April 28, 2020

Why Should Contractor Safety be Important to a Project Owner?

Jim Olson, AIA, NCARB
Director of Business Development-Southern Wisconsin

Starting a new construction project is an exciting time! Whether you are launching a new venture, adding on to a site because your company is growing, or renovating an existing structure to better serve your needs, a solid safety plan needs to be an integral part of your efforts.

Job site safety is paramount to ensuring every individual in and around the project returns home safely to his or her family each night. Contractors and project owners who insist on a comprehensive safety program see safety not only as a way to provide a safe work environment, but also as a cost control tool, and a critical element for budget success.

How Owners Can Work with a Contractor to Help Ensure Safety on Their Job Site
Owners sometimes feel they are interfering with the contractor’s way of doing business if they express concerns over safety at a jobsite.

As an owner, you have the right to have a quality safety program be an important part of the selected contractor’s approach to your project. You also need to think beyond the job site and consider safety measures adjacent to the site as part of the planning.

In addition, if you have any safety requirements for your own employees, your selected contractor should take those requirements into consideration when putting together the site-specific safety plan for your project.

Owners should provide the direction and information necessary for a contractor to produce and enforce an effective safety plan that meets your needs as well as the needs of the contractor, subcontractors, and visitors.

How to Assess a Contractor’s Commitment to Safety?
Contractors with excellent workers compensation safety records are more efficient at reducing risks, driving project profitability, and completing jobs on time.

Your contractor pre-qualification process should include an assessment of their workers’ compensation history, and three years of historical safety data. The contractor should provide you with their Experience Modification Rate (EMR) going back at least three years. EMR is a calculation used by insurance companies to gauge both past cost of injuries, and future chances of risk. An EMR of 1.0 or less is considered exemplary.

It’s also a good idea to obtain references from past clients and subcontractors, and gauge their assessment of the contractor’s safety program. A quick look at the contractor’s organizational chart will demonstrate if the leadership structure is in place to support a proactive safety culture.

Check to see if they have a dedicated Safety Manager on staff. These trained professionals monitor construction sites, enforce compliance with government regulations and standards, and provide training opportunities for staff. They also help identify safety-related issues on project sites, and work with project leadership to design solutions to mitigate exposure to those risks.

We’re All In This Together!
As project owner, you should be able to count on a properly licensed and insured contractor to shoulder the bulk of responsibility for construction jobsite safety. However, you must collaboratively plan for project safety by providing the contractor with the information necessary to set up a safe worksite. You should also feel comfortable performing inspections to ensure safe practices are being followed.

It’s important that Owners and contractors view each other as partners in this process. Neither can be successful without the other. Ensuring safety for everyone in and around your job site is a shared responsibility.

Your involvement will be rewarded with a smooth-running, low-stress, cost-effective, and SAFE project.