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Safety from the Ground Up: An Interview with ABC’s Greg Sizemore

Toby Graham /
This week on The Safety Meeting, we welcome back Greg Sizemore, Vice President of health, safety, environment, and workforce development for ABC, to share the findings from the 2022 Safety Performance Report.

[00:00:31]

Greg, we’re so grateful to have you back on the podcast for a second time. Thank you so much for joining me. 

My pleasure. Thank you for having me back. Unless I did something right or wrong. I’m just going to stay right. 

[00:00:36]
You did something right, for sure. We’re here today to talk about the fantastic 2022 Safety Performance Report that ABC just released. But before we get into that, can you give me a high-level view of the philosophies and values of ABC. 

Absolutely. And I think the question itself adds great context to the listeners here about what associated builders and contractors is all about.

At our core, our philosophy is centered on a few principles and they’re very, very simple to understand. Number one, we are dedicated to helping our members develop their people in a very, very broad sense. In addition to that, we’re dedicated to ensuring that our members have the ability to win work; install that work safely, ethically, and for the betterment of the various communities in which they work Sage. So it’s kind of a holistic statement, but as you can see, educating the workforce, and safety being a critical component that makes for our value proposition and our philosophy. 

Download the 2022 ABC Safety Performance Report >>

[00:01:39]
That makes perfect sense. So getting into the 2022 report, how do those ABC values shine through in the discoveries presented this year.

When I speak about safety, being something that if we use air quotes here, use to ensure that our most important assets, which is our employees, that’s kind of a cliche thing, but it’s often said our employees are our most important assets. Then why wouldn’t that be a core value to the success of any organization when it comes to installing work?

So the truth of the matter is, I like to think about this as more of a question for the leadership. These are small contractors, large contractors, and frontline leaders of the industry. If I told you that I had the secret sauce to ensure that you were 645% safer than the BLS average for fatalities or incidents in the construction industry, would you be interested? 

And that’s a rhetorical question because I can see everybody’s head nodding saying, heck yes. Think about this. If the incident rate in America today per the BLS bureau of labor statistics is riding around 2.73.0, if I mentioned to you that I can reduce the probability of an incident happening on your job site by 84%, would you be interested and again, in a rhetorical sense, the answer is absolutely yes. So what we at ABC do is we offer through this Safety Performance Report insight into the greatest types of advances and the things that great contractors are doing in the war on, what we call, the road to world-class safety Sage. 

[00:03:27]
So it sounds like it’s really a collection of the best habits that you as a safety leader can possibly have in order to see the best outcome. Does that sound right? 

Let’s say, you boiled the ocean down to the Gulf of Mexico. I mean, what we’ve done is we’ve looked at safety and we said, okay, what are the highest performing organizations doing to ensure that their employees go home in the same or better condition than when they showed up.

And so the Safety Performance Report is a collection of well over a billion hours worth of work that was performed by real contractors using real employees on real projects in 2021. And the truth of this document is it is empirical evidence that says, if you do these things, you will see an increase in your safety performance and a decrease in the number of incidents that occur on projects.

[00:04:26]
That’s such valuable insight. So much like the 2021 report, the 2022 report also shows that the members of the ABC step program see incredible safety outcomes, as you’ve said, compared to the industry averages. Can you speak to that? 

I can, and again, I know we’ve got a short amount of time, but just to try to keep this interesting, let’s think of this in terms of construction. Construction begins by setting a foundation.

These are the things that are the immovable objects when it comes to safety. If you do these things, you will get a significant result. For example, we must have on our projects and across our industry, a robust substance abuse and prevention program. That sounds like it’s an oxymoron. Yes. We know that Greg, that’s not rocket science. Appreciate you making us smarter. But here is the deal. If I told you that by having a robust substance abuse program, both legal and illegal, let’s not- let’s just draw that line down the middle. I can reduce the probability of an incident happening on your job site by 73%. That’s a foundation item. That is an immovable object.

