True Believers

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Occupational Health & Safety magazine

Summary Statement

An interview with Dan Wurzburg of Skanska describing their safety program.

Skanska USA Building is fully committed to its Injury-Free Environment program as a way to go beyond a safety effort built mainly on incident rates.

Editor's note: Skanska USA Building Inc. ( of Parsippany, N.J., has tied IFE into incentive bonuses for its six Co-Chief Operating Officers who oversee company operations, the Account Managers who report to them, and each AM's project teams. Each level conducts reviews or completes report cards, with bonuses based on injury rates at or below 25 percent of the national average or report card scores of at least 85 percent. "It's the best thing I've seen in 32 years in the business as far as preventing injuries and trying to eliminate injuries altogether," Senior Vice President of Environmental Health & Safety Dan Wurzburg said during a Feb. 16, 2005, conversation with Occupational Health & Safety's editor. Wurzburg said all 23 U.S. offices have created IFE leadership committees and by mid-2006, all 4,000 employees will have undergone training on the concept. The company will begin using a new safety orientation video featuring Charlie Morecraft, who motivates safer behaviors by using his own industrial accident as an illustration. Skanska USA Building is a business unit of Stockholm, Sweden's Skanska AB--one of the world's leading construction companies by revenue. Excerpts from our conversation follow.

Let's talk about your Injury-Free Environment program. What's the history of that program?

Dan Wurzburg: We got started in October of 2003. We held a Safety Summit in Portland, Oregon. . . . The president of the Oregon division is Dan Quatier; they've done a lot of work with Intel, and that's where they were introduced to this Injury- Free Environment concept through a consulting firm, JMJ Consultants. Dan was a big champion of this cause, and he convinced Mike Healy, who was our president and CEO at the time, that this was something we should do company-wide. So we had this summit in Portland, and all of the division presidents as well as Mike, all of the senior safety personnel, met there for two days and we went through a presentation with JMJ. Halfway through the second day, Mike stood up and said, "You know what? This is something that's the right thing to do." He said, "It's maybe a little selfish on my part, but my son works for our company. And he's on projects, he's a project engineer." And he said, "I don't know how I could live with myself if I didn't know in my heart that I did everything possible to prevent injuries on our job sites, and my son got hurt. And so we're doing this. Period."

That's a strong statement.

Wurzburg: It's a strong statement, and it took at lot of courage on Mike's part to get up in front of these guys and make that statement, because he's baring his soul to the top management of the company. Granted, he is the top guy. So we all sat there and the safety guys are like, "Yes!" The operations guys [said] there's no reason not to do this. So that was the initial kickoff. Then we had to go through negotiations with JMJ on schedule and cost and those things, and how we were going to roll this out.

They were still on board? I thought maybe they gave you the idea and you rolled it out in the way you wanted to. But they were still involved.

Wurzburg: They were still involved. We recognized that we needed professional help with this. About a year ago was when we had our first commitment workshop. JMJ started out by doing a gap analysis, which a lot of companies do, as far as the perception of safety throughout our organization.

What did they find?

Wurzburg: They didn't feel that there was enough participation and involvement by top management with regard to safety on the job sites.

That was the perception throughout the company, you're saying?

Wurzburg: For the most part. I think you could say it was, globally. . . . It wasn't that they didn't think [top] people supported it. They just didn't spend enough time on the job promoting safety. You know, they'd come out and they'd talk about schedule and cost, and a little bit about safety, but then off they went.

That being the premise, we recognized that if we're going to be successful with this IFE endeavor, that's what it's all about. It's a subjective program but you need a lot of involvement from everybody in the company. And we went over that.

Then we had our first workshop in Atlanta, Georgia. It's a two-day, all-day workshop with JMJ; you could bring about 50 people. I attended that one; it was a blend of supervision, field superintendents, project managers, and upper management. I knew some of the people down there, but I've got to tell you, it was a revelation for me. Halfway through the second day, they take some time, and if you want, you can come up and make a commitment to this and ask to be held accountable by your peers. In other words, "If I stray off the program, let me know." The fellow that was facilitating this puts the microphone down and says, "We may not have anybody come up here for 20 minutes, and that's fine. But if you have an urge to come up and say something, come on up."

I sat there for two minutes looking around and I'm going, "Oh boy, this is going to crash here. Nothing's happening." But then a senior superintendent in the back gets up and slowly walks up there, picks up the microphone, and his voice is cracking. He's not used to doing this, especially in front of his peers. And he starts making his commitment to doing everything he can to prevent injuries on his job site.

