Going for gold: how to build a reputation as an AEC industry safety leader

December 21, 2023

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is becoming more competitive than the Olympic games. There were 3,919,352 businesses in the United States in the construction field alone as of 2022. Building a reputation as a safety leader is a highly effective way to set your company apart from the competition. 

A strong safety record can determine if you win gold (are awarded a new contract) or are sent back to the training room. But if maintaining excellent safety metrics is how a contractor walks the walk, how they market those metrics is how they talk the talk. Both are vital to business development, and each requires a strategic approach. 

I’m no expert at establishing a winning construction safety program, but I can offer eight marketing and public relations tips to get you to the winner’s podium. 

Pursue national and regional safety awards

Safety awards are a great way to show off an industry-leading safety record. I’m not referring to participation prizes. Identifying and winning reputable awards is key to gaining owner trust. 

How to prepare for awards season: Before awards season begins, which is typically in the spring, start compiling the safety documents required for most submissions. Be prepared to submit your 300A log and other safety stats, depending on the award. It may take a while, but if you’re applying for multiple safety awards, it will help you get ahead of all the tight deadlines. 

Don’t forget to identify strong safety performances for individual project awards, not just companywide recognition. Then, prepare a list of desired awards to pursue. Assign a marketing point person to collect the information required for each application and submit the nomination forms.

National awards to target:

Regional awards: National awards are fantastic, but if you’re new to the competition, you may want to get a few less competitive award wins under your belt before eyeing the big prizes. 

Most industry associations have regional chapters that organize their own safety awards. Local business organizations and industry publications also have regional safety awards contractors can compete in. Don’t get so caught up in trying to earn the national spotlight that you lose sight of these opportunities!

What to do if you win: Ask for the awards logo file (preferably in a PNG format) to include in your marketing materials and set a calendar reminder to reapply next year. 

Create a safety page on your website

In addition to adding safety award logos to your marketing materials, you can update your company website to include a page dedicated to your safety record. List the awards you’ve won, the safety principles that guide your operations, and client testimonials. 

This is also a great place to include information on your health, safety and environment (HSE) program, project-specific safety plans, the safety training you provide all your craft workers, and other safety commitments.

Get everyone on the same page

Internal messaging is as important as external messaging when it comes to safety. Each of your employees should understand your company’s safety policies and be fully committed to its safety culture. Easier said than done, given the all-too-common challenge of communicating with field crews spread throughout a region. 

One way to overcome the challenge of a scattered workforce is through an employee newsletter, which can be distributed to each of your job sites. Adding a safety section with tips and takeaways from recent training drills can reinforce the importance of safety on the job. Be sure to include quarterly safety stats like companywide and regional workforce hours, total recordable incident rate (TRIR), lost time incident rate (LTIR), and days away, restricted or transferred (DART) metrics. Transparency allows employees at every level, from management to your skilled craftspeople, to evaluate current metrics and set improvement goals.

If you utilize HR software, invest in one that provides a virtual training module. These portals can be set up to provide new hires with required onboarding safety training and long-time employees with refresher courses. 

Develop a welcome-back safety campaign each January 

A safety-focused annual welcome-back campaign reiterates to your employees your company’s commitment to their well-being. Like an employee newsletter, include safety metrics that provide transparency and give employees performance benchmarks and goals for the next year. A list of the most common injuries reported in the previous year can also be helpful since it reminds craftspeople of dangersto look out for. 

When your operations are spread across various business units and divisions, it can be difficult to disseminate information. I recommend tasking your HSE professionals with developing a small welcome-back pamphlet that can be distributed to each job site. You can also print posters and hang them at job site offices.

What to include in your campaign: 

  • Mission, vision, and values
  • A recap of the previous year’s safety award wins
  • Safety accomplishments, like your companywide workforce hours and total recordable incident rate
  • Opportunities for improvement 
  • Safety goals for the upcoming year (i.e., zero incidents, new mandatory training, etc.)
  • Quick overview of quarterly safety themes like heart health or preventative care

Participate in National Construction Safety Week

National Construction Safety Week, which in 2024 will be held the week of May 6-10, is an excellent opportunity to refocus on safety. This national campaign offers contractors training resources to distribute to their employees. Share them with your field crews, and don’t forget to take pictures so you can highlight your participation on social media.

Examine the role diversity plays in safety

Safety and inclusivity go hand-in-hand. Discrimination of any kind — whether based on national origin, ageism, or gender — can create a hostile work environment. 

When you’re working with heavy machinery, on tight schedules, in confined spaces, and in dangerous settings, as is common in construction, a hostile work environment can have life-altering consequences. 

Fostering an equitable, safe environment builds confidence and trust. Toolbox safety talks are no remedy for discrimination, discord and division on your job sites. 

If you want to make your job site safer and more productive, I’d challenge you to examine the diversity of your company’s leadership and workforce and address any forms of inequity.

Utilize social media for recognition

Social media is a fantastic way to incentivize craft workers to prioritize safety. Some contractors adopt Crew of the Month initiatives to recognize outstanding safety performance and improve workplace morale. They publish the winners on social media and provide a nice prize to thank crews for their diligence in adhering to safety guidelines.

Dot the i’s and cross the t’s

While we’re on the subject of social media, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of verifying all the photos you publish on marketing materials and social media demonstrate the safety principles you preach.

Whether you’re using stock images or original field photography, there should be a checklist your marketing team uses to ensure the pictures they share don’t include safety violations, like workers who aren’t wearing safety glasses or hard hats.

Construction safety isn’t something they teach in professional marketing courses, so be sure to include your HSE professionals when developing your checklist, or, better yet, have a process that allows them to review all visual marketing collateral before you hit publish.

Big reputation, big reputation

Just like becoming a decorated Olympian, building a reputation as an AEC industry safety leader doesn’t happen overnight. Michael Phelps didn’t go from wading in a kiddie pool one day to setting world records the next. 

Consistency in your safety performance and marketing efforts is how you build a lasting reputation as a construction safety leader. Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s is how you safeguard it. Both are critical to business development because you are not Taylor Swift. You cannot afford to have a bad reputation.


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  • About the Author
    Marja Martinez

    Marja Martinez is a creative storyteller who has spent nearly a decade developing digital content that moves people. Before making the switch to PR, Marja worked as a broadcast journalist writing hard-hitting news stories, creating compelling online content and engaging with thousands of viewers on multiple social media platforms.

    Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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