"It's in our hands."
That's the theme of Safety Week 2017. In its fourth year, the annual initiative brings together groups across the construction industry through training sessions and other events nationwide to emphasize the importance of creating a culture of safety on the job site.
This year's event runs May 1 to May 5 and promotes job-site safety as a shared responsibility. The theme's wordplay also draws attention to the prevalence of hand injuries, as work-related damage to hands, fingers and tendons is one of the most common causes of missed work days.
Construction Dive spoke with James Mooney, head of environment, health and safety for Lendlease, one of the companies involved in Safety Week, about the evolving nature of safety in construction.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed.
What are the benefits of Safety Week, and why does Lendlease participate?
MOONEY: Fifty-one weeks a year, our competitors are just that, but Safety Week is an opportunity for us to get together to collectively express that we’re not competitors when it comes to safety, and there are no trade secrets with respect to safety. If we have an ability to share best practices and learn from each other, then it’s something we fully endorse. We were one of the founding members of Safety Week, and it’s something we’re very proud to be associated with.
What events are you holding during Safety Week?
MOONEY: We will be conducting events that will engage every one of our projects to a certain extent. That would include a major project we’re doing in Los Angeles called Oceanwide Plaza, where we’ll be hosting mental health workshops and performing supplemental first-aid training. At our Clippership Wharf project, in Boston, we’ll be performing a fire-prevention training seminar, holding OSHA round table discussions, and doing fall-protection and vendor presentations.
Mental health workshops are also part of your efforts this week. How does mental health factor into the broader safety discussion?
MOONEY: Mental health is a cornerstone of what we feel is important for our people, and mental health in the construction industry has taken on a heightened sense of awareness. It is very much a part of Lendlease’s involvement in Safety Week.
What are some other key focuses of Safety Week for your company?
MOONEY: Fall protection is crucial to us. Working at height is a fundamental component of construction. Our never-ending challenge is selecting the right systems for working at height as well as ensuring that the worker is appropriately protected. What we need to focus on — and it’s something that Lendlease puts front and center but I’m encouraging our partners in Safety Week to [also] focus on — is ensuring that the safest option, not the most expeditious or cost-effective option, is chosen for safely working at height. All too often, it seems, people are focused on the minimum acceptable, where we [should be focused on] on the safest acceptable.
How would you describe Lendlease’s overall approach to safety?
MOONEY: Our approach is specific to our global minimum requirements (GMRs), which revolve around a robust requirement for all operations. The GMRs, in many ways, go above and beyond what OSHA or local regulatory agencies would require. We put a specific emphasis on ensuring that not only do we have a primary means of protection, but also a secondary means of protection. Our goal is to put safety in front of profitability, safety in front of production.
Is prioritizing safety a problem for the construction industry overall?
MOONEY: Unfortunately, that is the case, but Lendlease and our partners in Safety Week recognize that safety and profitability are not exclusive. If we can raise the bar and can get our competitors to raise their bar, the end result is going to be something we can all be proud of, which is ensuring that each and every person that comes in contact with our job site, as well as every member of the public, can rest assured that they’re going to go home safely at the end of the day.
Within a company, who holds the responsibility to ensure worker safety?
MOONEY: We feel an obligation that anybody on a Lendlease project and anything that happens is ultimately our responsibility, and we have to ensure we give the teams the right tools and the right education and the right authority to work safely and to stop unsafe acts.
It’s also crucial for the trades to take responsibility for their safety. We can do that by engaging them in the planning process and requiring them to identify unsafe activities and stop them when they arise. It’s all-inclusive. No longer can the worker say, "You don’t pay me to think, you pay me to work." The worker has to be involved in the safe execution of everything we undertake.
Any subcontractor that wants to work for Lendlease has to go through a very rigorous prequalification process that includes a significant investigation into their safety documentation and safety programs, work experience and [safety] track record, as well as their capabilities.
Beyond Safety Week, what are Lendlease's goals related to safety in the future?
MOONEY: To continue, to the greatest extent possible, to operate incident- and injury-free, and to engage the worker. The empowerment of the worker — from engaging them to assist in the planning of safe work procedures, to the expectation that they have the responsibility to stop an activity when conditions change or they believe that safety is being compromised — is a fundamental change that is long overdue. Every conversation around safety needs to consider: 'What’s the worst that could happen?' We find that when we engage the worker, when we make them part of the planning process, we’re going to find a safer outcome.