Safety First: A Renewed Focus with Remarkable Results
By Mindy Schultz, Contributor
Safety matters to all construction companies, and it’s no wonder why.
Safety has always been the priority at Barton Malow Company, the union-based industrial construction division of the Barton Malow Enterprise. But over the last two years, our incident rate has improved dramatically. While our goal remains zero incidents, we’re proud of our progress. Getting here required wholehearted commitment from the top down, as well as the answer to the question, “How do you further emphasize something that’s already our point of emphasis?”
Pause for Safety
In August 2021, Barton Malow Company leadership saw room for improvement in its safety results. As the number of projects grew and the scale of these projects increased, there came a greater need to improve safety across the board. And so, at the end of that month, Barton Malow Company held its first Pause for Safety. This pause gave an opportunity for our team to take a break, think critically about the role of safety, and refocus. For at least 30 minutes, all work ceased and every worker in the company met on their respective sites in groups of 15 or fewer for candid conversations on what safety means to them.
During the pause, crews were asked to consider how speaking up might prevent injuries, or how they might feel if they themselves witnessed a life-threatening injury. They were also invited to provide feedback and discuss how safety performance could be improved. This “time out” allowed us to regroup and establish a smart plan to help prevent further injuries.
Since the pause, Barton Malow Company committed to a new thematic goal to make “safety first” every team member’s genuine and unmistakable mindset. The result: Barton Malow Company’s recordable incident rate improved by 57% over the balance of the calendar year.
To continue pursuing our long-term goal of zero injuries, a second Pause for Safety in February 2022 had all Barton Malow Company team members — trade or non-trade, project or non-project, project site, home office or remote — participate in a fruitful discussion covering the effects of life-altering injuries and key learnings, with a renewed commitment to putting safety first.
A number of other changes and programs have helped improve safety at Barton Malow Company.
For example, it had always tracked trailing indicators, or incidents, regarding safety. But lately, a greater emphasis has been placed on tracking and interpreting leading indicators or factors that prevent incidents. Leading indicators include safety training, involving our safety team earlier in project planning stages, and achieving weekly inspections and observations. A revamped safety training program rolled out in January 2023, featuring a four-hour safety leadership course that teaches safety stewardship and communication skills on site, as well as a one-hour safety expectations course to ensure a consistent baseline across the organization.
Additionally, supervisors and other team members are encouraged to consider safety on the jobsite and find areas for improvement. Each supervisor has an app on their phone where they can quickly and easily submit safety observations. Team members are encouraged to give feedback through the Good Catch program, which allows them to voice concerns anonymously or give positive examples of workplace safety. Since its adoption on Barton Malow Company job sites, there have been more than 360 Good Catch submissions.
Improved case management has also played a role. All team members that experience injuries of any severity must immediately contact Axiom Medical, which provides immediate consultation by nurses trained in occupational health. This ensures that team members get the treatment and medical advice they need to stay healthy, which is, above all else, a benefit to them.
Finally, it has been the leaders across Barton Malow Company who have adopted the new thematic goal and have worked to instill it in everyone they work with. The adoption of this shared mindset has made a measurable and positive impact — not just in terms of statistics, but in people’s lives.
The Outcome – And More to Come
The improvement in incident rates from 2022 to 2023 has cut in half the number of recordable incidents, saving some 20 workers from consequences that would have required medical treatment beyond first aid. The avoidance of more severe injuries has been similarly dramatic.
Barton Malow Company intends to keep driving for safety improvement until we reach the ultimate goal of zero incidents, with everyone going home unharmed every day.
Mindy Schultz is the Safety Director, Barton Malow Company (bartonmalow.com).
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