The relationship between buyers, employers, and workers has always been one that is a give and take relationship. When a buyer sets the date of project completion, employers are required to strive to meet the buyers’ expectations. This raises serious concern over the importance of production targets versus safety. Adversely, the employer usually will pressure the worker to complete jobs as quickly as possible, but this could end with the sacrifice of quality and most importantly safety!
Employers have always faced “ominous” timelines for project completion dates. However, the expectations placed on workers to complete projects in a set amount of time can negatively impact a number of aspects of health & safety including; short cuts, rushing, and sweeping incidents under the rug. Buyers request top quality safety programs from subcontractors, and yet put an employer into a corner where they can potentially be forced into situations where workers cannot perform their work in the healthiest and safest manner possible.
One of the most dangerous concepts that come into play with workplace safety is the idea of an employer having to face liquidated damages, whether it is a scenario that they can control or not. Liquidated damages are introduced when the agreed upon completion date exceeds buyer’s timelines leading to incurred contract penalties each day the project surpasses the expected date of completion. As soon as a project shows signs of extra costs coming into play, an employer will generally do whatever it takes to ensure that this does not happen. One common theme among fast work is less focus on quality, and health and safety protocols; some examples could include not completing the required hazard assessments before the start of a workday, housekeeping at a job site not being attended to, fall protection not being properly secured or worn at all, and workers disregarding site rules to save time. All these examples can and have had serious consequences to workers, and subsequently employers and buyers.
While maintaining effective production is profitable to an employer and will keep a buyer happy, both parties should ask the question, “would it be more productive to complete a job late but safe versus on-time with injuries?” It should not be an option to chose between the two. One should not exist without the other. When a buyer understands the correlation between production and safety, being flexible with timelines becomes more achievable.
An effective solution to the productivity vs. safety debate is to open the conversation between buyers and employers, from the time of award with every project. The buyer must understand there are unforeseeable events that can affect project deadlines, just as the employer needs to understand the buyer is trying to meet a deadline. When this relationship does not exist, employers can be forced to make poor decisions which could negatively impact a worker’s safety, strictly from fear of overruns or lack of profitability on a project. Dangerous incentives such as liquidated damages do not allow the employer adequate time to complete a job safely and efficiently and should be replaced with safer project incentives.