This thesis shows how performance management can improve client satisfaction

Early in her construction career, Wendy (Li) MacLeod-Roemer realized there was significant room to improve construction delivery beyond traditional means. To help advance our industry, she decided to pursue a PhD in organization management to understand what changes would be most effective. She dedicated her thesis to exploring how performance management can transform construction projects. Here, Wendy – now one of our senior project managers – explains how her research shows that cost isn’t what is most important to clients.

What inspired your thesis?

I had worked for several years for another general contractor, and I felt that, in general, the architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) industry is very conservative and, innovation-wise, operating backward from other industries. I was motivated to improve that and wanted to explore any tools the A/E/C industry can adopt from other industries.

What were the main tools you tried to adopt?

I read a lot about lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System, and thought it was particularly of interest how the company continuously tracks and visually displays its performance to all workers – from those on the front lines all the way up to the executive level. This constant feedback helps them stay on top of their work, catch potential problems and course correct with agility – all important factors in the success of a project. I thought to myself: “This is such a simple thing, why doesn’t everyone do it?” On construction projects, no matter how many people you ask you’ll probably get a different answer regarding how each individual thinks the project is doing in terms of performance. I explored the “why” behind this and tried to see if construction could adopt what Toyota and other manufacturing industry leaders have been using to see similar successes with improving client satisfaction and performance. I needed to measure the data against something, and so I chose client satisfaction, the foremost indicator of project success.

How did you collect your data?

Project team members involved in day-to-day operations – including project managers and engineers, superintendents, design consultants and client representatives – were sent a handful of survey questions each week surrounding project performance metrics most closely related to their involvement on the project. The metrics included such subjects as commitment reliability (relating to how often promises made – such as for requests for information, submittals and meeting action items – were kept); constraint removal (relating to whatever is preventing a task from proceeding) and such subjective measures as leadership and meeting effectiveness.

The entire team would then receive feedback a couple of days after the survey: circling back this way helped project leaders know which areas to prioritize to improve day-to-day planning and overall project performance. Ultimately, I wanted to collect lots of data so I could see which areas of performance mattered most to the client at any given time – which areas truly predict project success. Is it really cost and schedule, as it often assumed?

What did you find?

Through looking at survey answers and talking with the clients, I found that it wasn’t cost that made them most happy, but rather overall project performance predictability. It is more important to clients that the team is effective and keeps the client in the loop on what is happening and what is planned to happen. This is in part because with complex projects with evolving needs throughout construction, cost can be somewhat fluid.

Another meaningful finding is that greater building information modeling (BIM) use and higher perceived BIM value leads to higher client satisfaction. Perceived BIM value refers to the benefits that construction team members believe that BIM brings to their projects. By using more effective BIM techniques, data showed that it ultimately led to happier clients. This is likely an indirect correlation – perhaps BIM improved the quality of design, which in turn improved on-site work, thus leading to happier clients.


Sample dashboards used as feedback for the teams.

How was the performance management data displayed to the team?

Every week for three years, we emailed them the visual performance dashboard summarizing the survey results, and some projects would also post it in their office. The data was displayed much like a dashboard in your car. It had visual graphics like pie charts, line graphs and had traffic lights – green, yellow and red – to illustrate where you should focus your resources. When it showed yellow, it meant you needed to keep an eye on the issue, and red lights showed where you needed put your attention immediately. One of the drivers in creating the dashboard was that everyone is busy and has limited resources – a red light immediately draws your attention to something that’s wrong now.

I studied this on five projects over three years: these were the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s San Carlos Center near San Francisco for which Skanska was part of the integrated project delivery team, and four projects for Walt Disney Imagineering. I picked San Carlos Center because the client – Sutter Health – is at the forefront of innovation and lean adoption, and Disney is also a leader in using lean for facilities delivery. Survey participation was voluntary, and, during the research period, I had over 10,700 responses from all the project teams, data was collected every single week. Additionally, by introducing this performance management tracking and feedback method, client satisfaction volatility was reduced by 13 percent across all five case studies. Reducing volatility is the first step to increasing satisfaction!

For general contractors, is this something you could use for trade contractors or craft workers?

It’s very flexible. It can be geared toward anything you want to manage. As project teams, you can send the surveys out to your trade contractors to get their feedback to measure specific scopes of work. You can vary the metrics and ask questions more specific to project controls or preconstruction.


