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How digital inspection data builds better construction safety programs

December 1, 2021

The recent release of the widely-circulated annual SmartMarket Report Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2021 from the Dodge Construction Network, in partnership with CPWR and Newmetrix, re-confirms one of their long-standing findings: contractors consistently report that safety programs have a wide range of positive impacts on their business as a whole. 

Reported by 78% of contractors, the top benefit emerging from safety programs is the ability to negotiate better insurance terms, followed by an improvement in their company’s standing in the industry at 73%. Two-thirds said they are better able to bring in new work due to their safety programs, and 61% experienced improved worker retention because of them. 

One finding that sticks out, however, is that these benefits are far more widely experienced by large companies. Small- and medium-sized companies that don’t have the same resources to invest in safety programs are failing to capitalize on the advantages they bring and are subject to falling even further behind their larger competitors.

In this post, we’ll go to the heart of the Dodge report and look at how digitizing the collection of reliable inspection data allows a contractor, big or small, to build a better safety program and enjoy these same benefits, while still positioning themselves as competitive.

When action becomes data

On the ground and in the field, no matter how routine their tasks, almost every construction worker is generating a rich and constant stream of accurate and reliable safety-related data.

What are your team’s everyday tasks and actions – such as running an inspection checklist, conducting a project assessment, meeting a compliance requirement, or holding a toolbox talk – all generate valuable information that can be incorporated into safety programs and used to prevent hazards and cut costs. 

For example, toolbox talks may sometimes seem unnecessary or burdensome. But when you keep consistent track of the recurring topics and the attendance record of your toolbox talks, and then correlate these with inspection, hazard and incident reports, it helps you identify where the gaps are in your team’s knowledge and informs training decisions. In this case, giving a toolbox talk generates data you can learn from to address the root cause of the issue at hand.  

While these everyday actions represent a trove of information waiting to be unearthed, construction companies who rely on traditional data collection methods will find it difficult, if not impossible, to gather and leverage the data into a safety program.

The problem with paper 

Tools like pens, paper, paper maps, or even spreadsheets, are not designed to collect action-based inspection and safety data in an efficient way. Prone to loss, input errors and inconsistencies, a paper-based system will always leave a safety program with knowledge gaps. 

At first glance, digitizing data collection information has immediate advantages when compared with paper and spreadsheets, like incorporating multiple media formats (such as video and audio), not getting stranded in a filing cabinet or on someone’s desktop, and offering a common, connected and always-current source. 

But when it comes to inspections, digitization’s biggest strength is that it lets construction companies collect and analyze their data in new ways that generate insights based on the aggregate. “It’s the difference between seeing individual grains of sand and seeing the beach,” says data and analytics expert Jake Freivald, a vice president at Fulcrum. “Instead of one report at a time, you’re getting the overall impact.” Digital inspections immediately widen visibility into safety patterns from which to derive actionable insights that will continually drive and improve safety culture.

More than this, better insights for a better safety program can only come if information is allowed to freely circulate between tasks, workers, points-of-use, and managers. This flow of data, however, is halted by paper’s inefficiencies, which silos data into individual checklists and spreadsheets with no connection to a larger whole. Digital tools, on the other hand, make safety data pervasive; that is, cloud-connected and instantly available and shareable on multiple devices and operating systems, accessible company-wide to all those who need it. 

So while the Dodge Report makes it clear that small- and medium-sized companies are less likely to experience benefits from their safety programs, it is not a leap in logic to assume this is because they have fewer resources and must continue to rely on a paper-based system that silos information and prevents them from cultivating the data-driven insights that go into a rigorous safety program.

Reframe, digitize, analyze

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that only large contractors are destined to succeed. Freivald outlines a series of 8 crucial steps for any construction contractor looking to start turning their everyday activities into actionable insights. 

First among these is going digital. When you digitize inspections, you can start to reframe everyday action as data and see all the trends affecting your team’s ability to do quality work effectively and safely. 

Fulcrum’s digital platform is specifically designed for field inspection (and its management) by making it easy to build standardized processes and collect reliable data sets for rigorous and replicable inspections, a consistency that serves as the foundation for safety program success. At the same time, Fulcrum is user-friendly and requires no coding, giving safety managers a flexibility to tailor inspection checklists on the fly in response to changing customer and site conditions. 

By digitizing and automating data collection for consistent safety inspection – and allowing that data to circulate – Fulcrum gives contractors of all sizes the affordable, flexible, and intuitive means to develop the data-driven insights that drive safer and higher-quality outcomes of robust safety programs. 

For an in-depth look at how leading industrial contracting services provider, FM Sylvan, harnessed the power of data to drive their safety programs with Fulcrum, visit this Occupational Health and Safety Magazine sponsored webinar.  

Or for a quick read, visit FM Sylvan’s customer story on how they are leveraging Fulcrum’s Field Inspection Management platform to take a proactive, data-driven approach to safety.