Construction has always been a dangerous way to make a living, but the sudden arrival of COVID-19 took safety to a whole new level. Companies had to adapt and evolve quickly to keep their workers safe and stay in business; those that didn’t have solid safety practices in place faced even steeper challenges.
Procore and Travelers Insurance recently partnered to host “How 2020 Changed Jobsite Safety,” a webinar discussion around the lessons learned from the arrival of COVID-19 and how they can be successfully applied now and in the future.
Co-hosts Kassy Morris, Procore’s Head of Construction Education, and Justin Redel, Senior Construction Risk Control Consultant for Travelers Insurance, were joined by some of the industry’s top safety leaders. They discussed how companies could promote a safety culture while maintaining business continuity, investing in technology to better manage risk exposure, and ways to help builders stay safe in a high-risk environment.
Building Trust through Communication
Communication has always been essential for executing a successful construction project, but the pandemic rendered it vital to companies’ safety arsenal.
“One of the things we did early on was to put together a COVID coordination team, including senior leadership, HR, communications, safety, and legal. We’d get together every week and work on issues as they came up. It got to the point where once a week wasn’t enough, so we started meeting every day,” said Brad McFarlane, National VP of Environment, Health & Safety for Skanska.
The increase in communication between company principals had a direct impact on jobsite safety and the loss of productivity caused by injury.
“We saw an approximately 70% decrease in our lost time injury rates, and we feel a large part of that was due to our sharing best practices, as well as taking a step back to understand what we were dealing with around COVID and what’s the best path forward,” McFarlane said.
Brian Schrader, Director of Risk Management for McCownGordon Construction, highlighted the importance of increased communication and the essential foundation of mutual trust to ensure it’s effective.
“Everybody was going through something, so if they didn’t trust you, they weren’t going to follow. So we really had to over-communicate, and that was through leadership. Our CEO started putting out daily broadcasts in different formats, a lot of videos with internal communications to make sure everybody was updated on the latest safety procedures every time they changed. Having that leadership trust from the beginning was key to being successful,” Schrader said.
Safety is Everybody’s Responsibility
During the pandemic, everyone took it upon themselves to do their part for the safety benefit of others. One lesson companies learned is that safety is everybody’s responsibility, not just those with “safety” in their job title.
“It was extremely important to get everybody to buy-in and get on board with the protocols we put in place to keep jobsites open. It really became about getting rid of any selfishness; if you felt you were exposed to somebody, instead of thinking ‘well, I can’t miss work.’ It was that buy-in to the team and knowing they had to stay home to keep the jobsite going,” said Brent Dugan, Safety Director for Greiner Electric.
Last year was the start of construction companies redoubling their efforts at creating that culture of safety. That meant that the lessons and best practices learned in 2020 would be carried on into the future, the panelists said.
“I think organizations that utilize best practices have an advantage. When you look back at the challenges of 2020, we essentially were already doing things that were considered the best practices, so we just added on the new protocols to what we had already established,” said Eric Vogt, Safety Director for Kitchell.
“The message of safety starts from the top. For organizations who have that mentality, you’re going to do better when challenges like this arise because you’re able to adapt more easily having those processes in place,” he added.
Vogt further elaborated how important it was to ensure the company’s trade partners were on the same page when it came to jobsite safety protocols.
“We’d get them to understand our culture when it comes to safety and what our expectations are in the pre-construction phase. I think if you lay those expectations out early, it makes the transition easier. We’re really in the business of helping our trade partners get better when it comes to safety,” Vogt said.
Technology’s Role in a Post-Pandemic Jobsite
The pandemic crisis pushed many technologies that were long on the verge of mass adoption into the forefront for many C&E companies. A lack of in-person meetings and social distancing requirements forced new approaches to tasks that were once routine. To meet the challenge, the construction industry set aside its typical reluctance to new technology.
In one example, Schrader said McCowanGordon put QR codes on every jobsite sign that mentioned COVID. Employees or visitors could scan them for the latest information and safety protocols. The company has expanded their use to inspections, equipment maintenance, and other areas where quickly conveying safety information is essential.
With the dangers of surface contamination still unclear, jobsites eagerly moved away from paper-sharing in favor of digitized versions of plans, drawings, and more.
“Procore was the biggest thing we were using out on the jobsites as we tried to get away from paper. That tied right in with dealing with the pandemic because we no longer had to have sign-in sheets. We discovered it actually made us a little more efficient. Everybody’s still getting used to it, but I can perceive this being a big part of the company moving forward,” said Greiner Electric’s Dugan.
“Everybody involved with the project can communicate with each other in almost real time. You type something in there, ask a question, or have an update, and somebody looks and responds right away, and you can respond back. Versus in the past, it was emails or trying to coordinate a meeting,” he said.
“Procore was the biggest thing we were using out on the jobsites as we tried to get away from paper. That tied right in with dealing with the pandemic because we no longer had to have sign-in sheets.
Kitchell’s Vogt said his company had already been using Procore, so they decided to start depending on it for a lot more since people on-site were already familiar with it.
“There’s always going to be some level of difficulty adopting new technology, so we looked at tools we already had in place that we could just build upon. One of those is Procore, and we said, we’re going to do all of our screenings and documentation within Procore,” he said.
“We first brought Procore on to reduce our stacks upon stacks of paper, but we didn’t realize there were added benefits to using the tool. We’re collecting all of these data points, and like many other companies, we’re just sitting on it. We didn’t realize how valuable that data really is. We’re going to need a lot more data to be able to do predictive analysis to help protect our workers, and that transition from paper to electronic opened our eyes to how much more we could do.”