Earlier this year, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Willis Towers Watson honored 57 different construction firms at its 2019 Construction Safety Excellence Awards (CSEA) luncheon. A full list of all 57 winners is available here, but one company stood out as its grand award winner: Lakewood, Colorado-based Encore Electric, Inc.
Safety is one of the biggest challenges in construction, so maintaining an impeccable safety record is an impressive feat. As a Viewpoint client, Encore deploys Spectrum Construction Software as its construction management platform. Having a modern, cloud-based management solution for collaboration, compliance management, accounting, project management and more helps all team members work better together, enhancing safety and reducing risks. But it doesn’t stop there. Having sound safety strategies in place and achieving the buy-in of the entire team is a daily commitment — the result of years of perfecting the processes.
Safety is something that Encore clearly excels in. I wanted to know how Encore was able to achieve such success in an industry that still struggles with regular safety concerns. So, I sat down with a few of the company’s leaders to find out.
A History of Safety Excellence
Encore, one of the premier electrical contractors in the Rocky Mountain region, has been operating for more than 34 years now. The company has enjoyed significant growth over the years and has an impressive stable of clients. The success of the company’s safety strategies dates back almost to the beginning, when the company operated as Riviera Electric.
“It's about the people — the men and women that are out there each and every day,” said Marlin Linder, the company’s vice president. “But before you even get to that point, safety has to start at the top of the organization. And it has to be something that the senior leadership is absolutely completely committed to.”
In fact, it’s a sentiment I noticed the company proudly calls attention to. On the homepage of the company’s corporate website is a message from President Willis Weidel, which states: “Quite frankly, we care about all the people that work in our industry. We care about the lives of those people and the families that work, not only for Encore Electric, but for our entire industry.”
Jack Cain, Encore’s health and safety manager, noted that even though the company is not perfect — no contractor can maintain a zero-safety incident record over that amount of time — Encore does indeed strive for perfection when it comes to mitigating safety risks.
“Safety is not an achievement that ends with an award. It's an ongoing activity,” Cain said. “We have conversations about safety all day long and we have really put together a culture where any employee that sees something that is not safe, can speak up, there's no ramifications or issues of individuals pointing out that this condition is, is unsafe, or I think we need to explore doing this a different way we back each other up. We're accountable to each other.”
Of course, building an award-winning safety culture is not something that’s done overnight. It's a practice that Encore has spent the past three decades honing.
Ensuring Safety Success
Whether it’s adhering to stringent federal, state and municipal regulations and OSHA requirements or adopting industry association guidelines and best practices, the construction industry is under a microscope when it comes to safety. And contractors have their hands full ensuring that safety is practiced daily on jobsites. Encore, however, take it several steps further.
“There's no question that we got to have a regulatory policy, we got to make sure that employees are following that policy. But I think what we've done a little bit different is we've taken the human approach to safety,” Cain said. That means investing in programs and practices that improve the overall health and welfare of employees and their families. From continual communication of tips to improve health, financial planning, career and skills growth and more to company partnerships with outside programs and services that provide assistance like counseling and help with drug and alcohol addiction, Encore has shown it truly cares about its employees beyond the jobsite. The company’s Encore University for example, provides more than 100 courses to provide educational opportunities.
On the jobsite, safety is addressed in daily briefings and huddles. New guidelines or safety tips are shared, safety equipment is regularly tested and training is routinely held to make sure employees have safety at the forefront of their minds at all times. In fact, Cain noted that more than 30 of the courses in the aforementioned Encore University are geared toward safety training and education.
More evidence of Encore’s commitment to safety is so strong lies with Cain himself. Encore hired Cain to manage its safety efforts as he was considering employment as an OSHA safety inspector. Now he helps instill safety in employees from day one of employment. “What's vital is getting that first-year apprentice, on his third day at work after orientation, to believe in that (safety) commitment. The goal of not getting hurt — we pound that message home, every day. It’s just not okay for one of our employees to get injured on the job. And I think we drive that message really well, down to the guy in the trench with the shovel.”
Using Technology to Enhance Safety
Managing an award-winning safety strategy means processing and effectively sharing tons of data — everything from daily huddle information and safety reports to logging safety incidents to using advanced data to automate workflows and processes. By accessing integrated data in real time, crews not only stay productive, they can significantly reduce or thwart project risks and errors before they even occur.
For instance, using Total Stations from Viewpoint parent company Trimble, Encore is able to streamline workloads and reduce stress for crews, while increasing accuracy. “The (scanning, imaging and surveying) technology allows us to lay off points for fixtures, stop ups, placement, gear — pretty much anything that needs to be placed on a job site — it is now laid out with technology,” Linder said. “It minimizes the hours that needs to be spent and reduces traveling back and forth around the job site.
Spectrum, which serves as Encore’s construction accounting and business operational management ERP, provides leaders in both the office and field with up-to-date data and reports for everything from job costing to work progress to safety tracking and management.
“Every incident we have — a first aid incident, an auto accident, or a personal injury — all of that data is entered into Spectrum. It allows me the ability to identify trends,” Cain said. He pointed to a recent instance where Spectrum data helped him spot a trend involving razor knives, where employees were experiencing frequent cuts. This allowed the company to replace the knives with new tools that were not only safer but allowed employees to work faster and increase production.
Another move that increased both safety and production? Embracing prefabrication. By building out a prefabrication department, Encore was able to bring a lot of work typically done in dangerous jobsite settings in-house in a controlled environment. Building out standard units and materials in house ahead of time, boosted production on jobsites and further reduced the number of safety incidents in the field.
Encore’s strategic approach to safety has resulted in a reduction of injuries between 50 percent and 60 percent in the past 10 years. And the company has gamed back close to a million labor hours that would otherwise be lost to safety incidents. Meanwhile, technology and automation provided by companies like Trimble and Viewpoint have automated many processes, saving thousands of more labor hours and allowing workers to be better focused when on the jobsite.
The safety culture that Encore has instilled has also helped employee retention as it’s created happier employees that stay longer and are more passionate and committed to work. Cain estimated that Encore’s retention rates were 50 percent higher than the average in the construction market. Encore has consistently made several “top construction companies to work for” lists.
But that doesn’t mean it’s “mission accomplished” for Encore. The company is consistently looking for new ways to improve, including new technologies and exploring the latest safety best practices and strategies.
“Are there more tools that we can buy to actually make our craftsmen and women be more productive and safer?” Linder noted. “We're not going to rest on our laurels. We're going to continue to challenge our teams every day when it comes to safety and success.”
Encore’s story truly inspired me, as they are a model for what every contractor should strive for when it comes to excellence in safety. I invite you to hear from Encore directly as they will be presenting the session, “How Encore Electric Became the Safest Construction Company in America” at Viewpoint’s Collaborate Conference Sept. 22-26 in Portland, Ore.