Behavior Based

I have given many safety training presentations (as you have, I’m sure). If you are lucky, the owner/president of the company will have a few words to say to the group.  I am sometimes amazed at what they say (or don’t say). Below are my tips and suggestions.

What to say:

  • Thank the employees for working and the contribution they make
  • We take your health & safety VERY seriously
  • Look out for your own safety, AND the safety of others
  • Thank your company safety director/coordinator/consultant
    • Support them and listen to them
    • Do what they ask you to do and pass it along to others
  • We want our employees to:
    • Go home to your friends & family
    • Enjoy your life – injury free. Now, and in the future.

What NOT to say:

  • We spend a lot of  money on safety
    • “Bob got his hand cut, and it cost us $1,200”
    • “We had to pay $1,200 in OSHA citations”
  • Don’t be stupid”  (thereby implying that accidents are generated from stupid people)
  • Our insurance costs are high because you are getting hurt.
  • I will give you ____ if you don’t get hurt (thereby encouraging under-reporting of injuries)


This topic is not industrial hygiene specific. However, it is a construction safety/cost issue. A lot of contractors do a poor  job at modified duty (light duty) for injured employees. There are a few reasons for this:

  • temporary worker (disposable employee)
  • no “light duty” for the hard work needing done
  • the superintendent doesn’t want them back
    • doesn’t like him
    • can find someone else to do job
    • job is over

One of the best methods to reduce your return to work costs (aka workers compensation costs) is to return employees back to (some kind of) work as soon as possible. Keeping these injured employees on the project where the superintendent was responsible not only impact’s their projects bottom line, it reminds them of the injured employee.

Here is a list of some light duty jobs from Safety Awakenings.

Also, psychologically, how do you treat your injured employees? I have a brother, when younger, who would cry over a little tiny scrape. However, when he was actually hurt, he would firm-up, not shed a tear, and act as tough as possible. Employees are no different. Their reaction really varies, and your response might also need to change. There is probably not a one-size fits-all approach, but being professional is a good start.

Do you:

  • Shame them (make fun of them because of their injury?)
  • Encourage their injury (baby those who get hurt?)
  • Highlight it (bring it up in meetings?)
  • Discourage the behavior? or the act of unsafe behavior?

As you know, sometimes it’s hard to find light duty in construction.mixing1

Can we measure an exposure accurately with just one sample? (statistically, no.) Also consider: Can we measure a “worst case” scenario and be OK for the rest of the project? (again, hypothetical question)

There was a blog post, here by Mike Jayjock, which reminded me of how silly our data points (aka industrial hygiene sample results) are in the big picture of statistics.  I’m slowly reading a book titled, “Control Banding” by David Zalk who is with Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The CDC also has a section on control banding here.

Another side of this is a common practice we all perform called Risk Analysis. There is much on the subject, but essentially it’s similar to triage at an emergency room. What is the easiest, best thing you can do: given what you have available and what you are able to muster?safety triangle

Too often (myself included) we perform air monitoring for a specific situation and use that information as the gospel-truth. Well, this might be like living in the United States and never traveling. We meet a very nice person from the Ukraine. They seem very typical Eastern European and have a thick accent, but are they really like everyone in Russia? Is this person typical? Are they exactly like every other person from Russia?

This type of stereotyping is the same as taking one sample and drawing conclusions about all exposures. You might be right, BUT…you might be wrong.

There is a fun app you can download called, IH DIG by Adam Geitgey (Apple & Android).  This app illustrates the importance of using statistical tools, rather than guessing. (It’s a game)

Sorry I do not have many answers in this post, just a lot of questions.

Construction workers falling is the number 1 cause of death in this industry (residential & commercial).

NIOSH has published a prevention through design (PtD) document for those who design parapets to prevent falls. This document is new. But the principle of it has been around since Moses’ time: “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” Deuteronony 22:8. 

Another good resource: Stop Construction Falls .com. They even have an interesting map which shows where they occur.

The CPWR obtained a NIOSH grant and has some free videos here.

map of falls

Spring is when the work picks up, be safe out there.