A snapshot of labor productivity over the last 40 years. The blue line shows the increase in productivity across industries with the exception of construction, portrayed by the red line, which has decreased.

How do you envision this method being implemented in the future?

No formal method has been widely disseminated to keep track of construction project performance. To fill this gap, my method offers a very simple and intuitive approach. The survey and statistical analysis tools I used already exist and are easy to use. Ideally, in the future a program could automate all of this and put it together to include both metric data collection and dashboard feedback. It’s kind of like how BIM use diffused throughout the A/E/C industry. There was some resistance at first, but compared to BIM this is much easier to implement. It’s one of my goals to hopefully get Skanska to use this metric-based performance feedback methodology (called MetPerforma) at the regional level where I am, and then adopt it across the board.

All other industries have improved in terms of labor productivity in the last 40 years except for construction, which went down 20 percent! This even included farming, which shot straight up on the index. Economists found that performance management as a practice is directly correlated to productivity, among other contributing factors. My PhD research validated that MetPerforma improves construction performance management as a practice. My vision is for it to ultimately improve field productivity industry-wide.

For more information on Wendy’s dissertation check out her presentation here:

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4 ways convention centers are revamping for the 21st century

In today’s hyper-connected digital world, workers spend their days communicating with their peers via email, text and instant messaging, phone and video chat. And yet, as productive as many of these digital connections are, the need for personal face-to-face interactions remains incredibly strong. There are a staggering 1.8 million conventions, conferences, congresses, trade shows and exhibitions, incentive events and corporate meetings a year in the U.S., totaling more than 225 million participants, according to the Convention Industry Council. Conventions are even essential in the tech industry, with Google and Microsoft holding some of the biggest events – both Google I/O and Microsoft Ignite just finished up in May.

To accommodate this demand for meetings in today’s revived economy and a growing need for venues with widely accessible technology, convention centers across the U.S. are expanding and renovating in order to attract more events and be better hosts. The amount of work projected is higher than it has been in five years. Todays’ convention centers require more flexible spaces, the ability to blend virtual and in-person events, and meaningful sustainability. Here is why:

Flexibility: No event is the same, and convention centers are renovating to ensure they can adapt to different types and sizes of meetings. Gardens, outdoor spaces and small theaters are all in demand, along with spaces that can accommodate anything from an intimate group session to a thousand-strong keynote. Consider an event such as Austin’s SXSW, one of the biggest conventions in the world, which hosts everything from panels, to concerts, to movie screenings and huge parties – no cookie cutter presentation spaces there. What’s more, as events look to bridge the gap between the physical and digital world, spaces need to be flexible enough to accommodate new technology, and there’s increasing demand for spaces that can be used as production studios for video. There is also more demand for highly flexible, unadorned hospitality spaces that can be customized to fit the needs of each event. The Austin Convention Center is looking toward a major expansion of their facility and this type of space is one that they will include. Event producers indicate they want high levels of flexibility and multi-function capability.


Here’s an example of flexible space in a convention center – combining presentations with company displays at Greenbuild.

Building these kinds of spaces – along with long-span ballrooms – requires specialized construction expertise. For example, at our new Raleigh Convention Center project, the exhibit hall, loading dock and services expanded below three adjacent city streets. The building required the construction of three bridges, the excavation of more than 365,000 cubic yards of dirt and the installation of three types of foundation wall systems.

Technology: As with stadium expansions and renovations, convention centers are seamlessly integrating technology. To be ready for everything from live-streaming videos, social media-enhanced presentations, the need for faultless wireless internet and even making sure there are enough charging stations for computers and phones, convention centers are upgrading quickly for today’s increased mobility. This means building advanced infrastructure for Wi-Fi and upgrading distributed antenna systems (DAS) – not easy tasks. Today’s convention goer expects connectivity everywhere. Once thought of as a revenue stream for convention centers, free internet connectivity is an expectation of meeting planners. And while once you could just focus on making sure your exhibition halls were enabled with wireless connectivity, today connectivity is also required for restaurants, outdoor spaces and other social gathering spaces and public plazas. Technology is the most important new growth area for convention centers according to 42 percent of event producers, based on a report from Red 7 Media Research and Consulting.

