Sweden-based construction company Skanska leads development projects around the world, focusing on commercial constructions, new home builds, and transportation projects. Its mission is to build for a better society and leave every space better, more beautiful, and more functional than it found it. It’s the firm behind the United States’ first LEED v4 Platinum Core & Shell certified project—the Bank of America tower in Houston, TX. The company has been named on Fortune’s “Change the World” list of companies twice, ranked #6 on Engineering News Record’s Top 100 Green Building Contractors List twice, earned a spot on Forbes’ Best List of Employers for Diversity, and obtained the Forbes’ designation as one of America’s Best Employers twice.
A few years ago, Skanska USA Building recognized a major shift happening. Not only was the overall contracting partner ecosystem insufficient to meet the demands their projects required, but the subset of contractors who met the company’s high bar for safety and risk management was shrinking. To continue to grow while maintaining its commitment to safety, Skanska USA Building needed to increase the pool of viable contracting partners. Their management team felt the company was uniquely positioned to support contractors on their journey to a stronger safety culture.
We recently interviewed David Watts, EHS Director of New England Skanska USA Building, to learn how Skanska’s Care for Life Program is designed to elevate partners and help them maintain a true culture of safety with their contracting partners. Below is a transcription of my conversation with David Watts.
Skanska has a core value in place called Care for Life, and we think that it’s the perfect embodiment of Partner Elevation. Can you talk us through what it is, why it exists, and how it elevates your partners?
Care for Life is one of Skanska’s four core values (the others being Be Better – Together, Act Ethically & Transparently, and Commit to Customers). According to David and key company leaders, the Care for Life value is often pointed to as the most essential. In truth, taking care of this core value allows the company to uphold the other three. And while Care for Life helps to promote a culture of safety, David knows its potential offers so much more.
“We need all of these elements to excel in our work. Care for Life supports an injury-free environment, sustainability (Skanska is ISO 14001), mental health, wellness, and environmental health and safety. It’s a guiding value for how we take care of our people, as well as our subcontractor partners and their people.”
Skanska treats people as its greatest asset and has been proactive about promoting its people-first culture. Given the nature of the construction industry, which sees roughly 150,000 accidents per year in the United States alone, putting people first naturally creates a safer work environment for all.
“It’s a lot easier to engage in dialogue regarding unsafe conditions, unsafe activities, and anything else that leads to the potential for injury when you have Care for Life as a foundation. We talk about the workers and their families. Someone depends on them coming home that day. We depend on that worker coming back to work tomorrow. There are always challenges in communicating with workers in the field. But despite the challenges, we need to look out for each other. The Care for Life platform helps to break down barriers and opens the door to have these conversations.”
Skanska knows that project success is about more than simply finishing the work. It’s about keeping people safe, which is why the Care for Life program is such a perfect embodiment of partner elevation.
You and I have talked about the Care for Life Team Meetings you conduct with your partners. You even have a standardized document and meeting agenda for it, which we love. Can you talk us through it so folks understand how you’re elevating your partners with this process and how you’re using it to set the tone for a culture of safety?
For people who are coming onto a job site from outside of Skanska USA Building, the Care for Life platform starts to change their roles and how they think about safety at work. This happens by careful design, starting before the contractor comes on board.
“Using the Highwire platform, I can log in and, within minutes, I can come to a conclusion about where a subcontractor’s challenges are. Whether it’s a small contractor with a lot of EHS challenges or a large contractor with few or no safety challenges, I can make these determinations quickly. For my benefit, when I meet with partners, I put these items on a document to share with them. I pull these numbers straight from the Highwire platform. When they leave that meeting, they have something tangible they can refer back to.”
David explains this meeting isn’t a pass/fail scenario. Rather, he treats pre-qualification as more of an assessment, which is a core tenet of elevating partners. The company is more interested in looking at their scores and seeing where each person is in their understanding of Care for Life and the safety culture. From there, leaders can address their weaknesses and areas of risk with specific risk mitigation plans.
“We’re going to do business with contractors regardless of what their safety standards are. I embrace this philosophy. Think about it: if there’s a contractor out there struggling with EHS, isn’t it the right thing to do for our industry to help elevate them to a better place? We don’t allow subcontractors to use their policies and procedures; we use ours. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need help with their policies. Our goal is to make it so that wherever these contractors are working, they’re working safely. Care for Life is pervasive in our culture. It’s not enough to say, ‘Everyone is responsible for safety.’ Each person must be able to say, ‘I’m responsible for safety.’ We want them to walk away knowing what Care for Life means as part of our culture and operations and be able to contribute to it.”