I previously wrote about a worst-case scenario in which asbestos was not discovered till after it was disturbed.TSI asbestos

Recently I heard a story of the opposite:

A general contractor hired a company to remove various pieces of asbestos. They had obtained an asbestos building survey, which clearly stated where the  asbestos was located. A boiler with surrounding insulation was identified as non-asbestos containing (asbestos-free). The employee was using a bobcat to demolish the boiler. As he started to tear into the insulation surrounding the boiler (disturb it), he paused. He checked the building survey again, and it had clearly stated it was “asbestos free” (actually 5 samples had been taken of the insulation around the boiler). Then, he did what most other people would not do: HE REFUSED to demo the insulation. He told the General Contractor and owner he thought it was asbestos containing and wanted it tested, AGAIN.

Guess what they found? Yep. Asbestos WAS contained inside the insulation around the boiler.

There was obviously some break-down in communication with the report, inspector, and possibly the lab.  However, this employee is to be commended and, really, the safety culture at this company should be congratulated. You never know where you will find asbestos.  The employee had enough guts to speak up for his safety (and for the others).

Measuring good-safety behavior is the type of thing we should reward. In the past (and still today) many safety-people measure losses ( ie. how many injuries). This is backwards thinking. We should be rewarding good behavior and encouraging people to speak up for safety.

For example; what do you say to this guy?

scaffold ladder

On one hand it makes perfect sense. If you work safely, over time, this is something that should be rewarded. Many, many companies provide a safety-incentive for no/low work place injuries.  However, there is a downside, which some people have discovered:  If you reward people for being safe, there is a possibility they won’t tell you if something isn’t safe. It’s called a reporting bias, or selective reporting.

Unfortunately this bias is exactly the opposite of what the best companies do. The best companies report every little thing (every incident). People who scrutinize the numbers can tell you for every accident that occurs, there are usually 100 little incidents which occurred prior to the accident. The reporting of incidents is the best indicator for future accidents. (aka, catch phrase: leading indicators)

A really cool example of this is Google Dengue Trends. Dengue is a mosquito-spread virus. Google looks at search words and, over time & many data points, can actually see people where the fever is spreading. An article in Science & Tech (June, 2001 Graham Smith) “Google launches Dengue Trends tool to help doctors track spread of deadly fever

So how do you motivate people to report an unsafe act?

Here are some ideas:

  • Pre task planning & post task wrap-up (downside: can be a lot of paperwork)
  • Check the first-aid safety box for what’s being used
  • Encouraging open communication
  • Spies (not my favorite)
  • Follow up on any report of near miss (by management within a certain time frame)
  • Reward the reporting of incidents
  • Make it easy, safe, convenient, rewarding, honorable, and validating

Or, maybe you should ask the opposite question: What would motivate someone NOT to tell you? In construction, it is common practice to provide a bonus at the end of a project based upon various factors. This most definitely includes profitability, but it can also include safety. If you didn’t hurt anyone on the project, you SHOULD be rewarded. (or, at least be given a pat on the back). Here’s a case of someone who really got it backwards: A former safety manager at the Shaw Group (formerly Stone & Webster Construction) falsified records.

So, while standing in the California jet-way waiting to board my plane, I noticed this sign. It was most likely a Proposition 65 labeling warning. However, what in the world do you do with that information? How did posting that sign change any behavior? Could I have done anything different to avoid the jet fumes?

prop65 jet

It reads, “Warning. Chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm are present in the jet engine exhaust fumes from jet fuel, and exhaust from equipment used to service airplanes. Sometimes these chemicals enter this jet bridge.”

In much the same way, sometimes our warning to employees is pointless. What can they do different? What is the point of telling them something if there is nothing we can do different?

The global harmonization system (GHS) is being implemented in the US by the end of 2013. By 2014 you must train your employees on the new changes to the (Material) Safety Data Sheets (SDS, now). (BTW, there are also some other things you must do).

The message I am trying to make (double irony, I know) is when you are training your employees, how do you measure the effectiveness  If they “sign in and say they were in your training”, were you effective? Here are some suggestions, which might help to measure the right thing:

  • Questions. This ___ number of the audience asked ___ questions.
  • Feedback. I received ____ # of suggestions for the next training.
  • Changes. They are going to implement ____ changes to their workplace.
  • Secondary labeling. (GHS specific, of course) While walking around the site, I noticed ____ secondary labels with the new labeling pictographs.

I admit these aren’t the-best-suggestions-ever. But, warning someone without an alternative, method to change, or way to adopt a change, is really pointless.

