Expert Commentary

Reframe Risk with Daily Planning Conversations

As early as 1931,1 the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) was considered a safety best practice intended to enhance the safety and health outcomes by breaking down hazards in advance, giving the person performing the work the opportunity to avoid harm. The JHA process became a focal point for safety professionals to ensure a safe workplace.


Leadership at All Levels
March 2022

In an everchanging environment like construction, the JHA aims to proactively identify the steps in a task, assess the risk level of each step, and take appropriate action to control the risk.2 If performed regularly and effectively, pretask JHA can enhance safety and health outcomes on construction jobsites.3

For purposes of this article, we expand the JHA process to include all other acronyms for a similar safety process focused on planning the day and identifying hazards before work. We include JHA, THA, AHA, PTP, etc. The research and outcome apply to the generic JHA process.

By adjusting the lens from the JHA to Daily Planning Conversations (DPC), for the first time, construction leaders have an opportunity to provide a powerful reflection of employee engagement, activity preparation, and organizational culture. Historically, despite the importance of the intended outcome, the JHA remains an inconsistent compliance process, leading to undetected, hidden hazards on projects. The DPC provides an opportunity to reframe how the construction industry looks at risk by measuring the effectiveness of leadership communication, resulting in actions that improve preplanning and prevent incidents. Utilizing modern technologies, including natural language processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, risk managers and senior executives can measure communication effectiveness.

With the best of intentions, the JHA activity was implemented on construction sites to prevent injuries and prepare people for work. Field operations did their best to complete it, but as one superintendent mentioned, "We spent time each morning completing the JHA and having people sign it. Nothing ever came from it. It seemed like a big waste of time."

Over time, it became an administrative burden doing little to raise awareness of the real hazards workers meaningfully will likely face as they complete their tasks for the day. To change this dynamic, Jordan Foster Construction (JFC) and over two dozen contractors embarked on a journey to change the process. JFC's Risk Department partnered with SmartTagIt to study and explore the current state of the JHA process. Was our process broken? If so, what impactful measures could we take to fix it?

The Historical Journey of the JHA Process

Twenty-five years ago, the relatively new safety profession consisted of process-minded professionals creating physical controls, barriers, and compliance processes in mostly fixed locations designed to prevent or protect those closest to the work from harm. Compliance was the goal, and discipline, documentation, and procedures were the tools to achieve it. Safety professionals were often physically present in stagnant work environments such as manufacturing, implementing regulatory-based processes, and ensuring compliance. Safety professionals measured success by looking at historical incident rates and the number of reports generated.

The traditional safety approach never really fit the construction industry. Construction safety professionals worked diligently to create management systems and repeatable training and checklists-based processes to be applied over multiple sites to influence safe field-level behaviors and prevent incidents. Construction safety professionals faced a significant challenge as work spread over various locations with different trades and an everchanging risk profile as projects morphed each hour until they became the final structure. 

Approximately 20 years ago, technology advancements allowed paper-based safety systems to become automated, trending checklist compliance. One tool that evolved out of our compliance-based safety processes that remains today is the JHA procedure. The JHA was one of the first safety compliance strategies designed to plan the work to prevent accidents.

While it's undeniable that the JHA can be a powerful safety tool to reduce injury effectively, JHAs are often regarded as meaningless paperwork, only reviewed when faced with a citation or a lawsuit.

Safety Professional

In 1931, as society began to contemplate holding egregious employers responsible for employee welfare on the job, H.W. Heinrich recommended using what is now known as the JHA process to prevent injuries. Mr. Heinrich first formally described what we currently identify as a JHA in the 1931 publication of his book Industrial Accident Prevention: a Scientific Approach. Mr. Heinrich opined, "[Job analysis] will break the job down into its several constituent operations and show the hazards of each so that the latter may be recognized in advance and made known to the employee and so that he may be fully instructed in avoiding them." With this backdrop in place, the JHA became the practice to facilitate a safe work environment.

As time passed, too often, the JHA lost its effectiveness as the attention moved from knowledge transfer, dialogue, and heightened awareness to another ignored checklist completed for the singular purpose of compliance. A CPWR study4 identified several challenges in creating meaningful JHA processes. Both craft workers and field supervisors did not buy into the JHA process, creating a significant issue with its efficacy. Some crew members may perceive JHAs as unnecessary paperwork with aggressive schedules and multiple competing responsibilities, especially if they appear wordy, complicated, or time-consuming. Respondents also noted that JHA forms were frequently "pencil whipped" or completed superficially without digesting and understanding the content. More experienced craft workers perceived that the completed JHA documents would sit unused on a bookshelf or get lost in the process or discarded.

