The Value of Project-Specific Safety Mentoring
All construction workers are at risk for jobsite accidents, but it makes sense that those new to the industry or even to a different type of project are more vulnerable. One way construction companies can reduce the chances of those employees being injured or posing a safety hazard to others is by pairing them up with more experienced workers.
It’s working for McCarthy Building Companies.
Before being assigned a "buddy," all new McCarthy employees must undergo the company's standard safety orientation. In addition, a new employee — and anyone new to a project — must participate in the three-month new employee safety training (NET) program. That person “is partnered with an experienced tradesperson who has been working on the project and who can review site-specific safety issues and risks," said Steve Miller, divisional safety director for McCarthy Building Companies' St. Louis office.
"Since implementing the program in 2011 we’ve experienced a decrease in the number of injuries among new employees,” said Miller.
That's on top of an already-successful safety culture within the company. McCarthy works with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP) and has such a low workers' compensation claim rate that the company has received a credit on its workers' compensation insurance premiums since 1993.
While people are participating in NET, they wear a fluorescent green triangle sticker on the back of their hardhat to indicate that they’re a new project team member.
During the three-month program, Miller said, participants learn about safety awareness and minimizing risks in three areas: fall protection, danger zone awareness and electrical hazards. These categories are three of OSHA's "fatal four," which were responsible for more than 64 percent of construction worker deaths in 2015.
Each mentor-mentee pair reviews hazards on an ongoing basis, Miller said. Then, each month, they review checklists that identify opportunities to reduce jobsite risks. At the end of the three months, McCarthy allows the new employee to work more independently.
The Associated General Contractors of America suggests that all companies implement this type of new worker "buddy system" for 30 days or for however long it takes for employees to demonstrate they have learned the requisite safety skills.
They benefits extend beyond safety, Miller said. "The program also helps participants learn general details about the project, the site and how the team interacts. As a result, it helps employees become more productive while working on the project."
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.