Starting over …but not at zero: How a safety incident can strengthen your safety culture
Contributed by the EV Construction Leadership Team
If during a game of Family Feud, Steve Harvey posed the question, “What are the top seven characteristics of a strong leader,” what would be the top response? Integrity? Accountability? Empathy? Humility? Resilience? Vision? Positivity? I think we would all agree these should be the top answers.
Many organizations celebrate and share “near misses” or “close calls” during regular safety meetings and discussions. These incidents help teach good safety practices while also creating a positive and “safe” place for corrections to be made. But, how do you react to more serious incidents like a recordable injury or a lost-time accident?
For those that are familiar with EV Construction, you know that safety is of utmost importance to us. We live it, breathe it and believe in it. We train for it, coach for it and prepare every employee for any circumstance we can imagine. And, we’ve been highly successful. On January 23rd of 2021, our team reached the incredible milestone of working 5,000 days without a lost-time accident or injury. With over 100 men and women working in the field in seven different self-perform divisions, this was a feat that took a lot of dedication and hard work.
Then it happened. We lost our record. Nobody died. Nobody was impaled or permanently impaired. There were no broken bones, no need for surgery. In fact, the injury was a minor muscle strain. Nevertheless, OSHA reporting rules dictated that the lost time injury meant our record was broken. After we confirmed our employee’s personal health was sound, we turned our attention to the next task, determining how to stay positive about our safety culture.
We first agreed that honesty and transparency were important. We felt we needed to protect the privacy of the individual who was hurt, but also share as many details about the incident as we could. We wanted everyone to know how the incident happened and how a repeat occurrence could be avoided. We decided if we didn’t handle the injury and employee care with empathy and integrity, we would undo the fourteen years of effort put into building our culture.
We were also careful to ensure the injured individual was protected from feeling any shame. We would never want an employee to work hurt; we would want them to be honest and feel comfortable reporting the truth. We want to take corrective action to avoid future duplication, provide the care that employee needs and be resilient with new lessons learned. This is a critical component of our safety culture, the genuine care for employee well-being over anything else.
We learned that we could provide extensive training, the best safety equipment, the most checks and balances, but accidents still happen. Nobody is exempt from injury, it can happen any time to any person.
That left us wondering, “Where do we go from here?”
- We reset and start our count over,
- We continue to maintain the vision we have for our culture,
- We stay positive and continue encouraging and mandating safe working practices,
- We encourage diligence onsite and enforce all safety standards set forth by OSHA, as well as a few of our own,
- We train, educate and prepare our workforce to the best of our ability, and
- We celebrate. When we again reach 500, 1,000, 1,500, 2,000…days, we will take the time to show our gratitude and celebrate our achievements.
Colin Powell is quoted as saying, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” Although I dislike the word failure and do not wholly consider our lost time incident a failure, I do have to agree with Mr. Powell. Our 5,000 days of success were the result of preparation and hard work. The injury provided us the opportunity to educate our staff on a new area of safety and with our new knowledge, we begin to count again.