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How Planning and Worker Engagement Can Reduce Your Operational Costs

By Dylan Hipple
Published: May 16, 2022
Key Takeaways

Tracking and documenting your worker engagement and pre-work planning won't just make your jobsites safter - it will also reduce your insurance premiums.

Caption: Work Planning Meeting Source: Drazen Zigic / iStock

When your company undertakes a new project, management will be aiming for two major goals: avoiding delays and reducing costs.

Creating a safe worksite is one of the most important steps in achieving those goals. Employers know that safety has a heavy return on investment. An effective safety program will help you:

  • Improve morale and productivity
  • Reduce work delays due to safety incidents
  • Improve efficiency
  • Minimize workers comp and general liability costs
  • Avoid fines for safety violations
There are, however, two key components that are often overlooked when striving to reduce overall bottom line and make construction costs more manageable: planning and worker engagement.

The Indirect Costs of Incidents

Pre-planning is an important step to mitigating risks and ensuring a safe worksite.

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That should be enough to convince CFOs and everyone else in management to implement it. After all, it’s a simple equation. Identifying hazards and potential fail points will reduce your risks, resulting in fewer safety incidents. Fewer safety incidents will, in turn, translate into a reduction of your overall costs.

What few people realize, however, is just how far those savings really go.

The direct costs are the obvious ones. We’re talking about medical costs, claims cost, hiring replacement workers, and interruptions to the work.

Most people know about the indirect costs, too. Those include higher insurance premiums, being locked out of bids, and higher employee turnover rates.

The problem is that not everyone gives the indirect costs their full weight. Indirect costs of accidents don’t just affect the profitability of your current project - they will also carry over and haunt you from project to project.

A high EMR rate or recordable incident rate can lock you out of bidding for certain jobs, limiting your ability to secure better and more profitable projects.

High incident rates also result in higher employee turnover rates. Everyone wants to feel safe on the job, and those who don’t will be quick to move on when presented with the opportunity.

And of course, your company’s incident rates have a direct influence on your insurance premiums. While the calculations involved in underwriting your policy are complicated, the basic idea behind them is simple: the riskier your projects are, the more it will cost to insure them.

Why Pre-Task Planning Matters

When you hire and train people to do a job, it’s easy to assume that they’ll know exactly how to carry out their work.

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It’s rarely that simple, however. Even well-trained employees often have questions, concerns, and suggestions about the job. Holding brief planning sessions before getting to work ensures that there’s a space for them to voice all of those and have a say in how their tasks are carried out.

These pre-task planning sessions have a number of benefits.

Getting the Job Done Right

There’s rarely a single way to perform a task. Some processes are more efficient than others, some tools are more suited to the job, and some tasks are better carried out as a team than by individual workers.

Holding planning sessions ensures that everyone is on the same page about how the work should be done.

Getting the Job Done Safely

Planning sessions can alert workers to hazards they might encounter on a new worksite. It’s also a great forum for them to highlight potential risks they encounter on the ground. And it can serve as a brainstorming session to figure out if anything can be done to make the job safer, like putting away the ladders and erecting scaffolds instead.

Increasing Worker Engagement

Worker engagement might sound like a nebulous concept, but it’s one that makes a real, concrete difference. Engaged workers are more productive, have a higher morale, feel more connected to their work, and perform tasks safely.

There are no shortcuts to engagement. You can only improve it by giving workers a voice and greater ownership over their jobs.

That’s precisely what pre-planning does. It gives workers a daily opportunity to provide input and feedback on individual tasks, the equipment they use, and the work environment. It also gives them a clear sense that the job is theirs. They’re not just given steps to follow robotically - they have a say in it.

Questions Get Answered

When there isn’t a formal space for input and feedback, some workers just don’t bother. If they have a question about how to do a certain task or a suggestion for making the work safer, they might feel it’s not important enough to seek out a supervisor and talk to them about it.

They clock in when they show up to the site then get to work. And no one wants to interrupt the work once it gets started.

When you start the day with a planning session, questions get raised and answered. Concerns are addressed. Risks are highlighted and then mitigated.

(Learn about 5 Easily Overlooked Safety Risks Every Workplace Should Address)

How to Make Pre-Planning Work

Most of the people at the management level understand all of this. They know the value of planning. There’s a good chance they even encourage it.

Encouraging isn’t enough, however.

Pre-planning is like anything else. It’s not enough to sing its praises - companies also have to actively support it.

