident; even when the contractor had a great safety culture and fixed the issue for the long term. The customer was required to “check the box” that the issue was dealt with.

I have also seen contractors who have had a minor incident and got fired because they blew it off and didn’t actively mitigate the hazard going forward.

Both are wrong. Why? Because neither situation actively sought to mitigate and remove the hazard. They did not conduct a thorough investigation, bring in experts and look at every possible way to mitigate the hazard.

What is the best way to develop a genuine safety culture?

• Create a culture where crews are comfortable to turn in near-misses, behavioral-based safety (BBS) and all safety incidents no matter how small. This is where you can proactively learn and look for ways to remove hazards.

• Audit and inspect crew and jobsites. Score and evaluate them.

• Preach and practice safety from the top down.

• Make safety one of your core values – hire, fire and evaluate by it.

• Do not punish crew for turning in safety issues and do not overburden them with paperwork. If reporting becomes a headache or threat, communication is shut down.

• Create a safety committee of employees who looks at near misses and incidents from the industry and proactive internal mitigation for these hazards. This encourages involvement from crews in the field and lets them know the company takes it seriously.

• Use an employee or contractor to lead the team to come to solutions together.

A truly successful safety culture relies on buyin, transparency, and constant evaluation of all hazards to eliminate reoccurrences. For every task, ask “what if,” and then work as a team to remove the hazard. Throw a safety card to start a discussion.

Safety must be reactive, but it must also be proactive.

Collecting data, learning, and asking the right questions will help remove and reduce risk. Push for everyone to be fully on board with safety. And practice what you preach – lead from the top.

How do you choose a contractor with a strong safety focus?

Before hiring, ask these questions: • Do they have a culture of safety and qua lity? Or just a book about it?

• Do they provide transparency? Photos and documentation of work? Do they have processes?

• Is their employee turnover low? What about their customer turnover?

• Are their trucks nice, employees well dressed and presentable? Is their website legitimate? Do they show pictures of previous work?

• Will they provide references for large projects?

• Do they have an established contract or bidding process?

• Do they provide full insurance upfront?

How can you change the contracting space?

By implementing a culture based upon safety, doing what is right, customer satisfaction and above all, continuous improvement, you can create change. It may take a while to build that culture; people will come and go, but it will be worth it.

Brent Oberlink is President of Lanracorp, a company with a proven safety reputation in the pipeline and utility maintenance industry.

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