There is a consensus in multiple industries, including construction, health care, and manufacturing that JHA is most effective when it actively involves the workers performing the task. Yet, research supports the JHA process. Studies5 found that the crew's frequency of prework hazard identification positively correlated with project safety performance and reduced the injury rate. Other research findings also suggest that spending more time communicating hazards with workers on jobsites is associated with a lower incident rate.6

While it's undeniable that the JHA can be a powerful safety tool to reduce injury effectively, JHAs are often regarded as meaningless paperwork, only reviewed when faced with a citation or a lawsuit.

The Safety Professional's Predicament

Historically, the safety professional assumes the role of the JHA champion, the one carrying the torch. Safety professionals have the JHA implementation and compliance resting squarely on their shoulders. In speaking to safety professional colleagues, there seem to be three categories that summarize what safety professionals think about the JHA process.

  • Champion. Their organizations have a robust and engaging communication process. The JHA process is a daily planning conversation integrated into the operations team. The operation and safety team devotes time each day for the activity.
  • At-risk. They have created a written document, perhaps a few years ago. They may even have prefilled-out daily task list forms. Unfortunately, the forms tend to become outdated and may not be sufficiently comprehensive to deal with actual field exposures. The operations team collects the signatures. The safety team checks the forms for signatures during their inspection process. They may engage in dialogue from time to time with the field. The field completes the forms because they have to, but no one understands why.
  • Unengaged. These safety professionals have decided to forego the JHA process. They grew weary over checklists, which are only reviewed after an incident. Maybe they never had one in the first place, or the process came back to bite them when it failed. They are tired of persuading the field to "pencil whip" the process. They believe they have to "pick their battles" to succeed, and the JHA is not worth it.

The unintended consequence of a checklist-based JHA process is that we lost our focus on the opportunity for human connection. One safety professional said it best, "We have worked hard to fix the JHA activity for years, but we missed the mark. Trying to 'coach' people on their written document is frustratingly ineffective."

Purpose of the JHA

The study aimed to address the challenges with JHA's and explore how to regain our focus transfer of knowledge through conversations and improve human connection. The first step is to examine whether the JHA concept adds value. Why are we doing them? Is it an owner requirement or a best practice where we can measure an expected outcome, or is it an outdated compliance tool that lingers from good past intentions?

  • Abandon. We explored abandoning the process altogether. How would it impact our company if we no longer did JHAs? Would we lose work because of it? Would we be eligible for safety awards highlighting industry best practices? How would it impact the field? Was a compliance form better than nothing?
  • Status quo. What if we leave it as is? Our safety team worked very hard to get us to this point, so isn't it good enough? A few years ago, we spent time creating an easier-to-use, automated checklist in our integrated software. We also merged the JHA forms with the daily operational reports. We made a completion requirement by job title and created a performance metric. We documented, trained, and measured. The results showed that while we increased the usage of the report, compliance was, at best, average. What more do we as a safety team want? It is good enough, and we are sticking to it. Without a better alternative, this felt at the time like the best choice.
  • Change. Despite our best efforts, it was not good enough. It was benchmarking with all industry best practices, but there were leading indicators that it just wasn't meeting our expectations. In an incident, invariably, the JHA didn't address the conditions that contributed to the loss. We could now track our compliance, and we were not consistently meeting the minimum requirement. The field was spending time having everyone sign the forms, and the safety team was checking that they were complete, but we were not gleaning any information out of the process that would make us safer. We decided the only course of action was to explore change.

Change Management Process

The JFC Risk Team uses the Traction EOS System7 process to lead change. According to Traction author Gino Wickman, every organization has issues. What is important is creating an environment where people feel comfortable talking about it and calling them out. JFC applied the 3 Step Issue Solving Track.

  1. Identify
  2. Discuss
  3. Solve

Identify

The JFC Risk team explored the purpose of the JHA process. From the inception of our JHA process over 10 years ago, our lens focused on following the typical recommended a 4-step process, including the following.

  1. The specific job steps needed to complete the job,
  2. The hazard or hazards involved with each step, and
  3. The safety measures used to avoid the hazard in each step
  4. Document participation in the process.

By asking the question, "What was the purpose of the JHA process?" was our purpose to create paperwork and achieve compliance? We measured success by tracking the number of JHAs completed. By creating automated forms, requiring signatures, and measuring the number completed by title, we inadvertently created a static, paper-based process focused on collecting the paperwork—online or otherwise.