As I said, his voice is cracking, his hand is shaking a little bit. And you're thinking, "This guy is for real. He's making a commitment up here." It was just overwhelming to me. And when he got done, kind of the floodgates opened. . . . After this guy went, here they came. I actually got caught up in this thing, and I'm making a commitment to these guys to do whatever I can to help them.

That was it for me. I got hooked from that day and have been hooked ever since on this initiative that we have.

So that was what you called the first commitment meeting--the one about a year ago.

Wurzburg: Yes. Since then, we've run about 1,300 of our employees through these two-day commitment workshops, which is in itself a big commitment on the company's part. Over 20,000 hours of time with our employees. Now, we've also included some clients and subcontractors, too. . . . We've had them in Boston; here in New Jersey; New York; Detroit; Portland; Seattle; Temple, Texas; Atlanta; Tampa; Orlando.

You said about 1,300. What percentage is that of the total you have?

Wurzburg: We've got about 4,000 employees, if you count our union tradesmen and women. When we spoke with JMJ, the intent wasn't to get everybody in the company through the two-day workshop, but you need a critical mass of people that have been through that. Because they're the ones that'll be your champions.

And I will tell you, not 100 percent of people completely buy into this. They think it's a great idea and they want to do what they can, but you have leaders emerge from this. And it's not safety people--it's project managers, it's superintendents, it's project engineers, and these people are the ones that really champion the cause.

For the balance of our employees, we're going to go through not a two-day workshop [but] a four- to six-hour IFE orientation program. And that's supplemented by an IFE supervisory leadership program for our field supervision and project managers that didn't get to go through the two-day workshop.

How does it differ from what you were doing before?

Wurzburg: Before, we were like most of our competitors in the construction industry. We had great procedures, regulations, safety and health programs. We've got a great environmental management system that's 14001-registered. We do a fair amount of training. Our approach was all the objective stuff: the procedures, the programs. We have those very good, as good as anybody in the industry. We have the disciplinary action. We focus a lot on incidence rates. By comparing ourselves to the BLS/OSHA industry rates, we were doing fairly well.

But if you look at the history of when they started calculating these incidence rates, if you go back to the Golden Gate Bridge, success there was dependent on how many people were killed on the job site. And that was deemed a humongous safety success because they only killed 11 people. Can you imagine going to an owner today and saying, "Well, you know, we don't think we're going to kill more than three people on this job site"? You're going to be out of business in a hurry. If you look at what's happened over the last five or six decades, incident rates have dropped dramatically. Of course, a lot of that's rules, regulations, compliance, OSHA, owners that now have made a commitment to providing safe work environments. Technology's played a big part and you've got a more educated workforce, also.

But you've gotten to a point now where the incident rates that OSHA publishes-- they're just publishing information. How reliable the information is that they get from us, I question myself. You're kind of stagnating now in the eight to 10 range. I happen to believe JMJ that, to get down to some kind of breakthrough level, you've got to get past what we're doing--business as usual: programs, discipline, training. You know, when somebody gets hurt they get retrained, and they get hurt again. I look at the injuries we have and, by and large, people aren't being injured because they don't know what safe work practices are.

What causes are you finding?

Wurzburg: If someone falls, it's not that they didn't know they were supposed to be tied off. Because most of them still have their harness and their lanyard on. Unfortunately, they didn't bother hooking their lanyard off.

There's something missing. You could retrain those people, and that's kind of the approach today: Train, retrain, retrain, and eventually we've got to dismiss you-- you're just not getting it.

What the IFE program does is attack them from the personal side. You're trying to get them to realize that there are a lot of people in your life who are counting on you or care a great deal about you, away from the work site. . . . We don't think it's necessarily people getting hurt because they don't know the rules and regulations. By and large, they do know what they are. They just, for whatever reason, take a shortcut here and there and wind up getting hurt.

You think this is a way to go beyond what you were doing before, a way to attack what's already a very good safety record and make it that much better?

Wurzburg: Yes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm a firm believer this is really the missing link. This is the thing that gets you past the stagnation where we're at right now.

Do you have any evidence of how it's worked so far?

Wurzburg: I could give you our incident rates. As a company, we're about flat between 2003 and 2004. There's just a minimal difference. Total OSHA recordable incident rate for our company in 2003 is 2.18, and in 2004 it was 2.09.

The ironic thing about this program is we're anticipating our incident rates for subcontractor employees to go up. The reason for that: Part of the deal I call "communication without retribution." We want to know about [all] injuries. We want to know how the guy or how the girl is doing, how it happened, and how we can go about seeing that it doesn't happen again. . . . We don't have to accept injuries, but we don't have to beat them up about the process.

