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    • Protect the environment. Think before you print.

Gilbane’s uncompromising commitment to project safety

April 17, 2016

Every day, construction workers are exposed to on-the-job hazards. Companies like Gilbane, one of the largest builders and developers in the world, are committed to helping make the job site safe.


Founded in 1873, Gilbane has grown to be one of the largest builders and developers in the world, employing more than 2,600 people and operating through more than 50 offices worldwide. At the core of its business is the belief that everyone benefits from a safe and secure work environment: employees, clients, partners and the public. This safety culture is called “Gilbane Cares” and has been saving lives since the company’s inception.

For example, Gilbane requires above-OSHA fall protection on its projects. “In the last five years, because our contractors and crews have accepted our high standards, we have saved 19 lives in falls that could have been fatal,” says Tony O’Dea, Vice President and Corporate Safety Director.

“We pay extremely close attention to making sure our safety policies are implemented on each project and with all our subcontractors,” O’Dea explains.

Some of the Gilbane best practices on safety implementation include:

  • Site logistics plans
    O’Dea explains that each project has its own unique hazards, layouts and organization. Developing a customized plan and updating it throughout the life of the project demonstrates to workers that safety is a key priority for management. “You can’t over-organize and over-communicate, especially where multiple contractors are installing segments of work in the same space.”

  • Personalized safety orientations
    For each project’s safety orientation, special attention is paid to the roles and responsibilities each person plays to ensure safety. Gilbane foremen make a point to ask that everyone puts their first name on their hardhats. “It makes people feel part of a larger team and encourages more personal interaction on the site,” O’Dea explains.

  • Paying close attention to new workers in the first 30 days
    Studies have shown that workers are most in danger in their first 30 days on a jobsite, which account for the greatest number of injuries. Gilbane keeps tabs on where new workers are placed on the jobsite, especially to avoid assigning only new workers to a particular activity. At the end of 30 days, new workers are interviewed on safety behaviors and emergency procedures, and are awarded with a special sweatshirt upon successfully answering the questions.

  • Drug and alcohol testing
    Gilbane works closely with the unions and subcontractors to develop respectful and confidential drug testing approaches, both within a week of a worker’s start date and through random testing throughout the project.  The company is supportive of rehabilitation and allows workers to return once the outpatient program has been completed.

  • Transparent relationships with risk engineers
    “Our safety success is strongly connected to the loss-control methods that Zurich risk engineers have developed with us,” explains O’Dea. What makes the risk management effective is that Gilbane is transparent with its safety inspection reports, providing Zurich with hazards by contractor and activity. “Our focus on safety can also benefit our clients through reduced insurance and bonding costs.”

It’s no surprise that with safety at the forefront of its operations, Gilbane was one of the leaders in developing Safety Week for the industry. Some of the Safety Week activities Gilbane sponsors within its organization include fire department roof rescue demonstrations, team challenges using EMT baskets, safety glove vendor showcases, and raising money for local charities that are important to employees and workers.

What does O’Dea advise to companies wanting to embed safety into their cultures? “Get everyone involved as a stakeholder. Treat them with professional respect. Keep in constant communication with each other to develop consensus and solutions.”