The construction industry is encouraged to focus on safety every year at the beginning of May. While it is important for construction companies to focus on safety every day, the industry realizes that it can be easy to take the spotlight off of safety when other job requirements come up. Each year, Safety Week is used as a way for the entire industry to band together to put a significant focus on safety, and remind workers and executives about the importance of preventing work site injuries.
What Is Safety Week?
Safety Week is an initiative that involves as many construction companies as possible in the United States and Canada. None of the activities involved in Safety Week are mandatory. However, the industry feels strongly enough about safety to put significant resources into a week where safety events are encouraged and good safety records are highlighted.
During safety week, construction companies stop production in order to have training sessions on the topic for the day. There is a new topic for each of the five workdays of the week and the topics in 2017 dealt with hand safety. Included were:
- Hand injuries
- Analyzing potential hand hazards
- Types of safety gloves
- Working as a team to prevent hand injuries and report injuries quickly
- Proper hand-related first aid
The event is organized by a group of partner construction companies and sponsors called the Construction Industry Safety Initiative (CISI). This group offers contractors social media toolkits and other resources to help get the message of the year across. The CISI also spreads out across social media to help bring attention to the need for more focus on construction safety.
A Need To Focus On Safety All Year Round
The numbers associated with construction safety show that there is definitely a need for a focus on safety all year round, but the industry agrees that a week-long intense focus on safety helps to get companies back on track. Executives are encouraged to make regular safety site visits to their jobs during the week in an attempt to show how serious every company is about reducing construction accidents.
From 2014 to 2015, the fatality rate among construction workers rose from four to five percent. This statistic is significant when you consider that the fatality rate in 2015 was the highest since the recession started in 2008. Another startling fact is that 47 percent of all construction fatalities happen with companies that have 10 employees or less. This emphasizes the need for an industry-wide focus on safety, as there are smaller companies that are cutting corners on worker safety and creating unnecessary work site injuries.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a federal law that was enacted in 1970. It was established to force companies to reduce work site hazards such as loud noises, toxic materials, unnecessary equipment failures, and unsanitary conditions on job sites. It was a cooperative effort between the United States Congress and the construction industry, and the AFL-CIO (one of the largest labor unions in the country) says that this law has saved over 553,000 worker lives since 1970. The organizers of Safety Week refer to this bill as an example of the positive work that can be done when the industry decides to put an emphasis on safety.
Practical Reasons For Dedicating A Week To Safety
In 2007, it was estimated that the annual financial loss for construction accidents and deaths each year to the construction industry is around $13 billion. One of the more stark reminders of the importance of safety is that approximately 40 percent of that cost is due to fatalities. It is estimated that 99 percent of all workplace accidents can be prevented by a better focus on safety, and by companies that are more safety conscious.
The construction industry is estimated to generate approximately $1 trillion in revenue every year. While that number seems to dwarf the economic impact of accident losses, it needs to be put into perspective to understand why these numbers should motivate company owners. The average construction company profit margin is around nine to 10 percent, which gives the industry an overall profit of around $100 billion per year. That means that the industry loses approximately 13 percent of its profit every year to accidents, and 99 percent of that money could be saved with a focus on safety.
An Image Problem Caused By Accidents
The construction industry has also been hit with a serious image problem relating to worksite injuries over the past few years. The boiling point was reached when a crane tipped over due to high winds in Manhattan and killed a pedestrian who was walking by the job site. City officials, residents, and federal officials found themselves in a firestorm of accusations and activity regarding construction safety.
Safety Week was started in 2014, during a year when 22 construction workers were killed in New York City. In 2015, that number rose to 25 just in New York City, and the emphasis on Safety Week intensified. With the February 2016 crane incident in Manhattan, New York City has become a focal point for Safety Week activities and emphasis. While Safety Week is a nationwide initiative, its goal is to prevent the kinds of rising numbers that have been coming out of New York City since 2014.
Companies Facing Indictments For Safety Violations
A tunnel collapse incident in New York City in 2015 led to the indictment of the general contractor for that job, and the subcontractor. Since then, there have been stories of more construction companies facing possible indictments for safety violations on their work sites. The contractor liability for work site safety is not only civil, but it is also turning criminal as well. Since the same case can be tried in civil and criminal courts, contractors are starting to get behind the idea of Safety Week and all that it has to teach.
It should be considered a shame that potential financial loss and possible civil liability for construction work site accidents are two of the main reasons many contractors participate in the Safety Week event. But the reality is that whatever it takes to get construction companies to make safety a priority should be considered a good thing. As the criminal and civil courts start to fill up with construction accident cases, the involvement of contractors in Safety Week rises.
Involvement Is A Financial Investment
Safety Week is an optional exercise in safety spotlighting that is held throughout the United States and Canada. While Safety Week is only in its fourth year, any company that does not participate in Safety Week is looked upon with suspicion by job owners, workers, and inspection officials. The financial investment companies would have to make in Safety Week is minimal when compared to the huge amounts of profit that could be lost if safety becomes a problem.
Along with the costs of worker accidents and deaths, there are other issues contractors who deny focusing on safety face. It is harder for a company with a lot of safety violations to get work, companies with bad safety records pay more in liability insurance, and some insurance companies will not insure contractors that have a long history of accidents. Safety Week may be voluntary for contractors in the United States and Canada, but its positive effect on the industry and the companies that participate in it cannot be denied.