It’s not the size of the company that matters most when it comes to safety—it’s how you manage it, according to research explored at a recent Procore Safety InSite webinar.
The webinar brought together people from construction firms around the country and a panel including Craig Young, WHSEQ Manager at Grindley Construction, Alex Soncini, Strategic Product Consultant at Procore, and Ben Selwyn, Director of ACA Research.
Seventy-six per cent of companies rated an accident-free workplace as their top priority, but two-thirds admitted that they still rely on paper-based or spreadsheet-based systems.
It focused on five key areas: the highest priorities for safety, using technology and record-keeping, data and analytics, as well as mental health and broader issues around wellness.
Ben Selwyn, Director of ACA Research, began the webinar with some highlights from a recent ACA survey of 297 firms. The respondents ranged from small companies with less than 10 employees through to major firms with more than 500 staff.
One of the most important findings was that bigger does not mean safer. What proved crucial was the degree to which safety permeates everything the company does. The researchers classified firms as either “vulnerable,” “business as usual” or “safety first,” depending on the level of engagement and commitment.
Seventy-six per cent of companies rated an accident-free workplace as their top priority, but two-thirds admitted that they still rely on paper-based or spreadsheet-based systems, such as Excel, for record-keeping and safety management.
What are the priorities?
Selwyn held a quick poll of attendees, asking what they regarded as their top safety priorities in terms of common risks. Falls were nominated by the majority of participants, followed by stress, noise injuries, electrical hazard and manual tasks.
Craig Young, WHSEQ Manager at Grindley Construction, was then asked how Grindley engages employees and embeds safety to reduce accident risks.
“We can all talk the talk, but at the end of the day, it is the actions that talk,” Young said.
Embedding safety in the company culture means the organization’s leaders should lead and demonstrate safety-first. This approach then flows down the line of management who also talk about safety consistently. Then it becomes the focus for everyone. People in the industry will always be busy, said Young. “But busy is a function of priority,” he added.
Questioning how certain tasks have always been done is also “indicative of a good safety culture.”
How to Bring Everyone Along
Alex Soncini, Strategic Product Consultant at Procore, offered tips for bringing the whole workforce along on the journey.
“You have to make safety part of the job.”– Alex Soncini
“I want to double-tap on culture being extremely important,” he said. There needs to be an active “push downstream” of important matters and aligning the idea of value with safety is “really important.”
“A lot of the time what the business sees as valuable is not what the person at the end finds valuable,” he explained. “You have to make [safety] part of the job.”
Overcoming Reluctance to Change
Participants were asked what kind of system they used for document management. While 48.1 per cent were using specific safety software, paper was still used by 28.8 per cent, followed by 23.1 per cent using spreadsheets.
Selwyn asked Young why he thought so many companies were still using paper or Excel-type spreadsheets.
“Change is something no-one often likes or wants,” he said.
However, it often takes just one person to identify the benefit of the change in order to make a start. In a culture-driven scenario, when CEOs and senior management can “see and believe” in the benefits of adopting new processes and then successfully demonstrate that, that’s when the user and workers can also see a benefit.
Young noted it is important to manage how change affects individual roles, since the more smoothly it is managed, the better the “buy-in.”
Asked if Young’s insights mirrored Procore’s own customer research, Soncini said for most Procore clients, it depended on the importance they placed on safety. He also noted there can also be an issue with siloed systems, such as the reporting, site diary, inspections and other documentation all being separate and different systems. Siloed systems often lead to poor analysis, resulting in “less effective business decisions.”
How Tech Can Improve Safety Processes
Selwyn then asked attendees what two areas they thought technology could improve when taking into consideration processes and management. The majority said it could improve collaboration or analysing data and performance.
Selwyn said that “in and of itself tech won’t deliver safer outcomes” as it’s a matter of how it is used. He then asked Young how technology had helped Grindley improve its safety performance.
Young explained key benefits including safety becoming “more visual”. Using technology also promotes greater compliance, and because it is on the screens and devices people use, it remains at the forefront, and so people talk about it regularly.
Using technology also promotes greater compliance, and because it is on the screens and devices people use, it remains at the forefront.
Tech also enables a more transparent and trackable chain of communications. This can prove beneficial when dealing with regulators, the wider public, and the multiple companies involved in a project.
Grindley’s systems also document positives, such as compliance, and not just failures.
The company is already coming into its fifth year of the journey into digitisation. In that time, Young said, he’s noticed the number of lever arch files in a site office reduced from around 40-odd to between 10 and 15.
Data that used to be on paper is now within a digital platform, leading to improved risk management. The data itself is also entirely accessible.
Why Relationships Matter
Selwyn raised a question of managing the relationships between different organisations on a job, such as a relationship between the lead builder and subcontractors.
According to Soncini, a contractor can only influence external parties if it is “shifting internally” as well. A strategy he suggested is using data and analytics to identify, and then incentivise, the best subcontractors. Those incentives should aim to address their wants and needs. He also believes it is a good idea to make their metrics available to them, too.
“They can then make changes and be confident they are doing something well,” he explained.
More Data Than You Think
Selwyn then raised the issue of capturing data and how it gets used. The most common obstacles picked up in the ACA research included no data being collected, lack of a dedicated data team, and having too many assets to track.
Only 37 per cent of companies are using data to predict risk.
There is actually a lot of data collected on any job, he noted. However, the main issue is that if the data is not collected digitally, it might appear there isn’t any. The research also showed that only 37 per cent of companies are using data to predict risk.
Young was asked how Grindley predicted risk before it started using technology.
“We’ve always done it. A lot of it comes back to knowledge and experience,” he said. Since moving to tech and use of data for risk prediction, he stressed that “what you put into data is what you get out of it.”
“Output is a function of how it is being used.”
Project teams can use data to see which subcontractors are not keeping up. They can also identify scenarios across the company and at the project level.
Soncini said data analysis needs to be used to inform a business. An example would be looking across 365 days, or five years, of incidents and looking for patterns. It might be that 95 per cent of injuries involve hands, and 85 per cent also involve power tools.
That then becomes an indicator, allowing managers to look at how to change that in future through targeted interventions.
“A good system means you can create metrics and dashboards, said Soncini.”
A Wellness Culture
ACA’s research found only two in five companies had a mental health strategy or policy. Selwyn asked Young how Grindley encourages people to “speak up” about mental health issues.
‘It is culturally-driven,” Young answered. “Grindley pushes open conversation and a speak-up mentality… No question is a dumb question.
“If you have a poor culture or a poor environment people will struggle. People want to feel valued,” added Young.
One of the overarching takeaways of the webinar was summed up by Selwyn as “for safety to succeed, you need to build that environment in the business. Everything else leads off that.”