Here’s an example of the importance of being ready for technology: the Raleigh Convention Center recently hosted 2,500 members of the North Carolina Technology in Education Society at a recent conference. As people today tend to carry more than one wireless device with them, they brought with them more than 3,200 wireless devices – and a tremendous demand for bandwidth! During an event in the ballroom, a speaker asked all 500 attendees to test a certain web platform simultaneously. Their demand crashed the platform’s web server on the other end, but the convention center’s wireless infrastructure was able to support the load. These kinds of experiences are increasingly the norm, so convention centers must be built and refurbished with connectivity front of mind.


The Raleigh Convention Center was designed and built with wireless infrastructure to support tech-heavy events.

Activity hubs: Much as airports have sought to bring in upscale and local vendors to upgrade the travel experience in the terminal, convention centers are looking to make their facilities stand apart by offering superior and unique amenities. Today’s convention centers are all looking to do more peripheral development – including retail, hotels and supportive infrastructure – within their footprint to capture more revenue.  Red 7 also notes that 54 percent of convention centers have added new revenue streams in 2013. Facilities such as the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have established concessionaire agreements with such vendors as Starbucks, UPS and even spas and other amenities. With Convention Planners booking shorter events, facilities are seeking to maximize the time attendees stay in the building by increasing services. And 60 percent of event producers are supporting that effort by saying they want everything under one roof.

Sustainability:  Convention centers are increasingly looking to increase their level of sustainability, for the environmental benefits as well as for reducing operating costs. A few centers are leading the way. For example, the Vancouver Convention Centre boasts a six-acre living roof with thousands of indigenous plants and rainwater recovery for irrigation; seawater heating and cooling; and a fish habitat built into the building foundations. The Pittsburgh Convention Center has achieved LEED Platinum certification.

But increasingly, sustainability stretches well beyond construction. Green operations of these facilities are becoming the norm through the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products and practices. Recycling has expanded to include compostable containers and dinnerware, as well as concession food donations to the needy at the end of every day. Look for more and more convention centers choosing to adapt green features – from living roofs and food composting to LED lighting and highly efficient HVAC systems – over the next few years.

In a world where we increasingly rely on mobile and internet connections, face-to-face meetings are therefore even more significant. Convention centers need to adapt to the technological needs of their audience, while also creating environments that enhance the real-life experiences that cannot be captured online.

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Tom Tingle

posted by Tom Tingle

Skanska USA senior vice president and national director, Sports and Entertainment Center of Excellence

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Pull planning helps deliver success at this children’s hospital

Adopting a lean mindset to minimize waste and maximize client value has shown proven benefits in manufacturing and healthcare, and it’s gaining ground in construction too. We all know that change isn’t easy with construction, with its many traditions. But we’re proud to be helping advance this more efficient way of building, which is especially useful on complex building types such as hospitals.

One fundamental lean tool is pull planning, which taps the expertise of crew leaders responsible for physically installing work to reverse-organize activities to meet requests of downstream customers – other construction crews. By “pulling” the work – like with a string – all activities needed to achieve a milestone are done when needed, increasing the efficiency of the process. Pull planning helped us overcome challenges to successfully deliver the 450,000-square-foot expansion for Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

9952-21Through pull planning, our team broke this five-story, eight-sided atrium into distinct production lines that provided better clarity, structure and discipline to the construction process.

When Skanska embarked on this project, we saw lean as only relevant to the repetitive portions of patient rooms and overhead services: we would prefabricate patient room bathrooms and headwalls, along with overhead utility racks for corridors. For all of these, we planned to use pull planning to organize the installation. Although we had a bit of an uneven start with these jobsite pull plans, results soon began to show as the jobsite’s rhythm of installation began to take hold.

Finding a solution in lean

As we were seeing success with pull planning for prefabricated units, our team was struggling a bit with one of the expansion’s most complex aspects: a five-story, eight-sided atrium. Here’s some of what that involved: all faces of the atrium were on a radius; some corners formed at the intersection of multiple curves; and there was seemingly no consistency in design from one atrium elevation to the next. After a few months of constructing based on typical CPM scheduling methods, things were not working out as planned. We called a time-out to reassess how we could succeed in this portion of the project. Could pull planning help non-repetitive work? We decided we needed to find out.

