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Survey Offers a Glimpse Into the Safety Culture of General Contractors

April 15, 2013
A recent survey of general contractors conducted by law firm Fisher & Phillips LLC offers a glimpse into the safety culture at general contractors around the country.

Attorney Howard Mavity, who co-chairs Fisher & Phillips’ Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group, said that a recent survey was distributed to the Associated General Contractors (AGC) – National Safety committee, AGC Chapters in Missouri, Texas, Georgia, the Carolinas and to a large percentage of the larger U.S. general contractors. Almost 100 contractors responded.

He said that employers agreed that OSHA is opposed to safety incentive programs that are based on injury and illness rates because they believe that such programs discourage employees from reporting workplace injuries.

“After dozens of six-figure awards, OSHA has made it clear that it views discipline for violating safety rules as often being a pretext for retaliation against employees who reported workplace injuries,” noted Mavity, who analyzed the survey results along with researcher Shanae Bradley.

Both OSHA and the general contractors surveyed agree that employers increasingly should focus on leading indicators and behavioral factors that may prevent accidents.  However, Mavity noted, construction contractors also are concerned that their customers evaluate contractor safety performance based on workplace injury rates, which focus on lagging indicators rather than the leading indicators that predict the effectiveness of safety programs.

Fisher & Phillips surveyed employers to determine which leading indicators should be utilized, as well as other strategies that improve safety processes. F&P surveyed an audience of sophisticated general contractors because these employers tend to have strong safety cultures.

Other interesting findings of the survey include:

  • 83 percent of respondents informally or formally include safety in supervisor or management performance evaluations.
  • 75 percent include safety criteria in non-management employee performance evaluations.
  • 87 percent provide job-specific safety requirements for subcontractors, and 65 percent track subcontractor safety performance.
  • 76 percent said they conduct a pre-job safety analysis or other program to individually analyze safety associated with each step of the work sequence at a project.
  • 88 percent said they do not discuss specific safety issues of the day's tasks at morning or daily pre-work meetings.

While many of the contractors surveyed utilize leading indicators like near miss tracking, including safety in performance evaluations and safety observations, there was no agreement as to the leading indicators that should be used to judge safety culture.

“Until employers agree on certain leading indicators, they will be reluctant to shift their focus from relying on injury and illness data,” said Mavity. “As many as 60 percent of respondents [in construction] to some degree still rely on injury rates. Our interviews and other studies indicate that 70 to 80 percent of manufacturers may still rely on injury and illness rates to incentivize and drive safety processes.

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