We identified that we wanted the JHA to result in knowledge transfer through communication, relationship building, and mentorship. By focusing on the form, we had inadvertently created an ineffective, inefficient process designed for compliance and box checking.

Discuss

The second step in the EOS change process is to discuss. The discussion step is everyone's opportunity to say what they have to say about an issue and get everything out on the table. Our safety team thought the system was broken, but we needed to hear from the field.

Over the last 2 years, JFC implemented a Field Safety Leader (FSL) program. The FSL team was composed of our field associates who others naturally gravitated toward after a daily huddle to ask for advice. Most of them started in the field and had experience being on the receiving end of the JHA process. We intentionally created our field leadership development process by meeting monthly and providing a combination of safety training coupled with Giant Worldwide Leadership and communication education. The FSL program structure included a mission, vision, values, and intended outcome.

  • Mission. The FSL program's mission is to develop safety knowledge and leadership skills to engage and mentor our field labor force.
  • Vision. Protect our workforce from harm and continuously elevate the JFC safety culture.
  • Values. Caring, servant leadership, passion for our work, engagement, service to our crews and community.
  • Intended outcome. The FSL will become trusted advisers for crews to raise awareness and increase their safety focus. The knowledge and awareness they gain will be passed on to their fellow crew members to play an active role in elevating the safety focus on every JFC project.

The FSL is involved and responsible for delivering the JHA each day. So, we enlisted the help of a selected group of members of the FSL to discuss our JHA process. We received the following feedback.

  • We make sure the forms are signed and put in the system.
  • It takes too long to fill out the forms.
  • We complete the checklist and read it to everyone on the crew.

These comments validated the safety team's suspicions. We confirmed that the purpose or intent of the JHA was to discuss the high hazard risks and make sure everyone on the crew is aware, ready, and well informed on how to perform their tasks safely. What we heard was the following.

  • The process leads to pencil whipping.
  • The measurement was based on frequency, not the quality of conversation.
  • Once the JHA was completed, we did nothing with it.

The process validated that our JHA process needed work. We all agreed that we were invested in the JHA process. We needed to fix it. The next step was to determine what we would do about it and solve the problem.

Solve

In the book Traction, Mr. Wickman provides a 10-step process for solving an issue.8 The Safety team and FSL groups realized what needed to change was shifting the lens from the event itself, completing a form, to focus on how our team delivered the event.

We partnered with FactorLab (SmartTagIt) to experiment with shifting the JHA process to a Daily Planning Conversation. SmartTagIt is an application developed to improve the engagement and quality of potentially high-impact safety systems like the JHA. Rather than focusing exclusively on a static checklist, SmartTagIt provided a way to capture conversations leveraging video, natural language processing, and machine learning. According to FactorLab CEO Barry Nelson, "DPC is a high impact, effective way to empower crews to speak up, recognize, and protect each other." Effective DPCs are two-way dialogues, not top-down lectures. SmartTagIt and their customers developed the Simple Seven.9 The Simple Seven is a starting framework that organizations can use as a place to start thinking about what a good daily planning conversation may include. The seven components include the following.

  • Back-and-forth communication. The conversation is two-way, not a lecture.

    1. Leader engagement. The person leading the conversation asks the crew questions that prompt thoughtful responses, not canned replies.

    2. Participant engagement. Multiple crew members answer questions, ask new ones, and respond to each other.

  • Cover all the bases. During an effective DPC, the leader covers the plans for the day and makes sure everyone understands the expectations for the work at hand. How do they achieve this?

    3. Planning and work. As well as talking about hazards, the leader covers the day's work and expectations.

    4. Question quality. The leader's questions encourage meaningful responses that move the conversation forward and establish a common understanding.

  • Move past compliance to care. In the most successful DPCs, the leader makes an effort to foster trust, convey respect, and promote authentic sharing amongst all the participants. Ultimately, this reinforces the safety culture.

    5. Active caring. The leader demonstrates genuine interest in the conversation, uses words like "please" and "thank you," and makes people feel comfortable speaking up and participating without fear of judgment.

  • Discuss risks, both big and small. They get everyone to talk about what's needed to keep each other safe, injury-free, and going home at the end of the day.

    6. Real hazards. The leader addresses the hazards related to the day's work and encourages others to add to the discussion and report unsafe conditions or behaviors.