We invested in lean training for both our atrium team and those of our trade contractors working in that space. Together the group used pull planning to develop the best construction scenario – even facilitating the process by organizing the requisite Post-It notes on the project office walls to mimic the atrium lay out. Through all this, the team was able to schedule this work in the most efficient and effective manner: trade partners’ sequencing was aligned and crew leaders were committed to the plan since they now had ownership of the process. If you consider a rowing analogy, everyone was rowing together and going somewhere, instead of splashing around. Even more, by using the pull planning process to think through how to build the atrium, they realized the space did have repetitive elements, though they were difficult to see.

NemoursDE_Int_9Initially, our team thought atrium construction was too far along to use lean processes, but the final process in planning atrium work revealed that benefits can be derived even if implemented in later phases.

What we learned

-   Implementing pull planning in the later stages of a project can still generate value. Initially, our team thought atrium construction was too far along to use lean processes, but the final process in planning atrium work revealed that benefits can be derived even if implemented in later phases.

-   Significant gains are achievable through the use of pull planning. The project team originally regarded the atrium as a distressed portion of the schedule, and it eventually became one of the most successful parts of the project.

-   At first, our team viewed the atrium design as a one-of-a-kind work of art, eliminating the ability to implement much of a flow other than a typical work breakdown by level or elevation. The atrium team’s pull planning efforts revealed that complex, artistic building spaces can be broken down into distinct production lines that provide better clarity, structure and discipline to the construction process.

-   Changing the construction culture is difficult but achievable. When the trade foremen were faced with a lack of clear direction for atrium work, they became argumentative, obstinate and defensive, and a few literally walked away from the meeting. It took several follow-up meetings until the trade foremen realized that the planning meetings would result in less supervisory effort, and that quality and production would actually increase if they maintained the required production rates to make work flow. We made believers out of them.

After seeing the power of lean thinking on this project – even from midway through – I’m already using lean on my next hospital project. It’s exciting to see the potential of lean.

Note: Click here to download a white paper presented to the International Group for Lean Construction on this project’s use of lean. The paper is entitled, “Learning to See Simplicity within a Complex Project through the Lens of Pull Planning.”

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Glenn Hammons

posted by Glenn Hammons

Project executive, Skanska USA

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Rebuilding (and financing) America’s infrastructure through public private partnerships

Our country’s infrastructure is in need of repair. Of the 600,000 bridges located over 4 million miles of roads that the government is responsible for maintaining, 1 out of 9 (or 70,000) is deemed structurally deficient. Thirty-two percent of America’s major roads are in need of extensive rehabilitation. As a result, drivers in the U.S. annually spend 5.5 billion wasted hours in traffic, resulting in costs of $120 billion in fuel and lost time. The estimated investment needed to fix this problem is $3.6 trillion by 2020. Here is how public private partnerships (PPPs) can help finance and rebuild America’s infrastructure.



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Creating a new home, not just a new office

To Scott Laughlin, the environment in which you work has a significant impact on how well you work. That’s why when LMO Advertising – the largest metro Washington, D.C., advertising agency – was looking to relocate its roughly 90-person headquarters, the firm took great care in finding and crafting its new space. LMO chose 1776 Wilson Boulevard, a 140,000-square-foot building that Skanska developed, built and recently sold. Laughlin – LMO’s co-owner – spoke with us about creating environments where people want to be.


LMO’s new space has a Ping-Pong table – how is your game?

My personal Ping-Pong game is bad. That’s somewhat by design because no one likes to work for someone who beats them in Ping-Pong. But maybe I should play it more because Ping-Pong is a great way to clear your mind. One of the hardest human acts is to be creative on demand. Ask any improv actor or comedian how hard it is to respond creatively on cue. What we find is you need space, time and distractions to allow the creative process to work behind the scenes. And then these great ideas seem to pop up out of nowhere, but what’s really happened is your mind has had the ability to run free for a while – until all the gears clicked into place. There is a method to the madness of having space and an environment that allows for such distractions. That’s sometimes what is necessary to break a new idea free.

How did LMO approach creating a new headquarters?

