Data can be a powerful enabler for making construction sites safer. The key is identifying and eliminating anomalies that cause accidents.
Past results, formal financial statements tell us, are no guarantee of future performance. This same caution could be aptly applied to safety. Compliance reports and other documents that analyze the past rarely give definitive information about what must be done to ensure that every worker goes home uninjured at the end of the day, today.
“We had a lot of safety processes in place, and that’s a great thing,” says Anis Khoury, manager of sales engineering at Procore, recalling his days as a project manager. “The challenge we ran into is that it was very hard to identify what specific behaviours were leading to risk. We had safety issues, but we didn’t always know the root causes were.”
Often, the workload mandated by compliance reporting leaves little time for analysis. “I had a safety coordinator in a project that spent his entire time collecting paperwork, making sure all the correct paperwork was collected and organized in a certain way.”
If only there was a way to help reduce the time-consuming aspects of manual processes so that work time could be used for more insightful tasks: enter the mobile app.
AN ASSIST FROM TECHNOLOGY
“There are a lot of tools out there for actively managing your health and safety programs,” says Steve Chaplin, vice-president of Health, Safety, and Environment at Toronto-based EllisDon. “Excel spreadsheets had their place, but now you really need to look at health and safety software to help with the management of the business from safety statistics to inspections.”
Safety apps make it easier for safety personnel to turn their attention to forward-looking indicators, such as near misses.
“In our opinion, near misses should be tracked as incidents. This provides an opportunity to create a conversation among stakeholders about the incident and suggest corrective action before an accident occurs,” says Khoury.
ARMING UP THE APPS
A comprehensive picture of potential threats requires input from diverse sources, such as drone surveys, scheduling apps, equipment logs, site photos, BIM models and recorded conversations.
While integrating data from such diverse sources is a sizeable undertaking, the effort provides the basis for improving other aspects of the business, such as quality and environmental performance. The benefits of the investment can be widespread.
“With quality, safety and environment, the framework is roughly all the same,” says Chaplin. “It’s all based on ‘plan-do-check-act.’ It’s basically investing the time and attention to it, putting the controls in place, and then your performance generally improves.”
There are overlaps as well. Khoury notes, for example, that applying quality control to scaffolding is also a safety measure. “Safety and quality are different things, but they are also tied together in many ways.”
Including all stakeholders is another result of the expanding scope.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re not just measuring safety performance as the GC,” says Chaplin. “We’re measuring safety performance based on the GC plus all the subcontractors. The performance on-site is measured as a whole.”
PEOPLE AND PROCESSES
While data can be a powerful tool for making job sites safer, reducing the number of incidents is ultimately about correcting the behaviour that leads to accidents.
“One thing I tell people is to not get too caught up with focusing on a number,” says Chaplin. “Instead of focusing on the incident rate target, focus on the activities that drive change, and then the numbers will drop.”
“Analytics can tell you a great story, but it’s what you do with analytics that matters,” says Jim Barry, vice-president of Health, Safety, and Environment at Edmonton-based PCL Construction.
Consistent engagement and buy-in on the job site are essential.
“Everything has to have accountability,” says Barry, “but at the end of the day, if you get people to want to do it for the right reasons, everything else comes along for the ride. So, you need to give clear scope definitions, and explain what needs to be explained, and then make sure the message has been interpreted correctly.”
While technologies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facetime aren’t perfect, they have helped safety practitioners maintain a reasonable level of personal contact with job site workers.
“Technology is probably one of the things that helped us more than anything to get through the pandemic,” says Barry.
The most important message is that safety isn’t ultimately about rules and restrictions. Rather, it is about protecting everybody from harm.
“Once people are convinced that we’re all in this together, and that you’re sincere in that endeavour, that makes the process a whole lot easier,” says Barry.
Jacob Stoller is principal of StollerStrategies. Send comments to email@example.com.