Digital Builder Ep 12: 3 Things We Learned About Creating a Safety Culture with Construction Technology

digital builder podcast episode 12

Safety is a high priority for construction leaders across the globe. This mentality has become even more prevalent due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted a number of new safety protocols in the last year. While some of these changes are temporary, many more will likely be around for the long term. This raises the question, what newly implemented changes to safety on the jobsite are here to stay?

It’s Safety Week, and on Episode 12 of Digital Builder, Lee Evans, Co-Founder & Chief Growth Officer of myComply, and Stan Singh, Director of Product Management at Raken, join us to discuss how to create an impactful safety culture at your company. Other topics we cover include:

  • How the pandemic has affected safety and construction environments
  • What the ‘new normal’ in construction safety will look like in the future
  • When the best time is to implement safety measures and a culture of safety
  • Creating a robust safety culture at your company that explores new technology
  • Choosing a tech stack with a clear focus on safety
“Safety is not reactionary… it’s proactive.” — Stan Singh

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Here are 3 things we learned about how safety is changing, and how to build an impactful safety culture:

1. Construction Safety Protocols Are Getting a Needed Update

With the pandemic, there is a new normal when it comes to safety standards in construction. Some would say this is long overdue. The pandemic led to an awakening at many companies regarding the safety protocols they had in place, and those that they didn’t know they needed. One of the biggest hurdles to implementing new safety protocols is communication. This is where technology can provide solutions to make sure new safety protocols are not just established, but followed.

“So there's new safety requirements that are added to your safety program,” Lee says. “I think one of the biggest challenges that we've seen contractors face is being able to communicate that information adequately to all the companies that are working on a project. That's really I think where technology is going to be a huge resource for these contractors in adapting how they communicate safety information to the folks on their job sites, both in relation to COVID, and just everything else that they need to know about for safety on the job site.”

For Stan, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a paradigm shift around safety and the ways his team thinks about even the most simple tasks. In this new normal, strong communication with teams is vital to keeping team members safe and jobs on track.

“Things like installing a window or installing drywall, where you need multiple people to carry those things—now you have to think about that differently,” says Stan. “And all the things that you normally would do that you won't even think about, now you have to think about it. So those active conversations with the workers were key because you want to make sure that they come back to the site, they feel protected, they feel secure. They have to earn a living, they have to come back home, make sure their family's safe. And also you have to make sure that the job continues to move forward and the schedules are met.”

New safety protocols enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also led to increased digitization efforts.

“So everything is now digital,” Stan adds. “Everyone's leveraging tools to digitize their workflows, do their Toolbox Talks, their JHAs, their checklist, and their forms. And you don't have to pass paper around that's being touched by people. Now it's all stored on the cloud. So, that adoption increased dramatically.”

More than anything, Stan says, the pandemic has made the importance of proactive communication around safety a top priority.

“Every day, you're ensuring that the workers are safe, you're having conversations about how we can build our project safely,” Stan says. “That's the key thing that I've noticed and a big change, because now it's proactive. Now it's top of mind. Now it's everybody's responsibility, and not just the superintendent and the safety manager.”

2. Start Building Your Safety Culture One Step at a Time

A major lesson throughout the pandemic across the construction industry has been the importance of being proactive. That same principle can help build a culture of safety at construction firms that lasts.  

“The key word here is just start,” says Stan. “Take initiative, be proactive and not reactive. So you only react to safety when something bad happens, and oftentimes that's too late.”

Additionally, Stan recommends making it easier for construction professionals in the field to capture data. This starts with providing them the tools necessary to be able to capture data as they're carrying out their everyday work and making observations. You should make sure that the data they capture is easily transferred back to the office.

“Start now, start small, and you'll slowly build up that culture,” Stan says.

“Culture doesn't happen on one day. It takes time, but you have to put in the time to make sure that you have that strong safety culture in your company.” 

For Lee, pursuing a strong culture of safety at your organization means not being afraid of what it costs to build it from the ground up. With an abundance of free tools and technology solutions for connecting team members across an organization, it is likely easier than you think to start creating a culture of safety for your teams. 

“Cost shouldn't be an inhibitor in this, when you look at the free tools that exist,” Lee says. “If people already know Microsoft 365 or Office, you've got teams built into that. So if you could have your senior folks that have the best experience just get on a Zoom call and go over best practices with your team, I think that goes a long way.” 

A key aspect of this collaborative approach to establishing a strong safety culture is to build trust, as well as give everyone on the team a chance to be heard, Lee adds.

“You're establishing trust with your team members, you're engaging them in the process, you're having conversations with them, or they can ask questions and feel part of the process,” Lee says. “I think the last thing you want to do is have to send a safety policy to your employees and have no conversation around it. So start with the basics, create a policy that your company wants to run off of, communicate in ways where the rest of your team members can engage. They can really take you from a basic safety program to the robust one we're discussing.”

3. Focus on Building Your Safety Tech Stack

When it comes to leveraging technology to help build out robust safety measures across your organization, a one-size-fits-all approach is just not going to cut it. 

“I've seen the days where you would leverage one tool for everything,” Stan says. “Leveraging just one tool for everybody, it just doesn't make sense. They all have different needs. So having this idea of a construction tech stack is important.”

According to Stan, this is especially true for construction teams out in the field, who need to be able to capture and leverage information easily while on the job. This multifaceted process includes capturing workflows through a Toolbox Talk, a checklist, or various forms like incidents and observation reports. Next there is the integration of that information, when team members are coming from the field, back to the office. Then, there’s the need to analyze that data. Finally, teams must be proactive when it comes to training and certifications. 

“Those are the things that I'd look for when evaluating technology,” Stan says. “Not just like, ‘Hey, let's do this one thing, and this will do everything for us’. Really start with the person that you're targeting, who's going to be capturing this information, and understand what they do on a daily basis and how we can make it easy for them.”

Evaluation plays a major role in building your safety technology stack. Lee says that in order to ensure you’re choosing the best tools, you need to have a system in place for evaluating and procuring new technology solutions.

“A lot of companies haven't decided who in their organization is going to be responsible for procuring and evaluating technology,” says Lee. “So it may very well start with hiring someone with a technology background, or with the right skillset to be evaluating these types of solutions. Perhaps even building a task force or a committee around it, if you happen to know your resources and the size of your company. Having a central place for the evaluation of the different solutions to come into the fold, that's a good starting point.” 

Even more important is enlisting the people who will be using the technology to voice their opinions and actively participate in the evaluation process.

“Engage the field early and often,” Lee says. “If the field isn't involved in this evaluation, you're going to have a lot of problems when you get to implementation and rolling it out, and getting buy-in from the folks that ultimately are going to use it.”

Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.