The creative services work that we do doesn’t require being in an office. So our goal was not to build an office space – it was to build a home. We wanted to build a place where people wanted to come, not a place where they had to come. That’s a profound distinction. Doing that meant having an environment that is both comfortable and collaborative. The LEED Platinum standards to which 1776 Wilson is certified contribute to having a high-energy environment. They helped each of our employees have an exterior view and natural light at their primary workspace. Even more, the roof deck with WiFi enables our employees to work outside on nice days. Our business is based on talented, energetic people having great ideas, and these features help make that possible. To foster collaboration, about 45 percent of our office is dedicated to public space. That includes seven conference rooms and nine open collaboration areas, along with a café having comfortable couches and that Ping-Pong table, and also an Xbox room. We were very deliberate in carving out so much public space: We want people from different practice areas and disciplines – people who might not otherwise regularly interact – to be bumping into one another.

LMO2_30We wanted to build a place where people wanted to come, not a place where they had to come,” said Laughlin. (Photo courtesy Davis Carter Scott)

We subscribe to the architectural collision theory that you have to have people having impromptu, unexpected moments to quickly generate novel ideas. In our industry, the digital world has become the norm: We can’t sit around and wait three months to launch our next marketing campaign. Sometimes, we’re responding to things overnight. Collaboration is key to doing high quality work faster. The bones and philosophy of 1776 Wilson provided us with about 75 percent of what we wanted in a space. That’s why we were so excited and committed to making this our home.

What is required to be innovative?

Anyone can have a good idea once. To be able to routinely generate new ideas of merit is really hard work. It requires a process of taking a promising idea, quickly and inexpensively testing that hypothesis, and doing that testing in very validatable ways, so you have data to help guide your decision. Then you know what truly works best, and you can use that to help your clients stay ahead of the curve.

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Building a career as a leader in sustainability

Today in Atlanta, Skanska USA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Beth Heider will be elevated to Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. The fellowship program honors those architects who have made a significant contribution to architecture and society and who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession. Out of a total AIA membership of more than 85,000, there are only roughly 3,200 members distinguished with this honor. Here, Beth reflects on her career as an advocate for sustainability.

When I was in architecture school in the ‘70s, the concept of green buildings was still in its infancy, green buildings looked like the architectural equivalent of a Birkenstock sandal and specifying vinyl asbestos tile was common practice. How many ways is that bad? But we did not know, we just didn’t know.

Before I joined Skanska, I was a consultant to the U.S. General Services Administration. This was back in 1996, when the GSA had the foresight to wrestle with the question of, “What should the cost commitment be to ‘green’ the federal workplace?” I helped design the methodology to put a price tag on that commitment several years before LEED. This study for GSA connected me to a group of green building thought leaders, many of whom remain collaborators and friends. So my entre to green building came through cost analysis – making the business case for green building. Based on this work, the federal government increased budgets for capital projects which impacted billions of dollars in federal work and supported the GSA’s commitment to green the federal workplace.  Thankfully, today that cost premium for most green building has all but disappeared.

Making an economic case for green building

Since joining Skanska, I’ve collaborated – most notably with my preconstruction colleague Steve Clem – on more than a dozen studies exploring the cost and benefits of building more sustainable buildings. This research, supported by the success of real projects, continuously reinforces my belief that building more sustainably means building better. The most elegant solutions come when the entire project team collaborates, when the initial and life-cycle costs of projects are in balance, and when we dare to look at the potential of new materials, new systems and new strategies that question commonly-held beliefs.

Heider and Ferguson 1

At Climate Week 2014, Beth joined George Ferguson, mayor of the city of Bristol, UK, a 2015 European Green Capital, to advocate for net zero buildings.

As an industry, we have come a long way in terms of connecting the dots between the bottom line and the impact of sustainability, but we can – and must – continue to do better. Just this past year, Skanska partnered with the World Green Building Council on a major global research effort to establish common ways of measuring health and productivity benefits arising from green buildings, and to provide best practice guidance on the types of green building features that enhance them. We found that a range of factors – from air quality and lighting, to views of nature and interior layout – can affect the health, satisfaction and job performance of office workers, and in turn, the bottom line of a business. It’s this kind of quantitative advocacy that has changed the conversation about not only what, but the way, we build.

1_Bi1399_rgb_Omslag_5Beth led the push for Skanska to pursue LEED Platinum certification at our offices in the Empire State Building, demonstrating that green retrofits can both save money and reduce a space’s environmental impact. 

