By Joseph Kopko

It’s all too common for many in the construction business to manage safety to minimum standards. To an extent, that’s not a terrible thing since establishing and maintaining baseline compliance with OSHA standards is important to sustainability in many industries, construction included.

But here’s the thing. You can be 100 percent compliant with those standards and still be plagued with poor injury performance and the multitude of costs associated with it. The better course is to move your construction firm from a compliance mindset to one centered on commitment to construction safety. Because committing to going beyond the minimum in fostering a safety culture will yield far more benefits than the occasional programmed construction safety training or lifeless checklist.

Here’s what that kind of commitment looks like. 

  • You undertake safety situational preplanning and conduct regular risk assessments. 
  • Workers are key team members in helping to develop safe work methods.
  • You conduct field observations to monitor how construction safety measures look in practice and routinely conduct audits to verify your capabilities.
  • You reduce the risks associated with workplace tasks to the lowest level possible.

Practices like this help you cement a commitment to workplace safety that’s purpose driven and centered on continuous improvement. The culture you’re building is inclusionary – that’s what amplifies your safety efforts and keeps them on everyone’s shared radar. Your entire team experiences the benefits for themselves.

Commitment to a consistent set of fundamental construction safety processes means the job of managing compliance almost takes care of itself. Daily work site inspections, for example, become part of the expected and established routine because their value is evident. Work methods are evaluated regularly because it’s hard to argue with the outcomes -- better productivity due to an improved environment and a reduction in fatigue, not to mention a more appreciative group of workers.

The fact is that regulatory requirements can’t be ignored – the letter of the law gives us guidelines for how we manage our construction sites. But surpassing its strictures, going beyond those minimum requirements is what elevates organizations from standard to outstanding.   

Real story: A top tradesmen for one company was properly working on a ladder doing an installation on a multi-story building. He’d been trained in safety – ladder use, tool use. Everything was in working order, the ladder was inspected at the start of the shift and the company was 100 percent OSHA compliant. But during the process, a tool slipped and the worker got tangled in the ladder trying to catch it, falling face-first on the concrete deck. He suffered multiple serious injuries and never returned to work. 

Simply satisfying OSHA compliance guidelines did not prevent this accident. But going beyond the minimum with a risk reduction plan, with processes improved by knowledgeable, engaged workers could have eliminated the need to be on the ladder to begin with. 

OSHA regulations are minimum requirements that typically neither discuss nor evaluate the “risk” of the activities involved. Meeting those minimums will keep you in OSHA’s good graces. But that alone won’t improve your EMR, reduce worker fatigue or differentiate you from your competitors. It takes making a commitment to construction safety and the risk reduction techniques that support it…and advancing the understanding that managing to the minimum simply isn’t good enough.