Safety: Best Practices, Tools and Transparency

Safety incidents and accidents are 100% preventable. That may sound like a bold statement but we have been able to prove it in every single investigation we have done.

At Nova Group, our focus on safety requires absolute transparency and buy-in from every level. It takes participation from everybody. As a Department of Defense contractor, we work on military bases and Department of Defense and Department of Energy projects around the world.  

Our best practices on a global scale begins with upper management involvement and continues with employee participation in safety programs in the field. Safety must be driven from leadership so Nova has engagement from the president, the operations team and the project management team. With that involvement, accountability is key, from the top of the company down to the person on the shovel digging the ditch. Each person, as well as their supervisor, has to know if they do something that jeopardizes their safety, health or environment, they will have to sit in front of the safety committee. There must be an understanding that when the project encounters a problem, they will have answer to the safety committee, which includes the CEO, president, HR manager, legal department, project manager and a revolving site safety health officer (SSHO). The employee(s) will have post-incident call or meeting to discuss what happened and what they are going to do differently.

However, before we hold individuals responsible, we make sure that we have as many tools in place to reduce and eliminate incidents and accidents. To begin with, a safety person, the SSHO, is assigned to every project. The SSHO is responsible for notifying the corporate safety director any time there is an incident, accident or substantial near miss. Together, the SSHOs investigate each of these and share the collected data as a team. Aside from having monthly calls, the SSHOs also meet annually to ensure knowledge is being shared and the wheel isn’t being reinvented on each site. RED-Book-6.24-cover

Another tool in our arsenal is our RED book — short for recognize, eliminate and discuss — and it’s a miniature job hazard analysis (JHA). Every employee, every day, prior to going to work, must fill out the RED book. The employees check the boxes of what they are going to be exposed to that day, such as trench cave-ins, hazardous materials or different key hazards, as well as what controls are in place to help minimize their exposure. The idea is to get employees thinking critically about what could happen that day and how they are essentially planning for failure.

The Good Catch program is a powerful, positive tool in place in the field. It’s a way for the crew to fill out reports on the jobsite and turn them in regarding what they are seeing and doing. It also helps them report if there is a near miss, equipment damage, wrong tool or problem in the environment. This gives the field a way to communicate with upper management and allows them to get their thoughts and concerns on paper.

The submitted Good Catch reports are tracked and reviewed every month at the safety committee meeting. It’s used as a near miss reporting tool, including which jobsites are submitting good catch reports and what the quality and quantity of the submissions are. If they identified something that stands out as a really good observation made in the field, they are rewarded with Nova Bucks, part of our incentive program.

On-The-Spot-Recognition-REV-2018_10_23-imageIf the crew level sees something that is concerning and writes a good catch report, they will be rewarded with an “on-the-spot recognition” incentive. Once they receive on-the-spot recognition, which is in the form of either Nova Bucks or payroll incentives, they can buy Nova attire. When they show up at the job site with a brand-new Nova shirt or sweatshirt, it acts as a morale-booster and spreads like wildfire. People are more eager to participate in behavior-based safety in the field because of the observation of peers.

The last tool that we utilize is the Safety Flash (example 1 and example 2). When we do have an incident, accident or substantial near miss, we summarize all of the findings, including both the negatives and positives of what happened. We follow our emergency protocol and send the Safety Flash to the whole company, which keeps every employee is in the loop with a summary of events. This creates open and honest communication between jobsites because people want to share information and learn from mistakes on other projects. On the flip side, they also do not want to have their jobsite highlighted. Nobody wants to have an incident, nobody wants to talk to the safety committee, and nobody wants it to be shared throughout the whole organization. Safety-Flash-2.20.19-(Crane-Mishap)-image

For each one of these accidents or incidents, a specific folder set up and everyone who was near will have to fill out witness statements. We use a root cause analysis software for in-depth accidents or incidents as another level of investigation to dig deep into what happened and what we can do differently in the future.

You’ve heard the expression about the carrot and the stick, and we’ve found it’s absolutely necessary to have both. The carrot is being rewarded for participating in the programs that we have available and the stick is knowing you will have to sit down in front of the safety committee and explain what went wrong and how it could have been handled differently. It may not be only an explanation; it often includes counseling statements to that person or jobsite for not following and conforming to the safety regulations. Using both the carrot and the stick builds the safety culture that we are proud of at Nova.

The primary goal is to learn from our mistakes. It took a long time to get to where we’re at as far as being open and transparent within the company, but whether you’re at a job in Hawaii or Japan and receive a Safety Flash from a jobsite in a different part of the world, it’s the same. It doesn’t matter what country, what state you’re in, you’re dealing with the same tools, equipment and exposures.

We know that over 90% of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts. That means that somebody did something that could have easily not been done to prevent that injury. A 100% of our accidents, incidents and injuries were caused by somebody doing something that created that unsafe condition. We know it’s behavioral because every time we investigate what went wrong, we find out somebody did something stupid. They grabbed the wrong tool, the wrong PPE, the wrong equipment, or they tipped something over because they didn't walk their path or preplan.

Even with equipment failure or the few acts of God that can change these statistics, we can have a plan in place. Prepare for anticipated failure — know when lightening is coming and get out of the way or do not be standing between the bed and the bucket when the hydraulics go out.

So again I say, safety incidents, accidents and near misses are 100% preventable. While we can’t remove human error from the field, we can have steps in place to circumvent mistakes. By planning for failure, we are actually succeeding.


Cole Davis

Cole Davis studied at Central Washington University (CWU) earning his Bachelors of Science in Environmental, Safety, and Health Management in 2004....