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Safety and Health Conversations: An Interview with Carl Heinlein

Carl Heinlein is a Senior Safety Consultant at the American Contractors Insurance Group (ACIG), a captive insurance company that writes and provides insurance to its member companies in the construction industry, who are in turn part owners of ACIG. Scott Schneider sat down with Carl for a discussion about the factors that go into creating a top-notch safety program.

[The interview below has been edited for length to fit the online format of Lifelines.]

Scott: Can you tell me a little more about the American Contractors Insurance Group and the type of work you do?

Carl: We are owned by 40 of the leading street and road, general building and industrial contractors in the United States. ACIG writes workers’ comp, general liability and auto liability policies. We try to provide solutions by working with contractors’ management and safety teams to look at significant injuries and fatalities, review projects for trends and suggest educational opportunities and trainings to help their employees. Because these contractors have ownership in ACIG, they certainly have a vested interest in improving in these areas.

Scott: Many insurance companies have dropped their loss control or loss prevention arms. Liberty Mutual just closed their safety research facility. How does ACIG maintain its emphasis on loss control?

Carl: First, we have great leadership within ACIG and our ACIG contractors. It starts with a CEO who is engaged in the process. Safety programs may succeed and have good numbers and results, but if you want to take that next step your CEO and executive management must be involved and integrated into the process. I’d love to say it’s all driven by the management, but there also has to be commitment from the field leadership and the employees. We work collaboratively with our contractors to take a comprehensive look at loss prevention, risk financing and risk transfer opportunities early on to help ensure projects are done safely in a timely, productive manner.

Scott: We’ve talked in the past about how safety climate is about developing trust between workers and management. How does ACIG work to build that trust?

Carl: The two enemies of safety are time and comfort. Time being “We don’t have time to move that piece of equipment, so work around it,” or “We don’t have time for a full orientation, we need that employee on the job now,” and comfort being “We’ve done it before,” or “This is how we do it.” So much of what goes on at the contractor level is driven by project owners. And those expectations trickle down to the general contractors, then to their subcontractors and then to the next level. Our contractors focus on trying to get consistency regardless of the owner. We try to survey our members at least every three years. Some of their comments are very specific, like needing better lighting in an area or a piece of equipment that needs repairs. Those may seem simple, but if the contractor gets those lighting and equipment issues fixed, that goes a long way to build trust and respect with employees.

Scott: You mention subcontractors and how safety culture trickles down to them. How important is the link between general contractors and subcontractors in terms of maintaining good safety practices?

Carl: Subcontractors are a critical part of the team and the success of any project. I’ll give you an example. Years ago, when the Owner-Controlled Insurance Program came out, if your project came under OCIP, you had to drug test, send everyone through the same training and have a full-time safety professional if you had a certain number of employees. It didn’t matter if you were a subcontractor or how long you were on the job. It changed the whole model. The new version is the Contractor-Controlled Insurance Program (CCIP). Now everyone works for the general contractor, so if you have 80 subcontractors on a large university project and there is a general liability claim, that becomes your claim. There has to be a collaborative team approach for any successful project.

Scott: Many companies focus on lagging indicators, which can create a disincentive to report injuries. What are your companies doing to fight against that?

Carl: A lot of organizations can rattle off their EMR, their lost workday rate, their DART rate and their TRIR. At ACIG we don’t focus on traditional OSHA rates. We try to take a comprehensive look at both lagging, and more importantly, leading indicators like manager involvement, what kind of training is being done, how often the jobsite is walked for hazards and whether companies have a safety committee or group that meets regularly. We’re looking at what can be done in the pre-planning and estimating stages and how we can use technology to help subcontractors work with the general contractor to sequence jobs better. Our view is that if we’re only talking about OSHA compliance, we’re missing the bigger picture.

[Nick Fox]

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