In 2008, Skanska decided to refurbish our flagship offices in the Empire State Building to LEED Platinum. We wanted to show that environmentally responsible and energy efficient renovation is possible even in a historic skyscraper. Our 32nd-floor office is the first in the Empire State Building to obtain LEED Platinum certification. Skanska now benefits from a 58 percent reduction in electricity costs compared to our prior office, and we are on track to save over half a million dollars in operational costs over the life of our lease. We also tracked sick leave as an indicator of health and workplace productivity. In our first two years of occupancy, our sick leave dropped between 15 percent and 18 percent over our previous offices. This was by design.

Learning from other green leaders

One of the highlights of my career was serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Green Building Council. Two great chairwomen preceded me: Gail Vittori and Rebecca Flora, each with different skillsets. This was also the first time in my entire 30-plus-year career I worked with female leaders. Collaborating with the amazing and talented USGBC staff on a variety of committees and work groups during that first term I learned the power of USGBC’s engine and I saw that strength multiply under CEO Rick Fedrizzi and COO Mahesh Ramanujam. That preparation and collaboration emboldened me to lead according to my own compass.

Today, as chief sustainability officer, my job is to translate into action Skanska’s commitment to sustainability and constantly seek out pragmatic and useful ways to impact and measure the triple bottom line.

In talking about sustainability, it’s not just thinking about better buildings but how we build those buildings that matters. I was drawn to Skanska because of the company’s commitments to ethics, and because Skanska provided an opportunity to take the important green work I had done with the federal government into the field. This emphasis on ethics expanded to embrace the concept of the triple bottom line: maximizing positive effects on humans, the planet and the economy.

Looking ahead 

What’s the future look like? It is projects like the Bertschi School Science Classroom and the Brock Environmental Center that not only look to achieve net-zero energy or water but also serve as a model for living responsibly with nature and each other.

Beth’s insights helped the Chesapeake Bay Foundation position its Brock Environmental Center project in Virginia Beach, Va., for Living Building Challenge certification

The biggest challenge in my career as a green advocate has been confronting honestly held but incompletely informed beliefs and complacency. What a shame it would be if we saved billions of dollars in energy costs and health care costs and enhanced productivity, only to find out that human activity had less of an impact on global climate change than we had thought! Regardless of your position on climate change, enhancing energy and water efficiency and enhancing human wellness and productivity through better buildings represent one of the greatest economic opportunities of our lifetime. And if you believe the vast majority of the scientific community, we need to get busy and embrace this opportunity now. If climate change and unhealthy materials were perceived to be as much of a threat to humanity as World War II, I believe that we would find a way to address the threat and create economic prosperity. Population projections alone are reason enough to encourage conservation. If we are going to ensure that our planet can support a burgeoning population, sustainability must be our priority.


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Elizabeth Heider

posted by Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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Learning about safety from those to whom it matters most

Last week was Safety Week, one of my favorite times of the year. There is nothing more important to me, to Skanska and to the rest of the construction industry than safety, so that’s why seven days filled with extra efforts to create awareness about safety and to increase the focus on eliminating accidents is so meaningful to me.

I definitely hope you took every opportunity to participate in Safety Week events in your area, either on jobsites or at offices. I was happy to get out to some of our projects to talk about safety – and more importantly, to learn how we can improve at being safe. At each site, I made sure to talk with not just our project team, but also with many craft workers. Skanska is emphasizing the need for proper safety planning for each day’s activities, so that people approach their work with a fresh set of eyes and don’t get complacent. Craft workers are on the front lines, so it’s critical that they understand the importance of pre-task plans.


Those conversations will stick with me. Pre-task planning involves paperwork, and I wasn’t sure if crews were feeling overwhelmed by the paper. But nearly all the workers I spoke with told me they weren’t. One of our electricians at one of our New York University projects said it best: “Pre-task planning is a necessary part of the job. It’s good – it makes you aware of what you’re supposed to be doing.” A few years ago, crews were telling me the opposite, that the paperwork was a hassle. It’s great that craft workers are now champions of the need for these checks and balances, and are seeing the benefits.

Crews also told me how important it is that pre-task plans are communicated:  not just throughout the crew doing that particular activity, but to crews doing adjacent work as well. If everyone understands what is going on, they can keep themselves out of harm’s way. I also heard about the effectiveness of programs – like that at our Bayonne Bridge project – that regularly bring together project management and craft workers to discuss what those workers need to do their jobs as safely and as efficiently as possible. That’s the kind of teamwork and understanding that leads to successful projects.

