Many infrastructure projects involve thousands of man-hours working on extremely complex items. The reinforcing installation for the San Francisco Bay Bridge project was one of these: more than 400,000 man-hours were expended on three different projects over a seven-year period. During this time, the reinforcing contractor experienced only three recordable injuries.

What can be done to improve safety performance on reinforced concrete projects to achieve these kinds of results? What can general contractors do to help their reinforcing field installers prevent injuries and obtain an injury rate of 1.5 or even better?

Lyle Sieg, PE, vice president of safety, Harris Rebar, Livermore, Calif., provided insight on how the Injury Incidence Rate of 1.5 was accomplished and what makes for a safe project.

“It boils down to communication and holding people accountable,” he says. “I heard an old but very good expression again recently and that is ‘You get what you tolerate.’ Why does one project, look, feel, and outperform other projects related to safety? It’s because they are focused on complete safety success. Everyone is on the same page, helping each other find and correct hazards, being proactive in preventing injuries not just for the sake of OSHA compliance. They set safety as their No. 1 value and hold everyone accountable to achieve that shared goal of zero injuries.”

Good communication starts with setting clear expectations with team members as individuals. “As a subcontractor, it is paramount that we start this off when we hire someone,” says Seig. “What we ask the general contractors to help with is when they are conducting their own site safety orientations they continue to reinforce the simple expectation that you can and will work safely on this project each and every day. We are here to support you and everyone to achieve this goal.”

Proper training for all levels of the team is important and required, but what the team does with their training is the most important thing. “At Harris Rebar, we believe that holding team members individually accountable and applying fair discipline where necessary will keep attention on working safely. Working safely is a condition of employment, period.”

Harris recently conducted a survey of their field iron workers and the following were the top five issues they felt management could do to prevent injuries.”

1. Enforce safety rules and apply fair discipline where necessary.

2. Enforce the requirement of following safe work procedures.

3. Lead by example. Hold your senior managers accountable. Practice what you preach.

4. Supply and maintain proper equipment for the job.

5. Provide better communication. Be more approachable. Provide more support to solve daily safety issues.

To have zero injuries, contractors need to collectively challenge all project team members to step up and take responsibility to help protect themselves and each other.

Seig concludes: “It can and must be done, safely! We owe it to our families and loved ones.”