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How to Really Know: Using Data to Instill the Right Behaviors to Support Your Safety Culture

By Georgia Bergers on November, 9 2020
Building a construction safety culture

A challenge at the heart of every construction businesses is developing a strong safety culture. It touches so many facets – processes, leadership styles, staff, suppliers and more. Leaders have started asking the question: if you don’t have the right data or performance metrics, how can you be sure that you’re supporting (not hurting) your safety culture?


Across sessions and in conversation with attendees at the Hanson Wade Advancing Construction Safety Leadership Conference, we heard that:

  • Many work with unreliable or disconnected job-site information and this is creating a break-down of trust;
  • Leaders have difficulty providing relevant and timely information to teams;
  • Without good information, teams are disempowered and find it tough to identify and solve issues.

We called on leaders from Canada, the USA and Australia to discuss these issues. Here is the recording requested by many who were interested in this awesome conversation on how “Global GC’s Leverage Data to Drive Engagement and Change”.

They discuss:

  • How to establish a baseline of metrics around safety culture
  • How much transparency is needed?
  • How has a baseline and transparency helped you clear change hurdles to instill your safety culture?

Special thanks to Chloe Rees National Safety Manager at Kane Construction, Brian Polis, Safety Director at Graham Construction and Dean Xuereb, Field Operations Manager at PCL Construction for their insights!


 

Panel Bradley, Brian, Chloe & Dean

 

Brad Tabone:

Our topic, which is bringing together people from Canada, Australia, and the U.S. to talk about using data, to measure and improve safety culture. I'm excited to be moderating today's panel where we have got three rockstars from across the globe, and we're going to get different insights and experience levels in today's panel. On the right-hand side, we do have a poll going today as well which focuses on does your field data align with your safety program goals? So if you get a chance, jump into the poll answer and we'll have a look at that data at the end. Before we kick into any panel, I do like to start off with a problem statement which gets us all into the same frame of mind before we break into questions and introductions.

Today's problem statement that we're looking at is how do you know that you're instilling the right behaviors to support your safety culture? This was chosen as data and behavioral change. The two topics that are starting to get air-time. I think they deserve a lot more air time. Especially as technology plays more and more of a role on the job site, and we need to make sure that the human element stays at the front of mind and if it gets left behind. And I think, you know, each of today's panelists, who I speak with on a regular basis, all share the same opinion. Without further ado, I do want to introduce today's panel. And so I'm Bradley, T-bone EVP and co-founder of Hammond tech and I'll be moderating today's panel. And I'll throw around starting with you, Brian, if you just want to give a quick introduction to yourself.

 

Brian Polis:

Sure. Thanks, Brad. Yeah, my name is Brian Polis, I'm the safety director for Graham, and I've been in safety and health for about 22 years now covering the United States and Western Canada. So British Columbia and Alberta and really just have always been a bit of a numbers guy, love data, love trends, and I'm so happy to be here. Thank you.

 

Brad Tabone:

Welcome Brad. Chloe.

 

Chloe Rees:

Chloe Rees, I'm the national health and safety manager for Kane Construction. So we're a construction company based here in Australia. We operate all up the east coast of Australia and we've got projects that value from a hundred thousand dollars to $150 million. We've got a whole heap of staff across the country and yeah, a lot of variety in our work and safety's definitely a core function of our business being a high risk industry and, it's only an area that's definitely been growing down here in Australia.

 

Brad Tabone:

Thanks for coming and welcome from Australia, early morning. Thanks for jumping on. Last one, at least at the other end of the spectrum - if you're looking at time zones, Dean, thanks.

 

Dean Xuereb:

Alright, thanks Brad, Dean here with PCL construction, Canada limited, I currently have a role of field operations especially focused on, on safety and operational excellence. Twenty-Five years with PCL 35 years in the business and happy to be here to share the importance of data mining and technological control for for safety excellence.

 

Brad Tabone:

Welcome Dean. And hopefully the different accent changes doesn't confuse of you listening, we'll try and take it slow. And especially as Australians, which may be harder to understand. As we kick into the panel today. There's probably three key areas that we want to kind of explore with the panel and get everyone's opinion. The first being how to establish a baseline of metrics around safety culture. And so, you know, to the audience, everyone is on some sort of journey at some sort of maturity. Whether it's looking at traditional metrics or whether it's starting to look into how do we kind of, you know, mine and look at other leading indicators and activities that drive safety culture across the globe and from GC to GC, it seems that there's a totally different approach and maturity, and we're all heading in the right direction, I believe. But kind of starting off that conversation, I'll start off with you Brian, on this one and we'll, we'll go, go clockwise again. How does Graham, have you established a baseline of metrics around safety culture and what are kind of some of the metrics that you utilize to kind of drive safety culture within Graham construction?