Additionally, craft workers spoke of how helpful it is to have images that aid in understanding upcoming project activities. We’re doing some of that already, and will soon be doing more through a safety platform we plan to roll out later this year, as well as through greater use of virtual design and construction models. Such images are particularly beneficial to those who speak English as a second language.


I left these Safety Week visits inspired. Again and again, I met people who were enthused and engaged about safety. People like Lee McPhie, a carpenter with Local 926, who said: “I try to set an example with how I work. We all keep each other safe.” That’s the kind of mindset everyone needs to have for the construction industry to stop hurting people.

There’s no reason our industry can’t be safer. There’s no reason everyone can’t go home the same way they went to work in the morning. And the lesson I ask everyone to take away from this Safety Week is that proper pre-task planning is the tool we need to be injury free, every day and everywhere.

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Richard Cavallaro

posted by Richard Cavallaro

President and CEO, Skanska USA

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Improved safety, greater efficiency and more – What’s not to like about ergonomics?

A Skanska vice president of environment, health and safety, Jennifer McMullen is also a certified professional ergonomist. For this third day of Safety Week – over which Skanska is focusing on how safety must be central both on and off the job – we spoke with her about how ergonomics ties in with safety and productivity.

What’s something key that people don’t understand about ergonomics?

Jennifer McMullenMuch of ergonomics deals with awareness of body positioning and posture. In many situations, we tend to place our bodies in awkward positions while performing tasks without challenging the need to do so: We accept the manner in which materials, work surfaces and tools are presented to us and tend to work around these versus questioning if we are able to go about it in a better way.

The general reason people behave this way is that we value time, and this value tends to drive our behavior. The quandary is even though you may be saving a few minutes your body will become fatigued much more quickly if you are requiring it to do more work than is necessary. Or worse, you could be injured while taking a shortcut.

The key is to be aware of which postures are conducive to the least amount of work for your body. When presented with a task, take the time to think about how to maintain a neutral posture while doing so. The construction industry has an opportunity to educate our workforce on what good body positioning looks like, and to embed ergonomics-related hazards into the pre-task planning process, just as we would any other potential workplace hazard.

How can ergonomics improve health and productivity?

Ergonomics is essentially the study of work, and is the ultimate continuous process improvement tool. The thought is, if we make the task easier for people to perform, they will be more efficient and make fewer mistakes while doing the task. Here is an example: Why don’t we enjoy taking out the garbage? For one thing, it smells! But also, it’s often difficult to pull the liner bag out of the trash can in our house and carry the bag to the bigger trash can that we often have outside.

How would ergonomics play into this seemingly mundane task? Did you know if you make a breather hole on the side of the trash can, this allows the liner to be removed easier when full? This helps to minimize the difficult lift. Now let’s talk about the carry portion of the task: If you live in an area with a lot of rain, it’s a good idea to stage your larger container in a covered area and in close proximity to the smaller can, in order to minimize the carry distance.

My point is: transform a task you are required to perform every week – or even more frequently – into something that takes less of your time, is easier to do, and is less of a burden on you to perform.

How does ergonomics impact safety, especially in the office where risks may appear to be low?

Few risks may be apparent in an office environment, but ergonomics-related injuries such as tendonitis and muscle strain are prevalent with computer use. The primary reason for that is office workers have the tendency to ignore symptoms and assume they will go away without changing the major factors contributing to those injuries, or they assign the discomfort to something other than what they do at work every day. Ergonomics-related discomfort in the office is typically caused by:

- Improper wrist posture while using mouse (using a wrist-dominant motion versus a whole arm motion)
- Resting on the elbow or planting the elbow on a hard surface while working
- A mismatch between work surface and seated work height, which creates awkward body posture
- Prolonged static loading of muscles such as over-reaching for commonly used devices, such as the keyboard and mouse
- Sustained awkward posture of the spine due to inadequate chair adjustment

Keep in mind that office workers generally experience these types of injuries due to the sustained nature of their work.

What are some best practices of ergonomics in construction?

SkanskaPre-83 SM

The factory-like indoor conditions used to prefabricate building systems and components provide more ergonomically friendly and safer working conditions.

We need to focus more on ergonomics in construction. The construction industry as a whole is lacking on the application of ergonomics in the field, although a large majority of our more impactful injuries continue to occur during material handling – lifting, pushing, pulling and carrying material – and tool use. This is a huge opportunity in the construction industry, not only for reducing injuries, but also to improve process efficiency and work quality.