    7. High hazards. Everyone is made aware of those hazards and ensures controls are in place to avoid serious injury or fatality.

Everyone Speaks, but Not Everyone Is Heard

Everyone speaks in a typical construction environment, but not everyone is heard, especially in the field where team members are exposed to hazards every minute. It occurred to the JFC Risk Team that the seven components of an effective DPC aligned directly with the leadership communication strategies covered in the FSL program. The FSLs undertake the Giant World Wide "Sherpa" Leadership program. The curriculum includes a toolbox of concepts designed to create a common leadership language throughout the organization. For example, the Clarity Tool is designed to recognize that one of the most important objectives for the people you lead is clarity because it leads to effective action. Action generates results. But too often, it's impossible to know if our plan is clear. The clarity tool provides an easy checklist to help filter our communication to ensure it is memorable, powerful, and valuable to create meaningful results. The three questions are "Is it simple, scalable, and sustainable?"

Simple. Simple plans are easily communicated clearly to others. They reduce friction or excuses for lack of execution.

Scalable. Allow you to grow smoothly and avoid unnecessary problems.

Sustainable. The plans continue to add value, generate meaningful results, and reduce the risk of burning out people.

Our JHA process would fail without total clarity and never meet our expectations. Clarity isn't just about clearly telling how many JHAs to do in a week and which software to utilize. True clarity and meaningful results mean delivering the JHA in a collaborative approach inviting our people into the conversation, empowering them to ask questions, and getting their input, creating opportunities to maximize our team's effectiveness.

Solve—Phase 1: Shifting the Lens from Compliance to Connection

We realized we needed to imagine a different vision and outcome to solve the problem. The JHA was so much more than a form requiring a signature. It's an opportunity for conversation and connection, and it conveyed more than the task preparation and hazards.

We asked the FSL leaders to download SmartTagIt and begin recording their JHAs in the app. The results were immediate. Every team member completed several JHAs within the first week of implementation. Our previous data showed that our workforce averaged 2.9 JHAs per week per job. We are now capturing an average of four per week. More importantly, the FSL and the project teams enjoyed it. FSL feedback included the following.

  • It's easy to use.
  • We are getting our people to think differently and hear what challenges they face each day.
  • It made my job easier.
  • We can see our people putting in the effort to be prepared for the work.
  • We were no longer focused on paper pushing and lectures. We are using the time to discuss safety and the overall plan for the day.
  • It's a better way to prepare for the hazards.

A few common challenges included some hesitation of the FSL members and team to be on video and some concerns over changing the process. Surprisingly, there were virtually no issues with using the app itself. It was easy to download and self-explanatory because it looks and feels like social media.

The pilot went so well we asked executive team members to use the app. Using comments, the executive team can engage directly with the field and see firsthand through video what is going on each day.

Solve—Phase 2: Creating Conversations

The next step was to provide coaching by sharing best practices and creating two-way conversations by getting the field engaged in the conversation. The focus became shifting from the JHA to a DPC. By shifting the lens from the JHA to a compelling DPC, the DPC provided insight into how the FSL leads their teams and aligns with our culture. We confirmed that the DPC conveyed respect, trust, and the value of planning for safety. Also noteworthy was engaging the workforce to actively participate in the conversation—creating two-way dialogue and confirmation of knowledge transfer. Our field employees began to join in the discussions using interactive, two-way conversations to discuss and plan the day's work.

We expected the improvement in communication to be limited to the individual JHA events. We observed that the communication opportunity extended to leadership, recognition systems, and safety system improvement discussions that empowered the safety team. For the first time, we could trend the engagement point frequency and the effectiveness of the conversation and coach for people to improve.

Findings

The safety team identified an opportunity for improvement in our DPC activity. We found that our teams focused on hazard protection through personal protective equipment rather than preventing the high-risk hazard itself. For example, 2 years ago, the safety team identified a frequency issue related to line strikes. We realized that other exposures, like line strike potential, may be overlooked. We assembled a focused team to address how to prevent and educate around the exposure. We created a blended learning line strike prevention training program for all team members and trade partners.

Our efforts reduced our incidents by 63 percent, but we still have the issue. Is it possible that our problem was not hazard recognition? Was our issue derived from communication? Could we improve how our FSL leaders think differently about engaging their teams in a conversation on line strike prevention? We asked the FSL to focus on the line strike process during the DPC. The focus allowed us to confirm that our field team understood the process and were actively following the steps. We can now measure the leading indicator of preparation rather than focusing solely on the lagging indicator of a line strike.

