Ehstoday 1180 Bechtel

Bechtel: Sharing Safety Lessons

Feb. 23, 2012
An environmental safety and health manager at construction giant Bechtel believes that it’s important to share safety lessons across the construction industry.
At Bechtel, we believe that every accident is preventable. This means that our target always is to achieve zero accidents on all of our projects. Safety is one of our core values that hold true across our business, wherever we are operating around the world.

Rather than a priority, we see safety as a value; priorities change whereas values tend to stay with us and grow stronger as we move through life. There is a simple reason why safety is so important to us: lives depend upon it.

We also believe that it is important to share lessons learned across the construction industry. We all share a responsibility to help drive standards up for the sake of everyone who works in the sector. While we do not claim to have all the answers, I would like to share some my perspective of our experience and offer some safety tips based on what we have learned.

Processes and Protocols

Processes have a key role to play in establishing a safety culture on a project. These are the basic tools that help to ensure employees understand the safety rules that need to be followed. On Bechtel projects, all new employees are required to participate in safety induction training before they start work. Employees are asked to respect the rules and procedures, and the consequences of not doing so are made clear. Those people who do not wish to follow the rules risk being asked to leave the project. While this may seem harsh, it is a better result for an employee to leave the project safely than to risk being the victim, or the cause, of an accident.

Personal Responsibility

Processes and protocols alone do not create a safe working environment. It is critical to create a culture where employees understand what behaviors are necessary to be safe. For example, we ask employees to adopt a sense of personal responsibility towards themselves and their co-workers. What does this mean?

It does not mean that we wish to abdicate our responsibility towards employees. We ask employees to set an example and adopt high safety standards for themselves. It also means employees are expected to never walk past a potential safety hazard without taking action. We encourage employees to challenge their co-workers if they see unsafe practices. And we ask employees who have been challenged to thank their co-worker for looking after them.

We have worked hard to create a culture where employees will welcome being challenged, because they recognize the motivation comes from concern for their safety. This sense of personal and collegiate responsibility cannot be legislated but comes as a result of a positive and transparent safety culture.

Safety Training Initiatives

Aside from policies and procedures and creating a safety culture, there is a whole range of training initiatives and tools that we employ at Bechtel.

The key to teaching safety is leadership style. The importance of engaging with co-workers and helping them to understand why safety is important cannot be underestimated. For example, a good starting point may be a discussion of the consequences of not acting safely, both from a professional and personal perspective. A worker with a family and dependents, who may be the sole provider for his or her family, will understand the consequences an incident at work can have on the entire family.

At many of our projects, including the New Doha International Airport, we have developed a hazard training school. The school offers workers the opportunity to experience staged safety situations and hazards in a safe environment that mimics the conditions of the project itself. By bringing workers into a real-life, controlled situation, they are provided with invaluable experience in learning how to identify safety hazards for themselves.


Bechtel operates around the world, working in many different cultures. We do not find culture to be a barrier in itself to the adoption of a safe working environment. In fact, we value cultural differences and often learn new ways of communicating about safety as a result.

For example, we have worked with Imams across some of our projects to communicate safety messages to the work force in ways that resonate more strongly with them by making a connection with employees’ religious and cultural beliefs. Cultural challenges should be embraced, as they afford us the opportunity to learn, as well as develop and teach each other important skills and values.

It is a universal truth that employees want to work safely and go home each night regardless of the country in which we are operating. Once we engage with people and understand each other’s interpretation of safety, we find that there is little if any resistance to introducing a safety culture on the project.

Be Open

I have learned we must be open to new ideas. We all can learn from each other. We also should pay attention to our customers and their needs. It is important to align your objectives and goals with that of your customer.

But the most important aspect of a safe workplace is behavior. If you can instill safety as a value in your workers, then lasting change can occur. Workers need to hold safety as a value that cannot be ignored or compromised.

Be a coach and use my mantra of “more ask and less tell.” All too often, you see people being told “Put your glasses on.” Don’t miss that vital opportunity to be a coach and have a conversation about why it is important to wear those safety glasses. People will remember longer when they understand why safety measures are important and necessary to protect them.

Stephen Connell is the environmental safety and health manager for Bechtel Ltd.

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