Safety Foremost: An Interview with Paul Hamari
Recently, we were lucky enough to talk with Paul Hamari, Safety Director at Neenan, about the Project Observe Analyze Evaluate (OAE) safety process he created for Neenan grounded in concepts of the psychology of safety. Hamari believes that while not all incidents can be prevented, it is absolutely possible to integrate safety into all activities, and the Project (OAE) process is currently being benchmarked for the development and review of Neenan’s new quality assurance process.
Designing for safety at Neenan involves the elimination of environmental hazards, education of employees on how to better observe, analyze, and provide feedback to others to change behaviors, and an understanding that it takes a team effort to make valuable differences. Studies have shown that a majority (over 90%) of injured people were in one of four dangerous states of mind (rushing, frustration, fatigue, complacency) which increased the risk of their behavior. It thus becomes imperative for everyone to be able to identify dangerous person states and the resulting at-risk behaviors, both in themselves and others.
Hamari’s background lies in occupational health and safety and his introduction to Neenan came through his work as a consultant to several of their projects. Inspired by research in behavior-based safety conducted by E. Scott Geller, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, Hamari, in collaboration with Greg Bundy (also at Neenan), created software that can be used with a smart phone for mobile field staff to enter information on at-risk behaviors and environmental conditions they observe at construction sites. The idea behind the process was to have as many employees as possible evaluating barriers to working safely on Neenan sites. Information is directly entered into a website that can be monitored in real time by anyone in the Company and it’s tied into their construction management software. Data can be collated according to issue, division, scopes of work, projects, or sub-contractors and then distributed upstream internally at Neenan and externally to subcontractors. In earlier times, only foremen would be aware of risks/safety infractions on-site. Now, subcontractor project managers and even CEOs will receive data on conditions, identified risks, and the corrective actions taken.
Alongside the Project (OAE) process, Hamari and Bundy have also developed software for Scope of Work Safety Checks, which simplify Job Hazard / Job Safety Analyses that subcontractors are expected to perform. These are living, breathing documents, so as new hazards are identified on one site, they are included in the master SOW Safety Checks program to be used by others and facilitate better planning. Every Neenan subcontractor is also provided with a safety orientation and operations handbook. When they arrive on site, superintendents introduce themselves and communicate Neenan’s safety expectations. All Neenan field supervisors receive 70 hours of safety training, including an extensive exposure to OSHA regulations and their application. Hamari asserts that upper management’s support for the safety process and a strong safety culture and orientation set the stage for safety on Neenan sites; “…it is not easy to know if you prevent an injury or save a life on any given day, but encouraging a lower tolerance for risk, people to speak up when they see something, giving feedback respectfully, and appreciating cultural differences and competing communication styles helps. Be a learner, not a knower. There is usually a safer way to do things and it doesn’t always take much more time or effort.”
So what’s next for Hamari? First, trend-based reports for each construction division and a consultation process with subcontractors to share relevant hazard and project risk data to improve their safety processes. Second, more incident analyses of near-hits. A “near-hit” is defined as an unplanned incident that does not cause personal injury, property damage, or release to the environment; but under the other circumstances could have easily done so. It can also be considered a warning, or a wake-up call. The National Safety Council claims that 75% of all accidents are also preceded by one or more near-hits. It is common, Hamari believes, for people to not report near-hits, because there has been no harm and it takes a little time and thought to identify and analyze the contributing factors, evaluate the “barriers” that existed, and collaborate on the corrective actions needed.
Contrary to common belief, safety is not just common sense. Safety needs to not just be a priority, but a value, Hamari believes. That’s why safety needs to be incorporated into all disciplines of the construction industry.