Moving the needle forward: Skanska and 3M™ collaborate to advance worker safety

Skanska and 3M, a world-leading manufacturer in fall protection, have worked together for over 16 years to improve safety in the construction industry. From trialing new products to sharing innovative ideas from front line workers, our teams are continually moving the needle forward. Thanks to this collaboration, 3M recently announced that their suspension trauma safety straps will now be included as a standard feature on all mainline 3M DBI-SALA® branded harnesses—and that’s just the start.

To learn more about this significant decision and the importance of collaboration across the industry, we sat down with 3M’s Tim Thompson, global new product marketing manager, and Skanska’s Paul Haining, chief environmental, health and safety (EHS) officer, for a quick Q&A.

How do fall protection harnesses work, and why are they critical to jobsite safety?

Paul: Fall protection harnesses keep workers safe when they’re working at height. The harness is secured by a decelerating lanyard to a pre-designed anchor point, and if the worker falls, it arrests them in an upright position until they’re rescued. The harness also helps distribute the force of the fall throughout the body, which reduces chances of injury.

As early as the design phase and throughout construction, we use the Hierarchy of Controls to plan for safe work. This process aims to eliminate risk by removing or controlling hazards. Our last line of defense is personal protective equipment (PPE), and, in many situations, we use fall protection harnesses. Falls are the leading cause of construction site fatalities, so this type of PPE is incredibly important.

What type of injuries can occur if a fall protection harness is activated, and how does the suspension trauma safety strap help avoid those injuries?

Tim: A potential hazard for a worker suspended upright by fall arrest equipment is orthostatic intolerance or suspension trauma. This is caused by restricted blood circulation and blood accumulating in the legs due to the force of gravity and lack of movement. It can lead to organ damage or even death, so it’s critical suspended workers be rescued quickly.

Suspension trauma safety straps lessen this risk. A pair of straps are attached to a fall harness at the hips. When a worker falls, they can uncoil the straps, hook them together and stand up, bracing their weight against the straps. This simple action takes weight off the arteries and restores blood circulation.

How did the decision to make suspension trauma safety straps a standard feature come about?

Paul: As part of any risk assessment and associated task specific work plan that requires the use of fall arrest systems, we legally must have a predesignated emergency retrieval plan in place. As part of those emergency plans, Skanska includes the use of suspension trauma safety straps. There was always a concern that they wouldn’t be available on a jobsite or an individual wouldn’t use them. However, neither of these options is acceptable when anyone wearing a harness can be exposed to harm if they aren’t rescued fast enough.

Tim: Skanska brought this concern to 3M because of our strong partnership—we listened and responded quickly. We’re implementing the safety straps on all ANSI- and CSA-certified harnesses across North America. This standard feature will improve safety not just in the construction industry, but many other sectors that use harnesses like wind, power, telecomm and mining. This is a significant improvement that will better protect so many people.

What’s in store for the future?

Tim: All remaining North American harnesses will have suspension trauma safety straps by the end of 2021, and our next big step will be rolling out this standardization globally for our EN-certified products, which are used throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America.

There’s also a lot of exciting work going on between 3M and Skanska. In the UK, we’ve partnered to test a hook that has sensory technology built-in, which will provide data and real-time feedback to improve safety on site. In the U.S., we’re discussing programs like Skanska’s safety project management platform, PlanIt, which can become a quick conduit of information and ideas from front line workers.

Why is the collaboration between Skanska and 3M important?

Paul: Skanska and 3M are connected culturally through our values, and both companies have developed inclusive cultures. Harnessing innovation only happens when you have work cultures that make safety a priority and allow people to be vocal and confident in sharing their ideas. In fact, the original idea for the DBI-Talon twin self-retracting lanyard systems came from a front line worker on a Skanska project in New York. He had adapted a single-leg self-retracting lanyard with a large pelican snaphook because he didn’t feel protected at all heights using the six-foot deceleration lanyard available at the time. He shared this solution with me, and we took the concept to 3M. They made his vision real and now it’s used industry-wide.

Tim: I agree that we are like-minded companies, and having similar cultures and a commitment to advancing safety has led to creative solutions. As a manufacturer, we design our products according to standards developed by groups like ANSI. 3M isn’t the end user—we need customer input and a likeminded partnership to address safety challenges in the industry.

What’s the value in construction companies, manufacturers and others in our industry collaborating on initiatives like this?

Paul: Collaborating across the supply chain and through groups like the Construction Industry Safety Initiative (CISI) moves the safety needle forward in our industry. At the end of the day, safety is not a competition, and working with our counterparts allows us to drive change effectively. This isn’t the first time we’ve collaborated across the industry to make a difference. In 2019, we recognized repetitive issues with mobile elevated work platforms (MEWP) leading to crush injuries and fatalities. We brought conceptual solutions to some manufacturers, but couldn’t get very far. We decided to bring the whole industry to the table and, through CISI, presented a petition to manufacturers. Now, anti-crush devices are standard features on most MEWPs.

This week we’re celebrating Skanska’s 16th annual Safety Week—which is now a national, industry-wide event. Why is this week important for the industry?

Paul: Safety Week strengthens the alignment and collaboration I mentioned earlier. Skanska had been holding a global Safety Week for 10 years when our USA CEO at the time decided that by engaging others in the industry in this event, we could significantly impact change. CISI, the Incident and Injury Free (IIF) CEO Forum, OSHA and many of our customers joined a Safety Week webinar, and it was decided afterward to make Safety Week an annual industry-wide event throughout the U.S. Now, over 70 global and national construction firms take part. It gives us an opportunity to rethink how we work and strategize together. Over the years, I’ve noticed that innovative ideas on how we can change the industry really come to light during Safety Week.

Along with celebrating Safety Week, 3M is holding a national Stand-Down to share the news and raise awareness about fall safety. What’s in store?

Tim: This will be quite the week for 3M and our reps across the U.S. We’ll be hosting online and in-person events that include educational training around fall protection and the trauma suspension safety straps. Our sales teams will host demonstrations at project sites to show workers how to properly use fall protection harnesses and the suspension straps, among other topics. Our main message will be the importance of fall protection and that the suspension straps are part of improving safety.

Why does construction safety need to continually progress, and how can companies like Skanska and 3M be part of that evolution?

Paul: Our latest statistics on construction fatalities in the U.S. are from 2018, when over 1,000 people died. Historically, we haven’t moved the needle much—over the last 20 years, there are consistently 700 to 1,000 fatalities annually. This is totally unacceptable. While there’s a concerted effort to improve safety, we still have a long way to go. That’s why industry-wide collaboration that leads to innovation and change is so critical. I’m excited about what we’ve accomplished with 3M and its broader impact in other industries. It’s incumbent upon us to continue working together and look for opportunities, no matter how small.

Tim: Construction sites are always changing as processes evolve and new hazards become known. There are a lot of new people joining the industry, so continual education is important. Our mission is to advance safety, and as long as there are injuries and fatalities on jobsites, there will always be room for improvement. There is absolutely a need for us to drive change as a united group so every worker can go home safely at the end of the day.

Last updated: 9/13/2020