 

Brian Polis:

Sure, sure. Well, I mean, I think, you know, traditionally I would say that we use a combination of both lagging and leading indicators. I think from, you know, where Graham's at and our perspective, it's really making sure that you measure something that's meaningful to the organization and the culture itself. But then more importantly, translating that and being able to use that data into a proactive measure. And so really where we're at is, you know, so much of safety has been reactive over the years where, you know, you have 15 hand injuries and now you develop a glove program or you have a lot of falling objects dropped objects. And so you start a campaign around that. We're really trying to look at our data in a new way, a historical way in terms of looking at that, that lagging data to be able to be more predictive moving forward. And so that's really kind of, our focus is being able to look at the historical data but be able to apply that in a proactive pre-planning methodology. And so how do we better mine and analyze the data that we already have to make that perhaps enhance the experience or skillset of the workers in the field.

 

Brad Tabone:

Gotcha. Gotcha. Gotcha. Chloe, same question to you.

 

Chloe Rees:

I tend to be on a similar way, particularly in here. Everyone understands lag indicators and five or 10 years ago, it's all people would measure, you know? Particularly out on site where we're so kind of focused on not having injuries and incidents that sometimes you can have that tunnel vision and just look at those indicators. So I think a large part of our role and what we're using hammer tech for is recording without people having to actually do the work, you know, how many safety inspections we're doing and how many toolbox talks for holding and how many pre stats we're having and things like that which form a lot of your lead indicators. And it's just us peaking, you know, the key five or whatever that we want to measure and start putting in baselines and start to assess those trends. So I think, yeah, for us, it's, it's, it's still a journey, but we're definitely moving more towards the lead indicators. So we can do some really cool proactive stuff rather than just reacting to injuries.

 

Brad Tabone:

Got you. And Dean in Canada and also North America

 

Dean Xuereb:

Similar. I mean, everybody has said the right things and we, we have a very similar view of the leading and lagging indicators. Definitely. the lagging indicators, of course, being the ones, the injuries and so on that medical aid, first aid. But I agree with Chloe and Brian we're in more of the qualitative data now, we want to make sure that we're gathering the data that allows us to measure much further than a leading indicator will provide us. You know, we've got to look through that lens, that future lens, we've got to rub the crystal ball, look beyond what the data gives us forecast the way the the economy and our craft is moving and really take note on how our workforce is absorbing the data. We give them, let's face it, we don't have much control over what an individual does, but we certainly have control over the information we give individuals. And the information we give them, and what I see from the millennials, and gen Z's and next generation is they want it much faster, quicker. They want to know what's coming. They care about what's happened. But they are really in a place right now where qualitative data is going to drive our industry.

 

Brad Tabone:

You gave a perfect segue into, I guess the second point before, before we jump into, I guess, transparency and empowerment and getting that data in the hands of everybody or specific people, the right people at the right time, just want to kind of loop back around on kind of some of the things that were kind of talked about there and explore it a little bit more. Brian, you were talking about, I guess, you know, harnessing and all the lag David that you have, all the incident, data, et cetera. And Chloe you, you know, you mentioned that you're starting to lag measurements, you something, you start to look at some of the new measurements. What are some of the new things that your companies, you know, more recently have been involved in, I guess, analyzing that data are starting to look at different metrics to, to counteract. Then again, Brian, probably just kicking off with yourself.

 

Brian Polis:

Sure. I mean, I, I think just to touch on what Dean closed with there a moment ago with the, with the new generations, I think the construction industry in particular as other industries are at a unique opportunity right now where a lot of the older generation is going to be retiring and moving on. And a lot of the younger generation that's, that's new with information and access to information is coming in at a different speed and a different expectation. And so really again, for us, you know, people don't know what they don't know. And so, you know, what we hope to do is use this data this data analytics to be able to empower people that may not have as much experience as other folks to be able to make better decisions. And so really trying to get that data and that knowledge dump or transfer from one facet to the next, in order to, to achieve that.

 

Brad Tabone:

Got you. And Chloe, in terms of currently newer metrics and just for the people in the audiences, as they start to kind of ask just the lag measurements and they start looking at lead and we'll get to predictive in a second, but you know, what are some of the ways that you're getting that information to the people? What are some of the trends you're seeing, or is this like a really new kind of, you know, been in the last four months, you're looking into this other stuff. I mean any insights you can share with people that are in that realm.

