Earlier this year, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) managers at Google met to discuss growing concerns about the number of workers experiencing first-aid incidents on a project site owned by the tech giant.
Steve LaRussa was one of those EHS managers. LaRussa’s team collaborated with the general contractor (GC) on the project to investigate the matter and, in turn, found that the first-aid incidents were linked to one subcontractor in particular—a trade partner whose employees were working long hours doing “strenuous, high-risk” work.
“The trend of first-aids predicted there was going to be a serious incident—something above a first-aid that might happen soon,” LaRussa told Highwire.
Uncovering the source of the problem
To avoid the possibility of a major incident, LaRussa and the project’s GC went directly to the source. They organized an appreciation lunch for the subcontractor’s employees to thank them for the work they were doing. The occasion allowed LaRussa and the team to engage the subcontractor’s employees through an anonymous questionnaire—assessing how workers felt about their training and preparation for the job.
“Through the survey and responses, we could immediately jump on initiatives that proved we listened and cared about the employees,” LaRussa said.
This swift action of the safety managers resulted in a significant decrease in incidents. As Google’s EHS program continues to grow, LaRussa offers this moment of communication and collaboration as an example of how hiring partners make a difference regarding the safety practices and culture their trade partners foster on job sites.
“In my past experiences outside of Google, I’ve worked on projects where the lines of communication weren’t as robust,” LaRussa said. “And one of the reasons I love working at Google is because we foster this kind of community and collaboration amongst our trade partners.”
Developing a sophisticated EHS program
A seasoned safety professional, LaRussa’s interest in water conservation led him to safety management. LaRussa managed a safety program for a consulting firm that focused on auditing and installations. “I liked being the ambassador for the crews, making sure they were safe in the field,” says LaRussa.
This experience led him to spend five years as an owner’s rep to Apple Inc., blossoming his passion for construction safety.
In 2019, he provided as a consultant for Google. Since 2022, he has worked full-time for the tech giant overseeing construction projects in the Bay Area and across North America.
Safety managers at Google are adopting a more sophisticated view of safety—moving beyond an emphasis on metrics like total recordable incident rate (TRIR) to proactively improve safety by analyzing leading indicators and other measures, LaRussa said. LaRussa values communication on and off the job site—which he emphasizes is a critical component of keeping workers safe. Effective communication includes engaging with all parties, from project executives to employees on the front lines.
Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial. “A quick sign, to me, of a successful partnership will be those early relationships built when a GC is first selected for a project,” LaRussa said. “Are they willing to open up to us about the challenges they foresee on a project? Are they willing to solicit our feedback? Are they open to sharing information about incidents, near-misses, and trends they are seeing?”
LaRussa continued, “That collaboration allows my team, through the power of Highwire, to look at leading indicators … and then take that data and share it with each project.”