Recently, researchers from Purdue University's School of Health Sciences, aided by a NIOSH research grant, conducted a study to determine what elements of the safety programs of large construction companies were responsible for a reduced rate of falls in comparison to small construction companies (Construction Safety Alliance, 2003). Hinze et al. (2002) showed that the rate of falls decreased as the cost of construction projects increased. The point of the study was to use the findings to help small construction companies reduce their rate of falls.
Twenty-five construction companies whose typical construction contract amounts were in excess of $1 million were contacted. Of those, 16 companies chose to participate. We interviewed the safety directors of the 16 companies and obtained statistical information about each company and its safety program as well as opinion-based information. A small roofing company also volunteered to answer the same series of questions and allowed us to observe one of its crews work on a residential roofing project.
LARGE COMPANIES, LOW LOSSES
The companies that participated in the interviews were large in terms of their construction contract size. The median contract amount was $9 million. The median Experience Modification Ratio (EMR) of the companies interviewed was 0.73. The EMR is a tool used by insurance companies to determine premiums for workers' compensation insurance. It is the ratio of actual losses due to work-related injuries and illnesses over the expected losses. An EMR of less than 1 indicates that a company is suffering fewer losses than other companies in the same industry (Safety Management Group, 2002). Additional evidence of safety performance is seen in the number of years the construction companies had been practicing their current safety program. The median time was 11 years.
All of the construction companies indicated that they were affiliated with external safety organizations. They listed the opportunity to network with other companies as the primary benefit of membership. The network forum allows the sharing of information gained through experience and provides an expert panel to explore new ideas. Rather than a beneficiary role, the construction companies that were interviewed acted mostly in an advisory capacity to safety organizations, although some of the companies benefited from training information provided through safety organizations.
Employee turnover is a concern because of the potential inexperience of new hires. The median rate of employee turnover was 145 per year and the median duration of employment was 18 months. The turnover rate is nearly half the number of employees that work at elevations over 6 feet. The median number of employees that work over 6 feet is 320 at any given time. In spite of the high employee turnover, fall injuries were relatively scarce.
The median number of injuries due to falls in the past year was two and the median number for the past 5 years was five. Only one company of the 16 interviewed reported a fatality in the past year and no other fatalities were reported in the past 5 years. The exception was one contractor that experienced no injuries or fatalities itself but had subcontractors who had experienced two fatalities in the past year and seven fatalities in the past 5 years. Subcontractors' failure to comply with safety procedures was a common complaint.
Safety training is likely to be one of the elements responsible for such low numbers of injuries and fatalities. The median number of employees trained per year was 500. All but one company engages in refresher training on a regular basis so most existing employees can expect to receive refresher training every 12 months. The companies were split on whether they thought the employee turnover rate affected how their safety training programs were implemented. Companies who perceived that turnover had no effect may have been biased due to the existing level of intensity of the training program brought on by the anticipation of high turnover. …