 

Chloe Rees:

Yeah. Look, it's definitely still new for us. And what we've done as a starting point is just get some data around measuring what we're already doing and getting some numbers around that. So, you know, I spoke about safety inspections as an example. That's one of our key items that we use to identify hazards on, on a job site. And it's really funny this shift from, you know, a few years ago, people would do a safety walk and pick up two items, you know, 200 guys on site, high-risk environment. And they'd say, "yeah, we did a safety walk, we only found two things. And these huge shifts, and I want to see you find 100 things, and I want you to write that you've closed them all out, you know? And so we're using that technology to say, you don't have to write a paragraph, just literally take a photo of a trip hazard or take a photo of a you know, a lead that's not tagged.

And I think using that technology is showing them that it's not difficult or it's not time consuming to go and identify themes and then go and close them out. And it's certainly not a black mark on your project to have all these issues that are wrong because we know they've got them anyway! So let's start collecting the data so we can, you know, over the next few years, the next step is, is to start delving more into those trends of, you know, what are the common hazards and what are the yeah, the things that are happening across all of our projects as a whole, that we can start to do some focus campaigns and things before something goes wrong.

 

Brad Tabone:

I think two key points there, one, it takes time to create a baseline. And then number two is that, you know, red or issues being found or identified aren't bad things and that culture, I guess that's where the whole topic of today is about, right. Which is changing the safety culture from raising issues as bad to raising issues and identifying as good, because then we get more data. Throwing to you Dean, just to kind of round out around that question. How do you find that, you know, the culture is kind of changing with the collection and getting this information to people's hands.

 

Dean Xuereb:

I think that the, well, the industry is moving very fast. So the thirst for knowledge and getting the data in front of the people so they can assess what a good culture looks like is very important. We can sit here all day and talk about how a culture is very important and what type of culture each of us want to have on our, on our projects within our company districts or regions. But it really comes down to the, the projects, individual culture, and I've seen cultural differences in regions on different projects with different leaders. So leadership is a vital aspect to driving a culture. And that leadership has to really find a way to present the information in, in a forward manner. That's most positive way. And with reflecting what Chloe said, we all know they exist. We all know that the hazards are there being able to be transparent enough to present them, but to harness them and put them into something that the, that the field can digest is very important. And so that's what really drives a strong culture. When you can take what you find in the field and transfer it to what the workers can can take as success and moving forward.

 

Brad Tabone:

Thank you. I've been talking about, I guess, you know, leadership's important getting people to understand the collection of data, it's not about transparency becomes really, really important, and it's becoming more and more important access to data, which was spoken about before in terms of, you know, probably real-time data. So starting with yourself, Chloe, this time around how much transparency does kind of construction provide, you know, the project management staff and the workers in terms of, you know, access to data, what sort of data do they have access to? 

 

Chloe Rees:

In particular, the project data is so important to be a hundred percent transparent with all of our site teams and staff, because, you know, there's no point hiding an injury or an incident or something that went wrong on, on one job when it could be a lesson learned for another. So I think we're very aware of that. And it's not, you know, gone are the days where you don't want to tell people you had an incident because it's, it's a black mark on your company's name, or, or it shows that you've got issues with your safety systems. So I think transparency for us, we like to think that we're as open and transparent as we can be you know. We share all of that information and we share the good and the bad, you know, we issue our reports to staff on, on how we're tracking with our lead and lag indicators. And if we're not meeting them, you know, it doesn't mean you don't put it the report, you have to say, look, you know, we're having issues with these certain KPIs or, or this indicator, you know, let's have a focus on it, you know, let, let's bring that line back up so that we're meeting our target. So yeah, to answer your original question, I think transparency and honesty with your staff is, is the only way to, to improve as a business.

 

Brad Tabone:

Thank you. And Dean on the same topic you know, around transparency, how have you seen it change, I guess over the years and how important is it PCL?

 

Dean Xuereb:

Well, transparency is, is incredibly important. And you know, being around the number of years I've been here, it's been, it's been shared more often and more frequently than in previous years. What's important is that enlisting to the to the field is that they want to know what their, their project data looks like. So being able to be transparent in just simply having a stand down meeting. I remember being at LAX and being in the middle of the project and being able to stand up there in front of 1200 workers and tell them what the data was. Nobody really listened 'til the numbers came out. And when the data was presented, it started to hit home. How many, how much they were affected, what real life look like. And so the challenge was to take that in and make an include them in the solution. And a lot of people stepped forward. I find that even more now in moving forward that our field wants to be part of the solutions, but you can't get there without being transparent, Brad.