For example, I’ll share two more with you right quick. If I told you that the amount of time that you spent orienting an employee to their job site and/or your organization, what we’ll call a new hire safety orientation, Sage. And I’m not talking about the human resource side of this, all the paperwork and the lines that you’ve got to sign and those types of things. I’m talking about being dedicated to safety.

The reality is that I can reduce the probability by using a robust new hire safety orientation program, I can reduce the probability by 72%. I can tell you empirically that if your safety orientation program is 254 minutes or greater, and that’s not just tying somebody to a room and proposing death by PowerPoint. That is an engaging opportunity for you to describe and define your approach to safety that can reduce that probability. 254 minutes of robust dialogue and conversation about safety in your organization. 

The last one I’ll share with you is this, and this is really looking at things from afar, kind of a long game if you will. Think about your engagement, top management engagement in safety. This is where the rubber meets the road, which is what we call in the industry being a former construction worker, walking the talk. The reality is, is top management engagement. Showing and demonstrating that you’re as committed to the things that you’re asking those employees or expecting those employees to do, that you’re doing those same things, can reduce the probability by over 70%.

So walking the talk, robust policies and procedures around substances, and making sure your employees know where you stand when it comes to safety commitment. Three foundational tips that collectively can radically change the way an organization is performing. 

[00:07:46]
Absolutely. I mean, collectively there’s so much here that can be done to really enhance the way that a company is operating in terms of safety. And there’s so much presented in this report that we can take away from. What do you recommend that construction safety leaders keep in mind for the remainder of 2022, keeping this data from 2021 in mind. 

That’s a great question. And I’d say literally two things here. Number one, keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to create the conditions for every employee to go home in the same or better condition than when they showed up. That is your responsibility. You have stepped up to that appointment by virtue of your title, your position, or even your approach to leadership. So now’s the time to step out there and say whatever we did in 2021, here’s some data that says if we do these things consistently in 2022. So that goes beyond the foundation, building the foundation.

Now the walls, if you will, the walls and the upper floors of safety are really about what we call the leading indicator war. It’s about getting your employees involved, and making sure that your supervisors understand safety and the requirements. Pre-planning for project safety. Believe it or not, Sage, the use of personal protective equipment and every safety professional that may be listening to this may be going well, that’s a no-brainer. Well, the reality is too many people across America today don’t know how to use or what personal protective equipment to use. It’s our responsibility to create the conditions. And lastly, learn from and share when you have an incident. It’s not enough to simply wipe your brow and say, thank God nobody was hurt.

It’s something else to ensure that your organization knows this occurred, and we don’t want it to happen anywhere else. So looking out at the horizon of 2022, let’s not lose sight of the things that made us successful in 2021. And let’s engage our employees as well as our leaders in this safety process. So that’s the long game for 2022.

[00:10:00]
That’s an excellent long game. It really sounds like we’re, we’re building this proverbial house or building or whatever it is, this site that has this excellent foundation, the walls are coming up. If we were to continue this metaphor just for fun, what’s the roof? What’s the, like, what’s the cherry on this cake.

When you begin to think about this, this goes beyond what we can do and making sure that our employees, our most valuable assets, Sage, are fit for duty. And I’m going to unpackage this because you and I have had conversations about this before. But when we think about safety, all of the tactical things that we do, okay, those are the walls, all of the PPE, all of the processes, all of the things that we do out there are the walls.

But if you really want to put a peak on a roof, that roof is made up of your employees. Are your employees fit for duty? Are you checking on their mental faculties, their mental capacities, their mental state? I’m not telling you to put on or hire a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. But listen, if I have to use the C-word in this conversation, we still have the lingering effects of COVID in America today.

We have not seen the impact of isolation nor the impact of being deemed essential throughout the pandemic or what is going to have on the mental state of our workforce today. And the reality is if you want to put the proper roof on this metaphor, the truth of the matter is: know your employees, engage with your employees, make sure that you have programs and processes that help them ensure they’ve got the mental faculties and that they’re fit for duty. 

And the last thing I’ll say about this, Sage, is it goes beyond that individual to their family. Think about it this way, when Mr. Or Mrs. Craftworker climbs out of the front seat of their car or pickup truck, they don’t lose sight of the fact that their daughter is a runaway or their son is an addict, or they’re going through a horrific divorce, or they just lost a significant other, a loved one.