There are some bright spots, however. By embracing prefabrication and modular construction – as Skanska is doing – benefits to workers include operating in factory-like environments that offer improved safety and more comfortable working positions: less work at heights or on the ground is required.

Another good example is that power tool manufacturers continue to add features and adjust designs in ways that reduce vibration. So many tools vibrate in some way, and over time this can have negative impacts on their operators. Growing recognition of the health impacts of vibration will continue to drive such improvements.

In general though, it can seem like the construction industry tends to turn a blind eye to this issue, even though the data is compelling and would suggest otherwise.

How much potential does ergonomics have for construction?

Ergonomics can help construction eliminate double handling of materials, minimize travel distances, reduce lifting and eliminate non-value add manual processes: all of these aspects will not only reduce injuries, but also make us more efficient as an industry. With so many important benefits, what’s not to like about ergonomics?


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How technology is improving project safety

It may not be something the average person thinks about on a daily basis, but technology plays an important role in making our lives safer. For instance, Volvo – the Swedish-based company and leader in automotive safety – recently stated that its goal for 2020 is “that no one is killed or injured in a Volvo.” This may seem like a lofty goal, but the development of crash avoidance and predictive technologies – along with other innovative safety features – make this a realistic target. Skanska believes that technology is critical to eliminating deaths and injuries on construction projects too.

One technology that we see as key to achieving our Injury-Free Environment® goal is building information modeling. Multi-dimensional BIM models clearly convey what is to be built: this improves design and construction efficiency, but more importantly BIM helps enable safer construction processes and provide for safer operation and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure. These latter two aspects are part of a far-reaching approach called “Safety by Design,” which focuses on considering safety impacts when making design selections.

Identifying trip hazards virtually

Building information models can help identify safety risks during design, so they can be eliminated instead of just mitigated. Here, a trip hazard has been identified virtually.

“Safety should be considered from the beginning of design – safety as it relates to occupants of the building and for those who operate and maintain the building, as well as safety for those who construct the building,” said David Korman, environment, health and safety director.

Added Albert Zulps, virtual design and construction regional director: “We can help plan for a safer project even before we break ground.”

The benefits of focusing on safety in design can be tremendous, as at that early project phase risks can be eliminated, instead of having to be mitigated. For instance, designing an exterior facade that can be fully installed from inside the building – rather than via exterior scaffolding or aerial lifts – reduces the potential for an accident. Likewise, making the choice early on that if a valve must be located high in the ceiling, that it’s provided with a chain wheel to allow operation from the ground – rather than requiring a facilities professional to reach it while high on a ladder – also reduces accident risk. BIM is an important part of testing such design options with safety in mind.

Such virtual models continue to deliver benefits into construction. For instance, a model can help ensure that a structural frame is properly braced all throughout the erection process. And by using a 4-D animation of construction sequencing, the location of cranes can be optimized to minimize overhead risk and conflicts with such hazards as overhead high tension wires. Additional ways BIM can enhance construction safety include creating virtual safety tours; enhanced site planning for egress, emergency routing and first aid; project-wide safety planning; pre-task planning; and investigating accidents when they do happen.

Other types of project technologies are also evolving rapidly. Before too long, safety will be improved by the wide use of everything from augmented reality to wearable technology. For example, safety information and hazard notification may be overlaid on safety goggles in real time, along with 3-D model information and analytics. With this, a worker walking through a space will quickly know key aspects of the surroundings, both now and in the future. Also, as wearable technologies become more prevalent, GPS location devices may link to 3-D site models to alert both the worker and the site safety team of potential dangers, and to track activity for continual optimization of construction site safety.

In June, Dave and Albert will present at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ Safety 2015 conference in Dallas on “Virtual Design and Construction for Safer Construction Projects.” Their presentation will overview how models and data can be used to enhance safety on construction projects and during operations. They will highlight examples from Skanska projects, and discuss what is on the horizon to improve construction safety using current and future technology.

We hope to see you there!

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Safety isn’t just for construction sites

Safety should be a way of life for us all. The tenets of our Injury-Free® Environment mindset mean bringing safety with you wherever you go. Here, we illustrate the ways that everyone can live a safer life:


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