 

Brad Tabone:

A hundred percent. Couldn't agree more. Brian?

 

Brian Polis:

Yeah. I mean, I, I echo, I think the more transparent you can be the better, I think it's critical to be as, you know, a hundred percent transparent. I think in construction in particular, you know, we're so tangible. We live in a world of measurement and, and things that we can see and, and grab onto our workers are the same. And so I think it's almost a source of an irritation when companies or groups take measurements or take data and, and aren't able to report that back to workers. That's been my experience. And so I think, again, the more we can measure, share that from a lessons learned perspective and really use it as an educational component across the organization. We just, you know, it's so much better from a, from an output perspective to be able to do that.

 

Brad Tabone:

A couple of supplementary I've got these any just from the panel, there's any kind of responses to each other’s you know, answers there before I kind of post some more questions, just want to make sure that I give you time to respond to each other as well. If there is any.

 

Dean Xuereb:

It's refreshing to see the alignment across the globe. There is quite a bit, we didn't practice this for the audience. So, which is really good for them to know that alignment of thought is, is just us being leaders in our industry and feeling that it's so important to be transparent and share with our field.

 

Brad Tabone:

There is a question from, from the audience, which is how do you balance transparency with the legal liability internal communication versus public communications. I mean, for myself, having operated in Australia and now operating in the U.S. You know, I would say that, the, the legal liability is an issue for general contractors here, a lot more in terms of here in the U.S. I'm not sure about Canada, Dean, haven't operated in Canada.

 

Dean Xuereb:

It's the same.

 

Brad Tabone:

But in terms of transparency, which is really when your question, what is the differences between, and how do you kind of approach internal communication versus public communications? There is a very big difference in terms of what information is shared public vs. internal. Who wants to kick off that question?

 

Brian Polis:

As the U.S. guy, yes. I can take a stab at it first Brad.

I mean, that's, it's a very good question. What I would say is that I think it is very important when you're being transparent to sanitize the data and in a responsible way. I mean, obviously we have legal requirements depending on the jurisdiction that we operate in to make sure that we're sensitive to that. So we really, we do spend a lot of time really sanitizing and making sure that we're sharing the appropriate amount of detail and information from a learning perspective without divulging any critical information, I think from a, the private versus public communications at Graham in particular. And I, this is probably not different from the other panelists, you know, we definitely have internal communications that we share. And then we have our public bound communications kind of in two separate spheres. So everything that we share internally certainly doesn't always become public for some of these legal and liability type reasons. So we kind of operate into two unique arenas as it relates to that.

 

Chloe Rees:

Yeah. I just had something to add to that as well. I think it's really important, particularly when you're talking about something that went wrong to sanitize it a little bit for the sake of the, of the project team or the individuals that were involved. Because I think if we're going out with communications that clearly state who was involved, what the project was, what went wrong, sometimes it can deter people from reporting or to turn them from reporting everything that happened. And sometimes, yeah, you've got to find that balance between still communicating lessons learned, but also not what we like to say in Australia, you know, "throwing people under the bus" because it creates a culture where people won't want to tell you everything that happened and say, I'll put my hand up, I made a mistake. I was half asleep that morning, or I forgot to check that, you know, so I think it's really important to find that balance between - yes, sharing information and yeah, sanitizing them a little bit so that you're kind of depersonalizing the information or presenting it in a way that you know, if anyone was just to pick it up and read it, that it wouldn't you know, go back to an individual or anything like that.

 

Dean Xuereb:

That, that that sanitization word is a great word. And I believe, I agree totally, you know, we, we have the responsibility to share, especially in some major instance, social media travels so fast these days when there's a major accident you know, for us to talk about it in some sort of depth gives us that the transparency that we're sharing it also, it also, and it is very slippery slope. And I agree, Brian and Chloe that, you know, we gotta be careful of the speculation that occurs when we start sharing, because people start assuming that certain things happened that really didn't, and we've all been part of misguided information. So we we're, we're very aware of it and gentle, but we, we have to share it.

