Construction and Human Resources

Pioneer pays more than lip service to construction safety

Construction is a dangerous industry, with many variables on a job site on any given day.

May 13, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Construction is a dangerous industry, with many variables on a job site on any given day.

Injuries happen, and it’s a commonly held belief that achieving zero injuries is impossible, said Seth Wehner, director of safety at Pioneer Construction.

When Wehner started at Pioneer six years ago, the company was above the national average in workplace injuries of three per 200,000 work hours. That was cause for concern and enough for Pioneer to implement a program designed to philosophically change the way the company looked at workplace injuries to help eliminate them.

Pioneer was a finalist May 12 for the Green Cross for Safety Award from the National Safety Council, along with United Airlines and Dr. Michael A. Gittelman of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The award goes to a “corporation, coalition, organization, or individual that has achieved evidence-based success by taking an innovative approach to solving a long-held safety challenge.”

The challenge in construction is changing the belief that injuries are the norm.

“We took a fresh look at ourselves and our safety. We thought we were doing very well, but we wanted to verify that,” Wehner said.

Pioneer did a deep exploration of 10 years of injuries, Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection results, third-party inspections, complaints, employee feedback and data from safety meetings. The investigation found that, for the most part, there were clear patterns showing injuries are preventable.

Construction sites are dangerous, with tasks that change day-to-day in different settings and situations during variable weather conditions that make even simple construction tasks risky, said Chris Beckering, vice president of strategic business operations at Pioneer.

The most important piece of Pioneer’s program, Beckering said, has been to change the culture of employees just paying lip service to safety procedures.

“The shift we’ve seen has been from a culture of compliance to a culture of awareness,” Beckering said. “Nobody wants to get hurt or wants other people to get hurt, and we had to get people to look not just after themselves but the people around them on the jobsite.

“Getting everyone on board and taking ownership was a major hurdle, and I don’t think we’ve arrived. I’m not sure you ever arrive.”

Pioneer dropped below the national average for jobsite injuries, achieving zero injuries that resulted in days away, restricted work activities or transfers to another job. Overall, Wehner said Pioneer’s injuries have dropped 75 percent.

Last week, the company implemented a new initiative, Project Zero, meant to bring the total reportable injuries to zero.

“Safety isn’t about checking a box or passing an inspection; safety is everyone’s job at Pioneer,” Beckering said. “It’s pretty simple: We want everybody to return home to their families safe at the end of every workday.”

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