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Risk of accidents higher at small construction companies

construction sitePromoting safety culture not only reduces the risk of accidents at construction sites but also impacts other business aspects such as productivity and competitiveness. Large construction firms understand this concept and apply it in their day to day business while small construction firms are still lagging behind.

A recent survey by the Center for Construction Research and Training looks at the difference in safety culture and safety management between small and large companies.

Small firms with 1 to 9 employees represent a little more than 10% of the construction firms. Those with over 500 employees represent approximately 20% of them. Construction firms with 10 to 49 employees represent the biggest part, around 30% of construction firms.  Small firms usually work on low-rise commercial and residential projects while larger ones work on high rise and industrial projects.

Last year in New York,  70% of the construction accidents in New York City occurred in buildings with 10 stories or less. (see previous blog).  

Safety practices related to equipment and protections , such as equipment inspection, installation of guardrails and safety nets are adopted by 72.2% of all construction firms. However the study found that while 86.8% of the large firms with over 500 employees adopt these safety practices only 37.9% of companies with less than 10 employees adopt them.

When it comes to making sure construction workers use personal protective equipment (PPE), 70.2 % of all firms are making sure to provide functional PPE, inspect them and make sure they are being used. When looking at the same numbers by firm size, 88.7% of the large firms adopt safety practices involving PPE compared to 60% of those with 10 to 49 employees and 55.2% of firms with 1 to 9 employees.

Another aspect of safety on construction sites includes the integration of organizational safety practices. This organizational practices may include:

  • involving job site workers in the safety process
  • open door policy in regards to workers reporting hazards, incidents and concerns
  • designated personnel in charge of safety
  • near miss and incident investigations
  • job hazards analysis before project starts

81.7 % of all the large construction firms implemented all these organizational practices while only 9.7% of the small firms had all these organizational practices implemented.

Prevention through Design (PTD) is another important aspect of construction site safety. It consists of reducing the risk of hazards in the engineering and design process.  This concept is applied by 13% of the small companies and 60% of the large ones.

Safety policies such as developing site specific safety and health plans, defining measurable safety goals, establishing site specific training programs and offering incentives related to safety can also prevent dangerous accidents. Only 4.8% of the small firms and 50% of the large ones have all the above policies implemented.

The CPRW study also measured the level of safety culture among construction companies.  Not surprisingly large companies are much more committed to health and safety than smaller ones.