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September 2014

PS Asks

PS Asks Troy Ogden

PS: Describe your role as corporate safety director of Brasfield & Gorrie.

Troy: As corporate safety director, I oversee the daily operations of our safety department, which consists of 60 team members. I develop and lead our team to help the organization carry out its core values. We do that by serving others first and by building lasting relationships based on mutual respect, trust and a shared safety purpose. Those relationships allow us to influence all levels of the organization to actively engage in our safety management system and continuously find ways to improve business. Teams exist to achieve results, and our safety team is no different.

PS: Earlier this year, the company received five safety awards from Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) of Alabama. What is the significance of these awards?

Troy: Any time we are recognized for our safety achievements, we are honored and humbled. It gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the journey and our current progress. It provides additional opportunities to recognize our team members for their ongoing efforts on our projects throughout the country.

PS: To what do you attribute this achievement?

Troy: Our success lies in the organization's commitment to our safety management system. Having offices spread throughout South Eastern Conference country, we often use college football analogies to illustrate a point. Many parallels exist between football and safety including coaching, training, teamwork, commitment and passion. Nick Saban is a successful coach, winning national championships at both LSU and Alabama. What does Saban attribute his coaching success to? He preaches the importance of the process. "The more one emphasizes winning, the less s/he is able to concentrate on what actually causes success," he says. Coach Saban is fanatical about getting his teams to focus on the steps to achieve greatness rather than focusing solely on the outcome of a game or a season.

This also can be true of our safety message. We can be so focused on a zero-injury outcome that we miss explaining in a concise manner the steps in making zero injuries possible. Therefore, we focus instead on a well-executed system that produces positive results. We spend a tremendous amount of energy getting our folks to think about safety as a system, rather than simply counting the number of injuries that meet an OSHA definition as the basis for success. We credit Todd Conklin for teaching us a better definition of safety. Safety is not the absence of injuries or failure; safety is the presence of defenses. Figure 1 highlights our safety management system.

PS: What are common occupational safety and health issues facing construction workers and general contractors?

Troy: As the construction market begins to rebound, a major concern for many construction companies is a shortage of skilled labor. We are seeing this in several of the markets in which we operate. This shortage may result from a low number of workers in a given labor pool or a lack of experience in those applying for work. It's not uncommon for us to see applicants applying for work with no construction experience at all.

PS: How has Brasfield & Gorrie worked to mitigate these risks?

Troy: It's vitally important that we bring new hires up to speed as quickly as possible. Safety can sometimes happen "at" workers, rather than with workers. We never want safety to be a stand-alone or bolt-on part of our operations because it is central to the way we do business. We know that new hires are greatly influenced by first impressions, so we have a system for acclimating new hires to our safety culture and expectations from day one.

  1. All employees attend our safety orientation on the first day of employment.
  2. New hires are identified by hard-hat decals for the first 90 days of employment and assigned to work alongside a seasoned employee. The seasoned employee acts as a coach in conjunction with the assigned crew foreman to mentor the new hire.
  3. New hires complete an OSHA 10-hour course within the first 90 days of employment.
  4. New hires participate in ongoing safety conversations during daily pretask planning meetings, weekly all-hands safety meetings, hazard recognition courses and other required safety training. We routinely reinforce an old safety saying, "See something, say something, do something" to remind our employees that we must be intentional about detecting and correcting hazards.

PS: How would you describe the company's overall safety culture?

Troy: It is impossible to understand our culture without discussing our founder, Miller Gorrie. In our 50-year history, Gorrie has never wavered from a guiding principle: People make all the difference. We build great projects by building great people first. As his son, Jim Gorrie, has taken the CEO reigns, that passion for people continues to be at the center of our culture. Jim begins his week just like our project teams, participating in a 7:00 a.m. safety meeting with operational and safety leaders, discussing events from the previous week and planning for the week ahead.

Our safety culture is a subset of our people-focused organizational culture. Safety matters because our people matter.

PS: What is the company's biggest accomplishment thus far in terms of employee safety?

Troy: Our biggest accomplishment can't be defined by a single implementation, but rather a collective mind-set of continuous improvement through learning. We respond to events in a deliberate spirit of learning and we try our best to not create an atmosphere of blame and shame. Too often, safety professionals and organizations focus tremendous energy on trying to fix workers rather than on systems that workers operate. We embrace the idea that safety will always be a combination of managing both behavior and systems with a prejudice toward looking deeply at our system. I credit our senior leaders for setting that tone.

PS: How is the firm improving its safety performance in the coming years?

Troy: We are always looking for ways to improve everything we do. On average, we have approximately 180 active projects throughout the U.S. This provides us with opportunities to try new ideas. We are excited about two pilot programs that are already yielding positive results. The first program revamps our traditional job safety analysis (JSA) to a more comprehensive safety and production tool that incorporates human performance principles and builds in learning from the previous day. We respectfully changed the name from JSA to crew work plan.

During our pilot training, we discuss human error concepts developed by Jens Rasmussen and expanded on by James Reason to introduce three different work zones (knowledge-based, rule-based and skill-based) to our front-line supervisors. We use construction examples to reinforce each work type and to demonstrate how errors are made when operating in each zone. We don't expect our supervisors to become psychologists, but we do expect them to understand which zone we are currently working in and to take steps to counter likely error.

Our pilot also focuses on increasing employee engagement by asking a different set of questions that are not specifically hazard related. We start the day by asking two questions:

  1. What did we learn during our last shift that can help us be safer and more productive today?
  2. What has changed that will affect our work today?

Finally, we move away from listing all job tasks in a linear fashion. Instead, we ask our crews to discuss the most hazardous work they expect to perform that day (work that may have them out of the skill-based work zone). We then spend extra time providing clear and concise direction on that work.

The second pilot is our safety captain program. This program is a combination of behavior-based safety and a traditional job site safety committee. We ask a group of workers who have demonstrated leadership potential to serve as safety captains for their respective areas. These individuals complete an initial workshop designed to help them effectively coach and mentor their peer group on making good decisions. The safety captains meet weekly to discuss work in progress, share improvement ideas, and walk the project to identify and provide additional coaching outside of their assigned work areas. When it's done correctly, safety becomes contagious through true employee ownership.


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