Builder plays it safe with online tracking program

June 01, 2005 |

Construction remains one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S. In 2003, the industry accounted for more than one out of every five work-related deaths, with 1,126 fatalities, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rodney Spencley believes this doesn't have to be the case. As corporate safety director for DPR Construction, Redwood City, Calif., Spencley is determined to change the industry's often lax attitude toward job safety.

"No one wants people to get hurt," says Spencley. "But it's almost an acceptable notion that when you're in construction, you're going to get hurt. You ought to be able to work an entire career in the field and not get hurt."

To ensure that DPR's injury rate is among the lowest in the industry, Spencley has implemented a Web-based jobsite safety-tracking program for all projects across the firm's eight offices. Project managers, superintendents, field coordinators, and safety managers are equipped with PDAs loaded with custom software that replaces traditional paper forms.

"We ask that our managers walk out and interact with the laborers and craft guys on a regular basis, looking for unsafe conditions and at-risk behavior," says Spencley.

Comments and feedback are entered into the SafetyNet software, which takes users through a checklist of 16 major safety elements, including chemical management, electrical systems, fall protection, scaffolds, and site protection. A single inspection may include 100 input items, depending on the complexity of the project, says Spencley.

Collecting the data electronically enables Spencley to quickly analyze the results to look for common threads. The data can be sorted by project, regional work, national work, firm name, construction type, and safety element.

"For example, we were able to identify that a subcontractor working for us in multiple regions had a consistent safety issue with the scaffolding they were using," says Spencley. "We illustrated to that firm that it was not an isolated incident, rather a larger organizational issue that required additional training and supervision."

Spencley also uses the data to conduct pre-construction safety training sessions tailored to the type of construction, location, and specific project team members. These sessions include a walk-through of common safety issues throughout all projects.

"We found that most injuries happen within the first three months of a project, and then toward the completion date," says Spencley. Using this data, project team leaders can look for common mistakes and place additional emphasis on safety during these periods.

Since implementing SafetyNet 18 months ago, DPR's incident rate has dipped from 3% to 0.34%, versus a national average of about 8%.

SafetyNet was developed by Redwood City-based DBO2 Inc. exclusively for DPR, and has been adopted by more than 100 construction firms, many of them DPR clients, says Spencley.

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