11 Steps to Improve Your Experience Modification Rate (EMR) in Construction

John Wiegand

If you ask Google, “What is EMR in construction?” you’ll discover that it stands for Experience Modification Rate, and that it’s based on your company’s safety record. You may find out that an EMR of 1.0 is average, and that lower numbers indicate a better safety record and higher numbers indicate a worse one. You’ll also read that it impacts your insurance rates.

But if you ask me, “What is EMR?” I’ll tell you:

EMR means revenue.

That’s just the fact of the matter.

Not only does a low EMR mean you get cheaper insurance, it also affects your reputation with owners, lenders, and subcontractors. This impacts your ability to win contracts. A very low EMR can allow you to increase fees compared to your competition and still win.

On the other hand, if your EMR is higher than 1.5, you probably can’t even stay in business. Nobody will want to work with you. Companies on the margin might do all right in a boom time like the one we’re in now, but during a recession, they’ll be the first to lose business.

In my former life, I was an operations leader nationally for a large global construction firm. We spent a lot of time there evaluating safety programs and because of our attention to it, we lowered our EMR to .54, one of the best rates in the country.

Because of that low EMR, we won contracts with fees up to 1.5% higher than our competition, and paid tens of thousands less in insurance premiums for the same job as compared to our peers with 1.0 EMRs.

That’s profit in the bank.

Just in case you want to put extra dollars in your account and insulate yourself against recession, here are 11 tips for improving your EMR.

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EMR in construction involves measuring your on-site safety record your and impacts your company's bottom line.

 

1. Get Your C-Suite On Board

The biggest obstacle to improving EMR is an executive who is stuck in a “business as usual” mindset. Unfortunately, in construction, “business as usual” makes ours one of the most dangerous industries in the world.

To step outside of “business as usual” and improve EMR, executive management has to make it a priority. Caring is a systemic issue. Safety has to become a core value, and something that everyone pays attention to because it’s modeled, planned for, and reinforced at every level of the organization.

At my previous organization, our motto was, “Everyone goes home safe every day. Zero incidents, period.”

We lived by that principle, and it showed in our EMR. Recently, I met a firm in Ireland with an even better motto. Theirs: “Less than zero.”

To them, that means everyone goes home not only safe, but healthier than when they arrived. That’s a strong statement of respect, and it shows in their safety record.

 

2. Evaluate Your Culture and Understanding of EMR in Construction

Once the C-suite is on board, everyone else has to be as well. When safety is a core value, that means every employee and every element of the business is examined for attention to safety.

Communicate your commitment to safety throughout the organization, and enforce it both with employees and subcontractors. If anyone isn’t on board, get them there or get them out.

A safety culture is one in which everyone is watching each other’s backs all the time, and insisting on safety compliance at every level and every moment.

 

3. Create a Corporate Safety Program

Your corporate safety program will lay the template for site-specific plans on each and every project you work. It should name who is responsible for safety at the corporate level, focus on industry best practices, and include a culture of continuous improvement.

 

4. Create Site-Specific Plans

Every job site and project will include thousands of unique features that impact safety. At the start of each project, create a customized safety plan, including what is expected in terms of managing and running the safety program.

The site-specific plan should be detailed and thorough, and communicated to your own team as well as any subcontractors, trades, and suppliers who will be on the project. Be stern and do not deviate from your plan.

 

5. Turn Incidents Into Opportunities

Even the best-designed and carefully safety engineered projects will occasionally experience a near-miss or, more rarely, an incident. Turn these into opportunities by sharing the incident with the leadership and workforce. Talk about what happened and what could have prevented it. Then put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.

 

6. Implement Plan-Do-Check

Plan safety the same way you plan activities on the project. If you’re pouring concrete, plan the safety measures for that activity. Do the safety measures. Then check behind the work to ensure the measures were followed.

 

7. Establish an Employee Feedback Program

Nobody is closer to the action of the project than the boots on the ground. Establish a feedback program that solicits information directly from your employees. Make it easy for them to report hazards, near misses, observations, and any activities, behaviors, or features that compromise safety.

I like to put a whiteboard up at the site with a map, and encourage employees to mark areas of concern. You can do this digitally as well, with today’s mobile technologies and platforms like BIM 360.

 

8. Make Your Signage Effective and Fun

Signage is critical and in many cases required for safety. Make sure yours communicates clearly, is visible, and placed appropriately. In some cases, it can be effective to be creative and have fun with the signage. Employees will pay more attention to something that makes them laugh than something that blends into the background.

 

9. Conduct Root Cause Reviews

When you have an incident or near miss, don’t be content with a simple explanation. Getting to the root cause can help you establish measures that genuinely prevent similar incidents in the future.

An example of a root cause review would be if a worker on a lift damages an aluminum panel while installing cladding. He may not have been hurt, but the incident reveals a weakness in the safety plan.

For a root cause review, you pull him in and have a conversation. Ask why he ran into the panel. He may say it’s because he moved the lift up too fast. Most employers would be content with that answer, and call it a day with, “Don’t do that again.”

In a root cause review, however, you go deeper. You ask, “Why did you move it up too fast?” He might say, “I was in a hurry because we only had a couple panels left to install and we had to do it today.” You would ask, “Why did you have to do it today?” He might say, “My boss was on my backside about it.” Then you ask “why” again. He might say, “We’re overrunning our budget because he didn’t budget for enough manpower.”

Now you go to boss and find out why he didn’t budget enough for the right manpower.

To mitigate risk in the future, you can establish benchmarks for manpower budgets and track them with subcontractors. Those who consistently under-budget can be removed from your short list, and others can be encouraged to bid more appropriately in the future.

 

10. Consider a “Wheels” Program

How often have you had to work around a stack of materials that was inconveniently placed on the job site? Too often.

I have rarely walked onto a major job site and not witnessed somebody doing something inappropriate with a ladder in order to “just quickly” finish something in a location that was blocked by a pile of materials.

A wheels program puts all those materials on carts so they can be quickly and efficiently moved out of the way. Informally, I believe we reduced trip and fall incidents nationwide by about 20% with a wheels program. The ROI on those carts was well justified.

 

11. Implement Pre-Task Planning

A lot of accidents happen because workers and supervisors and subcontractors think they don’t have time to stop and evaluate the risks before beginning a task.

I say you can’t afford not to.

It takes about five minutes to huddle up before each task begins and check the list of risks and hazards. To look around and become aware of any hazards not on the list. And to remind each other to do the thing right and safely.

In those cases where a pre-task planning session identifies unacceptable risks or hazards that were not anticipated, the work can be stopped until the hazard is mitigated. While this can cost more in the short term, it prevents the far more costly delays associated with incidents.

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It takes about five minutes to huddle up before each task begins and check the list of risks and hazards.

 

EMR in construction means revenue. A low EMR means more of it. And, at the end of the day, a good day is one where everybody goes home safely to their families.

I look forward to a future in which every project takes place on a “less than zero” job site.

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