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Safety Is Personal

By J. Brad Robinson, CCIFP, Chairman

If you attended CFMA’s 2015 Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, then you had the opportunity to hear my vision of “The Power of One” – the opportunities we have to make a difference in the lives of others. (If you missed it, you can view it at It’s really about observing and acting upon events, getting involved, and making things personal.

Safety management is no different – especially the collective focus we have as an industry in the area of worker safety. When we make safety personal, it can truly make a difference. When implemented properly, safety management can change corporate culture for the better. While a robust safety program clearly is a good financial investment in terms of lowering insurance premiums and reducing incidence rates that make contractors competitive, a successful program is about the employees.

Consider Where We Have Been
Safety and risk management programs have come a long way. For example, when the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s, the official number of fatalities recorded was 96. This number only included men who died at the dam site (classified as “industrial fatalities”) from such causes as drowning, blasting, falling rocks or slides, falls from the canyon walls, being struck by heavy equipment, truck accidents, etc., and does not include deaths from heat, pneumonia, heart trouble, etc.

During the incredible building boom of early 20th century, it was said that crew foremen could expect one man to die for every $1 million spent on a skyscraper. In these early years of skyscraper construction, little thought was given to the safety of the workers – they didn’t even have hard hats or safety ropes!

On many of these projects, the teams budgeted for human death. Can you imagine planning for the number of people who would die building projects? That is unfathomable by today’s standards!

Make Safety Personal
I mentioned earlier that in order for safety to be truly effective, it has to be personal. Sure, we talk about how important safety is and we have made great strides from “death budgeting,” but are our programs truly about people? Or, are they about programs and minimum requirements?

One of my good friends, Steve, is a safety professional with a unique ability to ask people about their behavior in such a way that is non-threatening, yet gets the point across. When we worked together, I had the opportunity to join him on a few jobsite tours.

I remember one time that we saw a young man step up to the top rung of a ladder while doing some electric work in a ceiling panel. (Haven’t we all stretched the limits of using a ladder for that one last thing that we are attempting to accomplish because it is too much trouble to get down and move the ladder, just like the guy on page 13?)

Steve asked this young man to come down to the bottom and said, “Have you thought about what might happen if you lose your balance? From that height, you could hit your head on the concrete floor and not go home tonight. We care about you. Let’s see if we can find another way to reach your workspace.”

He made it personal. He made an impact. He potentially saved this young man from a tragic accident. Safety is personal.

What Can We All Do?
When my children were younger, we purchased safety ladders that fit underneath their beds. In the event of a fire in which they could not get out of the house from upstairs, they knew to open their bedroom windows, affix the ladders, go down them, and meet at the family rally point. I had an air horn that I would use for fire drills in the middle of the night.  When the kids heard the horn, they would burst into action. I knew if we ever experienced a real fire, they would know exactly what to do.

Does your family know what to do in the event of an emergency? Think of what you can do to keep you and your family safe, and have some fun in the process. My kids (teenagers now) still ask if they can practice the fire drill. They loved it.

What Will You Do Differently?
Thinking back to my Power of One speech, what will you do differently? Whether at work or at home, be on the lookout for potential safety issues and plan how to address them. If we make safety about those we care about – our colleagues, friends, and family – then it is not work at all. It’s personal.

Stay safe!

Copyright © 2015 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All rights reserved. This article first appeared in CFMA Building Profits and is reprinted with permission. CFMA Building Profits is a member-only benefit; join CFMA to receive the magazine.

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