I see what you mean. When you say that you anticipate the subs' rates will go up, you're saying they will report completely. Everything.

Wurzburg: Yes. That's what we want them to do. That's the only way you can succeed, if you know about everything. That's the approach that we're taking here: "Nobody's yelling at you, you're not going to be kicked off the job. We're just honestly trying to figure out what happened here." . . . If you're into this IFE thing, that's exactly right. You need to know about these things, and you encourage people to tell you about them. So you get more credible numbers, I think.

Is that a totally different mindset than most of the industry has been using up to now?

Wurzburg: It is. We have project bonuses if they're successful, and they're measured on their success on a lot of criteria. One of them is safety. And in the past it's been an incident rate, some percentage of the national average. And we got into [the same debate]: "Oh boy, is this really recordable?"

We've completely changed that. We've developed what we call an IFE Report Card, and this is part of getting upper management out on the job site. We have about 60 Account Managers throughout the company. Between the 60 of them, they oversee every job we have. Those individuals, part of their bonus is tied into completing one of these IFE Report Cards on a quarterly basis on each of their projects.

It has nothing to do with what the score is, nothing to do with how many injuries. That's the safety portion of their bonus. This IFE Report Card looks at leading indicators. One of them is PPE. When an account manager walks around, that's all he's doing: safety. He's not talking about schedule or budget. We have these new computer tablets, and on there is the IFE Report Card. It's very simple. When you walk by, you see this guy who's got his hard hat, safety glasses, work boots, he's properly clothed--you punch the green button. You've got one plus. . . . At the end of the day, you come up with a percentage of compliance or conformance.

What are the other three leading indicators?

Wurzburg: Personal protective equipment, housekeeping--those two were selected because they're kind of indicative of the culture of the job site; if those things are in good shape, a lot of the other stuff takes care of itself.

The other two things that we picked, we know firsthand are the biggest problem for serious injuries in our company. That's fall protection--and within fall protection, there's really three categories: 6-foot, tying off if there's no way to provide guardrails or floor hole covers; guardrails are in place; and the third one is floor hole covers, which is the biggest problem in our company.

And the other one is ladder safety. Primarily it focuses on stepladders because we have a lot of problems--they either use it as a straight ladder and get up and start leaning off to the side, or they're too high on the stepladder and it leans over and they wind up getting injured.

[Other elements that can earn positive points include stretch and flex programs, which have two benefits: Workers enjoy them, and they promote communication among different trades, which typically doesn't happen, Wurzburg said.] What you find is, our employees are extremely creative with all kinds of stuff associated with IFE. Down in Atlanta, they came up with a poster that we started putting up on our jobs. We actually got a request from British Petroleum asking if we wouldn't mind if they used this poster. . . . It's a great picture. We have those strung up on a lot of our jobs.

You're trying to keep reinforcing that personal, subjective side. That "Hey, be careful out there. People are counting on you."

Do you get the sense that subcontractors and their workers want to come aboard for a program like this? Is this a good selling tool for you?

Wurzburg: What you find is that your good subcontractors get hooked on this just like we do. . . . You really want to align yourself with those people that are thinking the same way you are. You get a guy who's like, "I'm really not into that stuff." Do you really want to do business with that guy?

We've all started our own IFE leadership committees in every office. Again, it's not headed by safety people. It's usually by a chief operating officer or a senior project manager.

It's their job to keep the program on track and to take advantage of the ideas people come up with to improve it?

Wurzburg: Yes.

It sounds like a very worthwhile program, but a company could adopt it for a while and then just decide to cease. Are people convinced it's going to be permanent?

Wurzburg: I'm convinced of that. It's budget time of the year, and like most companies, you're asked to keep cutting your budgets. And the one thing nobody laid a hand on was our IFE budget.

Really? How big is the budget?

Wurzburg: This year, it's about $2 million. $1.95 million, I believe.

That's very impressive. Not the amount, but the fact that nobody wanted to fool with it or wanted to cut it. Do you think other construction or general industry companies could adopt it?

Wurzburg: Absolutely. . . . It takes a fair amount of courage to do this. Our industry has always got this macho connotation to it. Some guys aren't real comfortable going up to somebody and saying, "I'm really concerned about your well-being."

. . . It's treating them with respect and dignity. Our part as a construction manager on those jobs where we're a CM is to provide them with an environment where they can work safely and they're expected to work safely and injury-free.

The other great thing about this: It is the one thing in our company that has the potential to just completely galvanize the company. I'm talking administrative people to the ironworkers out in Portland, Oregon. It's something you can relate to and get your arms around, and everybody is all for one and one for all. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. . . . It kind of melds the company together.