Get Disciplined About Safety
By Jindou Lee
Worker safety is one of the most important objectives for any construction company – and the failure to make it a top priority can have catastrophic consequences. Construction managers and executives are always looking for new ways to make sure their employees and contractors stay safe when they are on the job, but unfortunately, there is no cure-all that will ensure that accidents will be reduced or eliminated. Or is there?
Recently, I read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals,” by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling, which has significantly influenced my thinking on a number of topics. The book is especially relevant to reducing accidents, injuries, and deaths in the construction industry. This isn’t just some theoretical approach construction companies are already implementing processes based on this book to monitor their sites and create successful outcomes. Let’s look at how each of the book’s 4 disciplines of execution, or 4DX principles, applies to worker safety.
Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important Goals
Everyone talks about safety as a concept, but few organizations actually have formal ways to make it part of their DNA. Construction companies need to assign a tangible target to safety. “We want to reduce accidents by 70 percent” or “Zero vehicle fatalities in 2016” are goals with metrics that managers can orient their plans around. It’s important to have only a few “Wildly Important Goals” (WIG) – paradoxically, if there are too many, they actually become less achievable.
We all know there is often a disconnect between what the head office wants and what field managers can execute. After all, it doesn’t take long for a senior executive to set a goal, but implementing that goal in practice can take hours (or even weeks or months). By getting buy-in from teams in the field, it’s easier to get alignment.
Discipline #2: Act on Lead Measures
Having a goal is important, but there needs to be a way to translate it into real action that will help achieve a desired outcome. That’s where lead measures come into play. It’s the most difficult concept in 4DX, but it actually makes a lot of sense once you break it down. The authors define it as a way to quantify how well change is working, which often takes the form of measuring incremental outcomes over the length of a project.
The key is to making sure the lead measures are things a team can directly influence, and all things that clearly serve the WIG. If the WIG is a marked improvement in workplace safety, then teams can enhance their safety by purchasing the best equipment on the market. Whether that equipment lives up to its reputation for quality is up to its manufacturers, and if the equipment underperforms, another lead goal may be to replace it.
Discipline #3: Engagement
Without an active scoreboard, it’s difficult to keep track of how well a team is performing. Thus, the fourth discipline involves tracking quantifiable goals on a routinely updated scoreboard to let teams and individuals know how well they’re fulfilling their lead measures and progressing toward company-wide WIGs. To this end, mobile-inspection software provides more than just customizable checklists: it gathers data for business intelligence and individual feedback. With every inspection, company leaders will know which teams are making the most headway toward safety goals.
The best-known scoreboard for workplace safety is the infamous “It has been X days since our last accident” sign, but a 4DX scoreboard is more upbeat and engaging. Charts, graphics, and side-by-side comparisons can track such things as passed safety inspections, proper equipment use, and correct natural disaster preparation. Leaders should encourage their teams to help with the scoreboard’s designs, pick team names, and otherwise contribute to a culture of safety, and use the data gathered by mobile inspections to keep the scoreboard accurate.
Discipline #4: Accountability
The rush of simply keeping a business thriving – what 4DX calls the “whirlwind” – will always detract from WIGs. To stay on-task and maintain accountability, companies should hold weekly WIG Sessions.
In these meetings, leaders will review their scoreboards and analyze any successes or shortcomings. Team members will report on their goals from the past week, and the team as a whole should plan how to pursue its safety agenda for the next week. WIG sessions should also be dedicated to making sure everyone has achievable goals. Mobile-inspection software comes into play here, as well, as each WIG session is a chance to check the data for progress and update checklists to better serve these objectives.
Successful businesses set big goals, and nowhere is this clearer than in construction, where goals include buildings that touch the sky. 4DX teaches leaders how to set these overarching goals, divide these into smaller deliverables, and keep teams engaged and accountable.
The most reliable way to ensure worker safety and avoid liability is to hold regular and thorough safety inspections. By combining 4DX with the flexibility and efficiency of mobile-inspection software, companies can track their pursuit of safety milestones like never before, keeping their workers secure by blending cutting-edge technology with trail-blazing executive practices.
Jindou Lee is co-founder and CEO of HappyCo, a San Francisco-based company that builds inspection technologies for the property industry.