And we think that somehow because they walked through a turnstile to walk on our job sites that all of that has been processed and left in the front seat of that pickup truck. That is not true. As a contracting community, a solid foundation, good walls and structure, and a roof made up that ensures that our employees are connected, and fit for duty, and we’ve got the processes in place to help them be successful, not only on the job but in life. 

[00:12:39]
Absolutely at KPA, we have the saying of the three Cs, and maybe you’ve heard of it before, too, of complacency, compliance, and then culture. Right? Complacency is you’re maybe not doing everything you need to be doing.

Compliance is you’re doing everything that is on paper, needs to be done. But culture is really where you put the roof on that house, where you’re really making sure that you’re taking care of your employees on an emotional level, beyond just a physical level and really paying attention to the human side of things. And we really value that. 

Absolutely. I’ve heard that before and you guys are rock stars in that space to be honest with you. Let me just land it here with regards to this, I have two things that I’ll share about the word “culture,” but I want to put it in the context of safety. You know, every organization says they have a culture, but let me just say this safety performance or the safety culture of your organization is defined by the worst behavior you as a leader are willing to accept. 

It doesn’t matter where you want to go. It doesn’t matter what you want to do, but if you are not addressing all safety violations and or behaviors in a very consistent manner, you might as well look at that being your mark, and you can have all the wallpaper you want on the wall about zero incidents, zero, this or that.

If your safety culture doesn’t reflect those things at the foundation, then you’re building on what we call sandy ground, if that makes sense to you. And lastly, when you think about culture in general, Peter Drucker says it best, okay. Think about this when you say “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Okay.

So the truth of the matter is, the leadership of an organization could sit in the boardroom and beat on our chest and say what a great culture. But if that man or woman out there doesn’t understand or believe that culture. Then again, all you’ve got is wallpaper and reports. So let’s get out of the C-suite and go down to the concrete, make sure that our employees understand that we are crazy about making a safe and healthy work environment in 2022. And it’s not going to stop. We’re going to keep on doing the things that we’re going to do. 

[00:14:44]
Absolutely. Well, I love that spirit. I think that that’s exactly what we need. Do you have any insights into where you see the future of construction safety headed? Do you have any predictions for where we’re going? 

I wish I had a crystal ball, but I will say this, and I have to again, use the word COVID.

If there was anything, anything, and I mean, but a morsel of truth or reality that came out of COVID, I believe that it has challenged our industry to embrace the health and hygiene component of what we do on our job sites. I’ve been in this business for a long time, you know, my story, and, uh, you know, anybody that may be listening may just know the story and we don’t have enough time on this podcast for me to tell you that.

You know, back when I started in this industry, cleaning your hands with a bucket of goop, you stuck your paw in and you wiped with a rag and you somehow could eat your mayonnaise sandwich and eat your little fruit cup and drink your cup of coffee. And somehow you didn’t think he was going to get a bug or a cootie. Right? 

Well, that might’ve been archaic and that sounds caveman. But listen, we know out this side of COVID that we gotta have running water. We need flushable toilets. I’m on a campaign in America today to eliminate Job Johnny’s or Porta-Johns on construction projects. It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

So if we’ve learned anything, let’s learn about health and hygiene, let’s make that change because I believe this will happen, Sage. It will make our industry more attractive to the next generation of men and women that are going to come in here and build America. 

[00:16:20]
I completely agree. I love that. And I also think that all of the workers’ boots on the ground will love that too. Greg, thank you so much for talking with us today. I had so much fun reading the 2022 report, gave me a lot of insight and a lot of hope into where we’re going. And, I think that our listeners will feel the same. So thank you. 

You’re more than welcome and to just remind everybody, you can go to abc.org, go to our safety tab, and you can download a free copy of this off our website at abc.org.

 

It’s free for the world. And thank you guys for shining a light on this, Sage. Anything we can do to advance the cause of safety and health in our industry, ABC’s committed to doing that. 

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