 

Brad Tabone:

No, I think that's a good point. Sorry, Bradley. I think that's a great point. I mean, we do work hard to also filter the information in a responsible way. So, you know, we, we always preach respect the process, respect the process. And so much of the, the lessons learned process is really making sure that you have all the facts and that you're only operating within the facts. So I think controlling the flow of the output is also a critical component. We don't want to overshare or scare too fast and then overstep and have to retract it. It kills credibility, but it also creates confusion. And it's just a bad look. So I think, you know, really making sure that you take the time to be disciplined in how you go about sharing is, is also really critical from just a time perspective.

 

Brad Tabone:

Indeed. Thanks for that question. So it was a good discussion and just kind of round out that one, it's funny in the current age with technology, and you talked about it, with social. Well, I was having discussion with a regional Safety Manager in Texas with the client. And he said, social media is amazing and that it keeps us transparent and keeps us honest as general contractors, but at the same time, if over information you shared, i.e. you know, images of the individual hurt, is actually, imagine it from their family and friends perspective. You're trying to hold people to account, but you've also got the impact on that individual as well. So it's kind of that balancing act that we're doing at the moment. We do have three, four minutes left. So the last question is going to probably gonna keep it tight to a minute each and then a quick response. If each of you were to go back and it's just a way of framing it, a feature, you know, to go back to the start of your career (or Dean, I know, your career's been going for a while), how do you believe that, you know, the new baseline of data that we're using, or even just the same lag measurements, but a different approach to it, in 10 years of kind of utilizing it and coming up with, you know, projects and curriculum around it, how do you think that the transparency of data has changed from, you know, in the past to now? And what are the kind of the number one key thing from your career that you share to people that has been the, the, I guess the, the number one beneficiary in terms of how data has helped change, change cultures that you've seen. And starting with you Dean.

 

Dean Xuereb:

And I do come from the era where they the first computer actually showed up on a project. So there was, there was data mining before computers. So yeah, and, and, you know, coming through the ranks as an apprentice carpenter and working through the field, I've seen a tremendous change, especially with data that the, the today's world gives us the opportunity to see much more analytics than we did 15, 20 years ago. It even allowed us to understand what good looks like and where the bar should be set. I think in, in the past, there was an opinion and a feeling of where the bar should be. We go from you know, meeting TRIR to zero accidents to zero incidents and who knows what the next zero looks like, and I'm sure Brian employer always struggling with that on a daily basis. But I do believe that it has allowed us to be more transparent. It allowed us to be to be a lot quicker in decision-making and especially allow us to set the trends further reaching for our projects.

 

Brad Tabone:

Thank you Dean. Brian, a minute.

 

Brian Polis:

Yeah. I mean, I would echo much of that. I think just the, the ability to be exposed to so much more and have so much more information in order to make better decisions that are ultimately going to impact risk and how that's pushed and shared across not only the organization, but the, but the industry in general I think has been a huge positive. I'm excited about the future. I think that as we look at predictive analytics and things like artificial intelligence and some of the other things that are out there and really apply that to the construction industry I'm, I'm just keen on, on what we're going to be able to do and how we're going to be able to share that information and then use it again in hopefully more of a predictive way that, that allows for our people to work safely and get home safe at the end of the day.

 

Chloe Rees:

Yeah, I think it's I just think it's incredible how far we've come in the last 10 years. And since I started, you know, hard copy folders and having to go out to a yard or a warehouse to find a copy of an incident report or things like that, you know, if that's what we can achieve in 10 years, I think, you know, the next 10 are going to be really exciting. And I think the biggest thing for us is, is people embracing technology, you know, over the last few years here, you know, it's so pleasing to see you know, particularly some of the older people on side or the people that you think are, they're not going to like this change, or they're not gonna like this. And they say, no, this is really exciting. I can see the benefit, you know, and, and with a little bit of training and, and, and making sure that it's tailored to the organization. I think people are really embracing the change and using the technology, you know, to the best of our abilities and, and getting so much more information and using that information to improve safety culture, which I think is really exciting.

 

Brad Tabone:

Thank you all. And some really good points. I mean, for me, it's just the most exciting is, as you said, Chloe the collection of data really quickly, have you said, Brian and Dean the predictive. And I think the industry sharing data is something that's going to be the next power of the next decade, where we can kind of share the baseline, et cetera. So thank you everybody for attending today. And thank you panelists for today. Any questions feel free to reach out via email. I can put you in contact. I'm sure Dean, Brian or Chloe would be happy to kind of get in contact with anybody. Chloe, Brian Dean. Thank you again. And I hope the audience enjoyed a global discussion around safety and data. Thank you.

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