Small construction companies face a larger risk of accidents, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics collects information about accidents that happen on construction sites. Industry associations like the Associated General Contractors of America and even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration use this data to try to get a grip on which job duties are the most dangerous and why in their efforts to make construction sites safer.
What's been missing from the industry analysis so far, however, is how company size factors into the safety equation.
According to a study commissioned by the Associated General Contractors of America and conducted by the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech, the smallest construction companies — those with one to nine workers — employed only a quarter of all construction workers but recorded almost half (47 percent) of all accidents. These companies averaged 26 fatalities per 100,000 workers annually, the highest rate among all company sizes.
“One of the reasons AGC of America completed this comprehensive safety study was to give construction firms, particularly smaller firms, a broad data set of safety information from which to make informed decisions about the best way to protect their workers," said Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs at the AGC. "Many smaller firms lack access to this kind of data simply because the size of their workforce and the number of incidents they incur are too small."
In its report, Preventing Fatalities in the Construction Industry, the AGC suggested that smaller contractors:
1. Look to larger construction companies with robust safety programs and adopt the practices that best fit with their operations.
2. Let employees know they are at increased risk for onsite accidents.
3. Allow the general contractors for which they're working to make them a part of their own culture of onsite safety and agree to implement their policies and procedures.
In OSHA’s safety guide for contractors, it recommends that companies — including small- and medium-size ones — do the following:
1. Commit to top-down safety. Company executives should dedicate themselves to safety and communicate the goal of safety to workers by establishing training programs, making safety part of their daily conversations with workers and making each worker responsible for safe practices.
2. Involve workers in all aspects of a safety program. Employers should encourage employees to help set safety program goals and participate in identifying and reporting hazards, for example. Give workers ways to communicate openly with management about safety concerns.
3. Continually evaluate and identify jobsite hazards. A jobsite can change from day to day. Ask employees for their ideas on how to control the hazards.
4. Implement a training program. No matter their position in the company, all employees should receive safety training that matches their responsibilities on the job.
5. Eliminate barriers to participation. For example, look for ways to address language barriers, and remove any official or unofficial safety-related disincentives, such as retaliation for raising a safety concern.
The bottom line: The smallest companies can learn from the biggest ones by putting in place many of the same practices and policies. Check out OSHA's guide for tips on implementing a safety program that even small companies can use.