To improve safety on the job, develop a concise strategic safety plan and site-specific safety programs. An expert from the nation’s largest mechanical contracting firm offers outstanding advice on how it’s done.
In 2003, EMCOR Services Fluidics, an EMCOR Company, a mechanical, electrical, and facilities services contractor based in Philadelphia, implemented the EMCOR safety plan, a nine-point strategic safety effort that begins with "Demonstrated Management Commitment" as its first tenant. From that point, Fluidics then tailored the Safe Work Practices (SWPs) manual to reflect those that most specifically applied to its business.
As a result of having implemented these steps, Fluidics’ accident rates are half of what they were just a few years ago, and we’re on the way to our goal of "zero" accidents. Additionally, Fluidics has earned a safety record ranking above the majority of the largest mechanical construction firms in the country. In turn, the company’s reduced insurance rates, project costs, and project impacts have helped prevent injuries, improved production, and saved customers money.
Other operating companies of EMCOR Group, Inc. have achieved similar results. For example, one company was injury-free for 25 months and 500,000+ work-hours. Another reduced recordable injuries by 70%, and Days Away/Restricted or Transfer (DART) by 87% year-over-year. Yet another achieved a 72% reduction in “struck by/against,” cut and overexertion injuries in two years.
How do EMCOR operating companies do it? As subsidiaries of EMCOR, we embrace the company’s "Be There For Life! – Zero Accident Program," which integrates safety, quality, and productivity. The Zero Accident Program has two components: a nine-point strategic safety plan; and safe work practices that are tailored to the safety risks of each job site. All EMCOR subsidiaries work with the EMCOR Corporate Safety Department to ensure that the safety plan is integrated into all operational functions.
A Strategic Safety Plan
The EMCOR safety plan in place at Fluidics is based on research that was performed by the Construction Industry Institute, which identified nine principles that contributed to achieving a goal of zero injuries in the construction industry.
1. Demonstrated management commitment. First and foremost, our nine-point plan requires management commitment at every level to a safe, healthy workplace. That’s the number one strategy. Without it, the other eight strategies are meaningless. Managers are expected to be fully committed to the fundamental goal of zero accidents: this rests on the belief that every injury is preventable, and every incident is avoidable. It is not enough for senior managers to say they are committed; they have to demonstrate their commitment.
Among their key responsibilities, senior managers must communicate the Zero Accidents goal and define objectives for meeting it. They must be visibly involved in implementing and enforcing our safety and health program: assigning safety responsibilities to employees; making sure employees receive safety training and resources; and hold them accountable for results. Senior managers measure employees’ safety performance through formal annual reviews. They discipline employees who violate our safe work practices. They evaluate return to work for injured employees, and each year they review the effectiveness of the safety plan.
2. Staffing for safety. Each of the EMCOR subsidiary companies provides input into the annual review of the safety plan. In turn, the operating unit manager is directly held responsible for implementing the safety plan at each company. In addition, the senior management of EMCOR and EMCOR’s regional safety directors support the operations.
3. Safety planning. A proactive approach to safety means identifying site-specific risks, documenting safe work practices (SWPs), and making sure SWPs are followed by everyone on the job. Designated employees inspect customer sites, record site and equipment safety issues, and discuss these issues with their supervisor. They document these issues and specific job-site safety procedures so that other employees at these sites are aware of special conditions. Managers or safety directors are responsible for including this site-specific information in our SWPs and initiating employee training to enable employees to carry out these practices.
Managers perform weekly random field safety site inspections to ensure that our employees are following SWPs, and initiate retraining if necessary. We also include safety records, training and use of safety equipment in every employee performance evaluation. Subcontractors are notified if they are in violation of our SWPs, and we consider the severity and number of infractions when reviewing them for future projects.
4. Safety training and education.We can’t overemphasize the importance of safety training and education. Our training programs are designed to ensure that our employees understand job-site hazards and know how to avoid them. We have developed a specific training timeline for every level of employee from new hires to senior executives. See Table 1 for an example of our new-hire training requirements.
All employees receive annual training on required topics, including the safety plan, emergency procedures, ladder safety, hot work and fire prevention; plus training as needed in topics like hazardous waste. As we identify new safety exposures, we develop training courses to address them. In addition to "live" group and individual training, we have several online safety courses. We also maintain an up-to-date, online database of our SWPs, which is available to every employee.
Each EMCOR company’s safety representative maintains records of employees’ safety and health training, which helps us to identify their individual training needs and provide evidence of compliance with OSHA standards.
5. Worker participation and involvement. Like managers, all employees are expected to participate in carrying out the safety plan. Each division in the company has a safety committee made up of the operating unit manager, field employees, a safety representative, and other key managers. The committee meets monthly to review accidents, investigations, and safety inspection results from the previous month; and they develop action plans to improve performance. They are also responsible for staying up to date with company policies and federal, state, and local regulations.
6. Recognition and rewards. EMCOR and all of its operating companies understand the importance of accurate injury reporting and know how important it is to formally recognize and reward all employees who work safely. Employees earn points for each day they work without accidents, incidents, or unsafe work practices; points accumulate toward awards of their choice from a “Partners for Incentives” catalog, a collection of items that are useful at home and work
7. Subcontractor management. Direct-hire subcontractors are also required to work safely as a condition of their contracts, and they may be required to submit a copy of their safety and health program for our review. They also may be required to provide a project- or task-specific safety plan to address hazardous situations and other critical issues. The subcontractors we hire know that we take safety very seriously.
8. Accident and incident investigations. We have a documented procedure and timeline in the company and site-specific SWPs for reporting and investigating every accident. All incidents must be immediately reported to the safety director and claims manager.
9. Drug and alcohol testing. Because of the relationship between safety and an alcohol- and drug-free workplace, EMCOR Services Fluidics carries out pre-employment screening except where an employee is exempt due to a local collective bargaining agreement. Post-incident testing is mandatory for incidents involving motor vehicles resulting in damage and/or injuries requiring medical treatment beyond first aid except where an employee is exempt.
In line with an expectation of management commitment, every operating unit’s senior manager must sign off on it.
Individually Tailored Safety Programs
The safety plan is used as a foundation for developing the second component of Zero Accidents: site-specific Safe Work Practices.
Each site specific Safe Work Practice manual is developed during the turnover meeting after we are awarded a project. The turnover meeting is attended by the Vice President of the company, outside superintendent, project manager, and foreman, who discuss the project with our safety representative to identify site-specific safety exposures. Then we develop a safety program—SWPs and associated employee training—to reduce these risks.
In summary: Start by assessing your safety culture. If it’s deficient, acknowledge the need to improve it. Identify a goal. EMCOR’s goal is Zero Accidents. Implement a strategic safety plan to reach that goal. Finally, make sure you have full management commitment—the success of the plan and every individual program that follows from it—depends on leadership from the top.
Michael Nahas is director of Safety & Health for EMCOR Services Fluidics. Fluidics is a Philadelphia-based mechanical, electrical, and facilities services contractor, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of EMCOR Group, Inc. Nahas is a member of the National Safety Council, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Society of Safety Engineers.
This article is s based on Michael Nahas’ presentation — "Safety and the Business Function" — which he presented at the 2011 Mechanical Systems WEEK in Indianapolis.
Mechanical Systems WEEK 2012 will be held Sept. 19-21, in Schaumburg, IL. Visit mechanicalsystemsweek.com for additional information.