The safety team at Lee Kennedy Co., a Quincy, Massachusetts-based full-service construction firm, has a system for assessing the subcontractors in their network. They call it a “Top 10, Bottom 10” approach. Every year, Environmental, Health, and Safety staff rank the subcontractors the company hires based on their past performance, including job site observations and injury reports.
That insight, which the safety team uses Highwire to help unlock, is one way they evaluate subs—by analyzing meaningful data. But the team knows when it comes to safety, incentives matter; all of the parties need to be in alignment to achieve results.
“We consider subcontractors our partners,” Gavin Taylor, CSP, Director of Environmental, Health, and Safety at Lee Kennedy Co., tells Highwire. “We all work together to get a job done.”
The need for effective communication
Ahead of Safety Week 2023, Taylor spoke to Highwire about how relationships on the job site can impact safety culture and project outcomes, the importance of executive involvement, and how safety managers think about hazards and injury prevention.
Behind all of it, Taylor says, is the need for effective communication at all levels of a project. The safety team’s “Top 10, Bottom 10” system provides a sketch of where their contracting partners stand in relation to safety. But, it doesn’t preclude the safety team from collaborating with subs who aren’t entirely performing up to standard to work toward better outcomes.
Sorting these subcontractors based on performance encourages that kind of collaboration. Improvement through engagement is always the end goal. “We’ll meet with them to talk about how they can make changes to their safety programs,” Taylor says.
Hazards exist on a spectrum
The strength of a project team’s safety culture during a job can be tested at any moment. Hazards lurk in the shadows—beyond what’s merely visible to safety managers.
To keep crews safe and head off injuries, Taylor points to daily diligence, such as ensuring that workers are wearing the proper equipment. “Recently I went to a job, and the roofers didn’t have the right equipment,” he says. “We had to get all the teams together. They had to order new equipment and re-evaluate how they were getting work done.”
An ill-equipped crew, Taylor says, could point to a discrepancy between the subcontractor’s understanding of the means and methods, the scope of work, and overall expectations of management. Proper communication—which includes daily meetings and correspondence up and down the chain of command—addresses these misaligned expectations before they lead to injuries.
“The average worker finds out where they’re going the same morning,” Taylor says. “A lot of the time, companies mobilize without fully being prepared. Things can look different on the field and may not go as planned. Conditions change, and you have to combat those changing scenarios.”
Asked about how the safety team at Lee Kennedy can gain insight into the likelihood of success in a given job before it gets underway, Taylor responds: “A strong safety score in Highwire.”
The role of executives
Taylor says that company executives at Lee Kennedy Co. play a huge role in shaping safety culture across projects and job sites. “Those [Immediately Dangerous To Life or Health] observations, or those incident reports, go straight to the top,” he says.
The executive attention, Taylor says, gives higher-ups the opportunity to develop personal relationships with subcontractors. That might entail direct contact from an executive to the subcontractor on site—a gesture that can go a long way toward building a stronger culture of collaboration.
“That shows we care—that the whole company cares and takes this seriously,” he says.
And every year, Safety Week has given Lee Kennedy executives an opportunity to walk job sites and get to know the frontline staff. “Project executives have more impact than they think,” Taylor says. “We try to push them to come out to the field, especially during Safety Week.”
Using Highwire, the safety team at Lee Kennedy Co. is devising a customized Safety Week inspection they intend to carry out this year. “It’s very simple and easy, and we want to get good data out of it,” Taylor says.
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