Unless you make it easy for your workers, foremen, and supervisors to pre-plan their work, it’s one of the things that’s going to get put to the side. The moment time pressures set in, people will go right back to clocking in and getting right to work - until they stop holding planning sessions altogether.

So, what can you do to make sure these sessions take place?

Make It an Official Part of the Workday

The most important step is to actually block off time for those sessions. Not just encouraging workers to spend fifteen minutes on planning at the start of every shift, but telling them that’s what the time is for.

Making it clear that those first fifteen minutes are for the planning sessions will ensure that they don’t just get done “when there’s time” - because there will always be time.

Be Present

Time is an important resource, and everyone from management on up is highly aware of this. They parcel out their time throughout the day and make difficult choices about how to best allocate it.

Unfortunately, those decisions often favor office-level work. Actually showing up on the worksite or the shop floor is one of the first things that gets cut from those busy schedules.

Usually, that’s because it doesn’t feel urgent. Everyone on the front lines knows how to do their job, so there’s no need to check in regularly. It only becomes urgent when something goes wrong, like a major production delay or a serious accident.

Many of those problems could be avoided by putting on the workboots and showing up on site. It’s a way of facilitating productive planning sessions. It keeps communication open at all levels of the company. It makes it clear to the workers that the pre-planning sessions aren’t just a formality - they’re something the company takes seriously.

Taking fifteen minutes to do that up front can feel inconvenient, but it will reduce risks, prevent incidents, and save you a whole lot of time and headaches on the back end.

(Learn more in Face-to-Face Safety: The Right Way to Build a Safety Culture)

Get the Front Line Workers Involved

Pre-task planning doesn’t have to involve every single employee, but it should represent all of them.

It might seem convenient to have planning sessions with management and the safety department. But you’ll get a lot more out of them if you get front line workers at the table too.

Supervisors and foremen are an obvious choice. But bringing in a rotation of workers will make sure you get a variety of perspectives and input about all aspects of the work.

How to Impress Your Insurance Provider

Let’s get back to those indirect costs.

Pre-task planning reduces risks, which reduces incidents - which in turn, reduces costs. But how can you be sure that it will have a significant impact on your insurance premiums?

For that, we have to first ask what insurance providers are looking for when assessing a company. What, exactly, are they considering when calculating or adjusting your premiums?

Your insurer isn’t looking at your company and projects in a complete vacuum. They’re pricing your policies based on data they have compiled about your industry as a whole and the type of project you’re undertaking.

Basically, they’re aware of what kind of losses will hit a company or project like yours. And they’re looking for any concrete evidence that those losses will be mitigated.

That starts with the policies and procedures you have in place and how well they address the financial risks you’ll be facing.

Then, they want evidence that those policies and procedures are actually put into action - that they’re more than just good intentions. That includes the kind of training you’re providing workers, conducting regular inspections, and - you guessed it - pre-planning sessions.

And again, they want more than intentions. It’s not good enough to have pre-task planning as part of your company’s policies. You need to track and document those sessions so you can provide them with tangible evidence that you’re taking steps to mitigate risks.

Documenting Leading Indicators (Instead of Waiting for Lagging Ones)

If you implement effective planning sessions, you will improve your lagging indicators of safety over time. Incident rates will go down. The severity of accidents might be reduced as well. Your EMRs, RIRs, LTIFRs, and just about every acronym you can think of will start to look more impressive.

Those improved rates will translate to better premiums. But why wait for your lagging indicators to get better when you could start documenting leading indicators now?

Leading indicators of safety are safety measures and initiatives that reduce the likelihood of future incidents.

Unlike RIRs, however, it’s more difficult to provide concrete data on leading indicators.

That’s where tracking software comes in. A safety management software can track and document your observations, pre-planning sessions, meetings, permits, and more - and turn those sessions into data. It puts hard numbers behind those leading indicators.

That data is what gives insurance providers the confidence that your company and your projects are a safe bet. It’s what shows them that your worksites are safe - even before you can gather years of lagging indicators to prove that they are.

That’s how you can take new safety initiatives and turn them into insurance savings - by documenting them, not just their outcomes.

Tracking, documenting, and turning your pre-task planning into hard data will show your insurance providers that you’re taking safety seriously - and that’s a big step in getting the lower premium costs your company deserves.

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Written by Dylan Hipple | Senior Implementation Consultant at HammerTech

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