Tank installation.

Each new year, individuals and companies alike set ambitious goals for the coming year. In the construction industry, most companies set annual goals for workplace safety. Is zero accidents a reasonable goal? Perhaps it is a bridge too far for the largest companies in the industry—for many firms, however, the goal is achievable and should be diligently pursued.

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries. One in five private-sector employee fatalities is in construction. Workers in the industry are also involved in many non-fatal injuries each year that, aside from costing companies millions of dollars each year, constitute an unnecessary and avoidable burden for those affected. Fortunately, advancements in technology, training, and safety procedures have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of accidents per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, illnesses and injuries among construction workers are down from 11 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to under 3 per 100 workers in 2018. While the improvements in worker safety over the last 50 years are significant, three incidents per 100 workers is still too high. While larger construction companies may appear to be the likely culprits, companies with ten or fewer employees account for nearly half of all deaths on construction sites [Construction Data Company].

There are significant financial incentives for construction companies to enhance worker safety. Construction site injuries account for 6–9 percent of project costs [CPWR]; companies can save an average of $32,000 with each injury they avoid [National Safety Council]. Additionally, a safe workplace can lead to other benefits, including a positive company reputation, heightened employee engagement and morale, and a stronger ability to attract and retain the best talent.

When construction companies make safety a priority, everyone wins. What can companies do to improve worker safety? A successful safety program starts with the right culture, mindset, and behaviors. Culture and mindset are important because workers must be motivated and disciplined to always follow safety procedures; training is critical to turn these procedures into natural behaviors.

An increasingly important element of successful safety programs is proper equipment. Hard hats, safety glasses, and harnesses are staples on construction sites already, but new technology can materially improve worker safety. Companies that are serious about safety are moving quickly to take advantage of these tools. Exoskeletons help construction workers lift objects without fatigue and dramatically reduce the incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Wearables track the vitals and location of workers, allowing supervisors to warn them of problems before they arise. Site sensors detect unsafe conditions ranging from asbestos and other toxins to temperature readings and air moisture to prevent fires. Drones can be used to monitor the job site for hazards and eliminate the need for workers to conduct high-risk inspections. Virtual and augmented reality devices provide immersive safety training and help find faults in construction plans before work begins.

At Western Pump, we are committed to creating the safest work environment possible for our employees and job site partners. Despite the rapid growth of our business, which has created more opportunities for accidents, our goal for 2020 is to have zero job site accidents. Continue reading to see highlights from an interview with Mike Mizicko, our VP of Field Operations. Mike talks about the culture of safety at Western Pump and how we plan to achieve our goal.

Tell us a little about yourself. What is your role at Western Pump, and what is your responsibility in the area of employee safety?

“My name is Mike Mizicko and I’m the Vice President of Field Operations. I’ve been at Western Pump for 23 years now. I started in 1993 as a technician in the field working in the trenches. I worked my way up into becoming a service manager and eventually (a) vice president. I love the industry. It is a dangerous industry, though. I am one of the biggest advocates (for) our safety program—I want to make sure our field technicians are safe.”

Describe Western Pump’s approach to maximizing employee safety?

“Make the employees (safety) advocates. Empower them to make the right decisions. Let them (decide) when it’s not safe and the work must stop. Years ago, (the) attitude used to be ‘I’ve got to get this done,’ ‘I’ve got to jump into this hole,’ or ‘do this or do that to get it done.’ Today, that mindset doesn’t work. In the construction industry, injuries do happen. We try to take those things and learn from the lessons. Our employees are very important to what we do at Western Pump. They are important to their communities and their families, so we want to make sure they get home safe every day. I never want to have to make a phone call to someone’s wife or husband and say, ‘hey, here’s what happened.’”

What do you think is the most significant safety challenge facing the construction industry?

“I think the biggest safety challenge in our industry is complacency. When things are going well and there have not been any accidents for a while, that’s when people relax and let their guard down. That creates an ideal environment for accidents.” 

What other key safety challenges impact the construction industry?

“Customers will always drive you to do things faster and better; they want things to be done now. They can be a driving influence of workers taking shortcuts. The same standard (of safety) needs to apply to customers and employees. If the customer doesn’t like it, we explain to them that safety is not something we will ever compromise on. That is how we operate because we care about their safety as much as (that of) our employees.

Having multiple subcontractors on the same job site is another safety challenge. We have many projects with subcontractors working on site with our employees. How do we get them to work with us? First off, we have meetings with our subcontractors every morning to go through the safety protocols. We never assume that we have had our talk, and everything is good. We make sure (that) the site superintendent and other supervisors are patrolling the worksite and keeping a close watch on things. And, of course, we continuously make our subcontractors aware of our expectations and how we operate.”

Why is there so much focus on safety today even though the accident rates have dropped dramatically over the last 40 years?

“It goes back to complacency. If that high level of awareness and vigilance drops, the rates will immediately increase. An ongoing high level of focus is what is driving the low rates, so it needs to continue. And now that there are fewer accidents, there is much more focus on that one accident that does happen. Then we ask, ‘what can we learn from it? How can we avoid that accident (in the future) and get to no incidents?’”

What are Western Pump’s 2020 employee safety goals? How will the company achieve them?

“Western Pump’s safety goals for 2020 are zero accidents, zero incidents, and zero lost days. To get there, we plan to put rewards in place to recognize the right safety behaviors. We need our field technicians to become peer advocates. We want them to protect and look out for each other. Call their colleagues out on the carpet and remind them that they need to follow the rules and procedures. We are continuously training our employees and we always try to learn new things. The management team will never say ‘get that done really quickly, don’t worry about cutting that corner.’ We want our employees to always be aware of their safety responsibilities and the ramifications of their actions. We strive to create an environment that encourages their active involvement. We want and need them to be advocates for our safety program.”

What is the one piece of advice that you would like to pass along to the construction industry?

“We need to be diligent and vigilant every day. Pay attention, always keep your guard up, and be aware of your environment. Create a culture of safety.”

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

“Safety is more near and dear to me now than ever, not just (as) a supervisor, but also as a dad—now (I) have sons that work at Western Pump. I’m very protective of our employees. I have raised my (level of) safety focus and awareness even (higher) so that I can help protect everyone on the team as much as my sons. I look at the entire team’s safety like I’m a dad; at Western Pump, we are one big family.”

About Western Pump

We are a general and specialty contractor serving the petroleum and transportation industries, as well as mission-critical infrastructure. Western Pump provides a wide range of construction, maintenance, and compliance services to private and public customers. We have completed work for government agencies, private developers, major oil companies, educational organizations, and general contractors.