What We Have Learned

Exploring how to improve our JHA process has resulted in several key learning opportunities for everyone in our organization, including the following.

  • Culture flows from our operational leaders to the field. How we communicate is essential.
  • The JHA is not a hermetically sealed event. Information comes out of this event that transcends the event. Communication styles matter and convey trust, respect, perceived safety values, and relationships.
  • The JHA is an excellent way to gauge our leadership performance and identify where we need to adjust our approach to reinforce and build resilient defenses.
  • A good conversation doesn't take a lot of time. The best DPCs are under 5 minutes.
  • We must intentionally teach people how to lead and communicate. Video provides tangible examples and peer-to-peer learning on how to improve.
  • Most operational leaders want to make a difference. Unfortunately, sometimes we fail to find ways to have the impact they desire and need. By asking our operations leaders to do two simple things, they can easily have a tangible effect that transcends this activity. Rather than provide "coaching," we ask them to do the following.
    • Set the expectation that their teams will have conversations we are proud enough to share.
    • Provide heartfelt recognition to leaders who endeavor to improve how they engage with their teams during this brief daily activity.
  • For safety professionals, there is nothing more valuable than delivering real value, cultivating relationships, and healthy conversations. Our safety team is now equipped to have more meaningful interaction during their time in the field. They can coach from what they observe in SmartTagIt. Coaching examples include the following.
    • How can I help you with the complex issue you mentioned this morning?
    • I heard/saw you were working on X today and that Joe was not paying attention.
    • Where is X? I want to check on them.
    • I heard you needed X, so I stopped by the shop and got one.
    • You are doing a great job building trust with the team. I love how they are opening up and talking with you.
    • That looks like a tricky pour. Let me reroute my plan for the day and be nearby if you need a hand.
    • I see that you are having the new guys lead the discussion now—great job helping them understand the purpose of this activity.
    • I have been listening to your last 5–6 JHAs and have noticed a pattern I want to share with others. Would you mind?
  • The paper or automated electronic JHA process is insufficient and misses the opportunity to do the following.
    • Learn about ourselves as a leadership team or organization versus learning about them.
    • Encourage self-exploration to become a better communicator by collaborating and imitating others. The old saying "Imitation is the best form of flattery" rings true.
    • Establish clear expectations supported by examples and coaching around opportunities for improvement.
    • Determine if the field leadership conveys caring and respect.
    • Is anyone having the slightest hint of fun with this activity?

Conclusion

The safety professional and technology's role has evolved in the last 2 decades. Leaders must challenge static procedures that no longer serve their intended purpose to create a safer workplace. It is time to intentionally focus on ways to change not only the construction industry but the overall safety and risk management industry. By slightly shifting the JHA process lens to a DPC, we can create lasting change, reduce risk, and measure our culture of care initiatives.

Explore any checklist paper-based process, even those that have been automated, with a fresh set of eyes and dare to dig deeper and ask difficult questions about what you want from the activity. Explore the future state and embrace new technology methods that no longer rely on static forms or checking boxes. We can no longer accept the status quo as it distracts from the greater intention of creating safe workplaces for everyone. Focusing on people rather than checklists will always reduce risk and improve the overall outcome.


1 Babak Memarian , Sara B. Brooks, and Jean Christophe Le, Obstacles and Solutions to Implementing Job Hazard Analysis in Construction: A Case Study, CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, Hallowell & Gambatese, 2009.

2 Ophr Rozenfeld, Rafael Sacks, Yehiel Rosenfeld, and Hadassa Baum, "Construction Job Safety Analysis," Safety Science, 48(4), pp. 491–498, April 2010.

3 Matthew Hallowell and John Gambatese, "Construction Safety Risk Mitigation,"  Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 135(12), pp. 1316–1323, December 2009.

4 Babak Memarian, Sara B. Brooks, and Jean Christophe Le, Obstacles and Solutions to Implementing Job Hazard Analysis in Construction: a Case Study, CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.

5 Albrechtsen, 2019; Glenn, 2011; Jones et al., 2020; Morris & Wachs, 2003; Ramsay et al., 2006. Razuri et al. (2007) 2 B. MEMARIAN ET AL.

6 Chang et al., 2019.

7 Gino Wickman, Traction, Benbella Books, Inc., pp. 136–141, 2011.

8 Wickman, pp. 142–145.

9 "The Simple Seven: the Essential Elements of Strong Safety Planning Conversations," FacrtorLab, January 11, 2021.


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