I had the opportunity to attend a construction safety award presentation and listen to various commercial construction companies (GC, and Specialty Contractors) explain why their company deserved an award. Owners, CEOs, Safety Directors, and Employees spoke about their company. Their stories were amazing. Below I have listed some of the ideas that inspired me. They may not, at first glace, appear to be amazing. However, consider when the CEO tells a story that makes him cry, or when a superintendent explains how he is part of a family,…. it makes the words ring different.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Safety really starts at the top. It’s not a priority, it’s a core value. Check out the Injury Free Forum (IIF).
    • This is basically a club/meeting for CEOs to gather and talk about how to prevent injuries. It’s ‘almost’ an invite-only type of event. But, if you’re a CEO/President you should think about it. (helps if you live in the NE part of the US)
    • Here are some companies participating, Gilbane, Gilbane video (yep, it’s good), JMJ Associates, Baker Concrete video
  • During initial employee orientation;
    • one company has each employee write a letter to their family saying (apologizing) why they are gone/dead. This really emphasizes to each individual why they need to work safe.
    • the CEO gives each new employee his business card and tell them to call him directly if they are asked to do something unsafe.
    • each new employee is assigned a mentor (the time period varies from 2 weeks to 1 month) to watch them work safely.
  • Each employee has the right to stop work due to safety. If they do it: the CEO/President writes them a personal thank you note.
  • Make each near miss a incident, but do NOT have a lot of paperwork, just simple documentation for future learning.
  • Have a innovative idea challenge at your company for good safety ideas.
    • Put a bar code on infrequently used tools. Link to a short video which explains how to use it.
    • Zip tie PPE onto the tools upon checkout.
  • Send your “Safety Incident” or “Safety Summary” to their home. Ask them to put it on their fridge. Then, run a contest. Randomly find a name & call that employee to see if they can tell you what the safety topic is. Give a prize. Repeat.
  • Look at the design. A large GC mandated that every hole in their project have safety netting installed during the concrete pour. …and they did it!
  • An electrical firm uses no knives. None. Think that helps cut down on injuries? (pun intended)

The goal is zero injuries. So, what happens after zero injuries? How about sending your spouse to work…and they come home healthier! It’s not far away for some companies, Health & Wellness programs are already being implemented. For whom are you working? Here’s one of my reasons:

live work

focusfourMuch research has been done in construction safety. If you are working in construction, you have probably heard the facts over and over. The majority of construction injuries are from four main hazards, hence the “focus four hazards“. Although this site is for health issues & industrial hygiene in construction, it would be ridiculous to NOT mention these other hazards.

  • Falls,
  • Caught-in or Caught-between,
  • Struck-by &
  • Electrocution.

When talking with superintendents and safety coordinators, you can usually tell very quickly  if they have these under control. Either their subcontractors already do it right, or if/when they see an error, they immediately stop and address the inefficiency.

I saw this ladder in front of my children’s school. There was no one around and, by the look of it, there might have been someone on the roof. I should have waited, or fixed the ladder and spoken to the individual. But, I didn’t. Instead, I took a picture, put it on the internet, and now I’m telling everyone why it’s wrong.


Since you are reading this, you probably know the answer. Everyone. But, who is everyone? It should include your CEO/Company President/COO (or similar). If not, I guarantee you aren’t working as safely as possible.

The reason:  The person doing the work usually isn’t involved in the bidding & planning of the project.  It’s not always the President’s fault that the proper safety equipment wasn’t bought, or there are no available tie off points on the roof. (But, it might be their fault if they are willing to press forward without making changes.)

Here is one way to deal with these issues. Train the CEO (President/COO/Project Manager/Estimator) beforehand. Here’s how:

  • Make the training for them. 
    • Don’t talk about safety harnesses, or the three different types of asbestos.
    • Go over big items (where are your claims? what are similar claims for your industry?)
  • Emphasize the proper methods to control any hazard:
    • #1 engineering controls
    • #2 administrative controls
    • #3 PPE (in that order!)
  • Get them to contact you during the bidding process (not after you’ve won it). Talk about what might be dangerous work & plan for it.
  • Share a success story. Ask a superintendent to explain how they controlled a possible exposure.
    • Did they make the architect install in a tie-off point?
    • Did they ask the owner to change adhesive products to a less hazardous one?
    • Did they use an abatement contractor who performed the work well?
  • Keep it simple & short. You don’t need a lot of time, but you do need them all on the same page.

When everyone in the company has the same interest in safety, it isn’t hard to explain.

Next Page »