The right way isn’t always the easy way


Scott Wondergem. Courtesy Elzinga & Volkers

As those of you in the construction industry know, safety is a daily battle. Internally, it is something that we fight — what if safe work practices get in the way of efficiency? What’s more important, safety or schedule? Do we only worry about ourselves, or do we ensure that others in our company also are working safely?

We are our brother’s keeper and we work with these people day in and day out. We know their spouses, their kids and their community involvement. The loss would be personal.

More so, are we obligated to look after trades personnel working on our site? What is the cost? It’s not time-lost cost if we do, but life cost if we don’t. Also, what if we kick them off the site for not following protocol and they are fired by their employer? Is that on us? We may feel guilt, but wouldn’t we feel more guilt if they were seriously injured or killed in an accident that may have been preventable? What is the moral and ethical obligation?

When as a company you have a good catch, near miss or even a recordable, respond to them with a positive approach. Use these incidences as a learning tool, a way to train and educate the entire team.

Learn to use safety inspections, whether in-house or third party, as a learning tool for each person involved in the project, from your leadership team to all partners on the project.

Maintaining a culture of safety is hard work. It takes time, financial resources, energy and consistency. To be successful, you will need a complete buy-in from the whole team. That team needs to openly communicate expectations to all personnel working on your project sites. There are two levels of safety we are responsible for: internal and external.

Internal, or personal responsibility, includes taking the initiative to ensure compliance, reinforcement of safe behaviors, a preventive (not reactive) mentality, personal commitment and steadfast standards.

External safety is taking those standards to the next level by ensuring not only personal safety, but the safety of every person on a project site. It takes being a team contributor and a shared commitment to goals and securing enough buy-in from all personnel that reinforcement of standards comes from the entire group, not just you.

As business owners, make sure you are empowering employees to stop work if they feel unsafe. Ensure you are providing proper budget dollars for personal protection and safety equipment. Provide the education needed to employees so they know the right processes.

Historically, winter is a slower time for construction. In West Michigan, our industry is booming. Stay vigilant. Do it for you and your family, for your coworkers and theirs, and for the lifeblood of every person on your site. Be the reason that somebody is there for their family this holiday season, even if it’s not the easy thing to do.

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