Each May, Bechtel proudly celebrates Construction Safety Week. This week recognizes the incredibly hard work of people in our industry who make safety the foundation of everything they do. 

We sat down with John Pyle, Bechtel’s corporate Manager of Environmental, Safety, and Health (ES&H), who discussed Bechtel’s 2020 safety record, including measures the company took to protect colleagues and communities from the spread of COVID-19, and the path forward for safety.  

Listen to the podcast. 


Podcast Transcript

Interviewee: John Pyle (JP) 
Interviewer: Ashley Accardo (AA)

AA: Hi everyone, I'm Ashley Accardo. I'm a communication specialist with the corporate affairs team. Today we have an exciting conversation with John Pyle, corporate manager of ES&H. John will be sharing some insight into our 2020 safety record, some of the measures the company took to protect colleagues and communities from the spread of COVID-19 and discussing the path forward for safety. John hello.

JP: Hello Ashley and thank you for having me. I appreciate you taking the time.

AA: Of course, thank you for being here, so we're going to go ahead and kick it off with the questions. So First off, could you share a little about Bechtel’s strong safety culture and how that shared mentality and consistent procedures continues to keep everybody as safe as possible while also keeping safety at the forefront of our colleagues’ minds?


JP: I would probably start out with the ES&H as a value environmental, safety and health is a value, you know. I say first and foremost, the thing I'm most proud about is working for a company that identifies protection of people in the environment as something that we will not compromise, you know it's right there in our vision, value statement at the top of the company and it's something that I think we do strive to achieve on a daily basis. And you know, across the company, I do feel that ES&H as a value as a value statement for how we conduct our work. I think that is a commonly held belief throughout Bechtel. But I guess from a value perspective, shifting into the culture which is what you asked. You know, culture is an interesting term. I tend to think of it in a couple of ways. You know, I look at this as a shared belief, practices and attitudes, but I think more importantly from Bechtel ES&H culture, it's really our behaviors and it's what we say and what we do, you know, and I think that is visible you know, in the everyday acts of our colleagues. So really, the behavior is what drives the culture for environmental safety and health in Bechtel, and I think there’s a lot of things you could look at, but really, the hallmark of our safety culture, I think, is the visible leadership and commitment at all levels of the company. 

AA: Can you talk about our 2020 safety record?


JP: Yeah, sure no problem there. So year 2020. Probably two of the primary metrics that get reported a lot. They show up on our annual report. We produce it on our monthly reports for senior management in our projects to gauge performance. But the two things you commonly see talked about as a lost time incident rate and our total recordable injury rate. So for lost time rate 2020 was actually a 20% improvement over what we achieved in 2019. It represents the second-best lost time incident rate performance on record for the company. We were close to edging it out and really getting the top spot, but we just fell slightly short from that perspective. The second metric I talked about, which was total recordable injury rates, again improved over 2019 by about 15% and that actually did represent the best recordable injury rate performance record for the company since our existence so kind of a milestone from that perspective, and a pretty decent outcome from the last time perspective. I think if you look at like the annual report, those of you who got a chance to look at that. When you compare performance to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for similar industry, you know Bechtel is an order of magnitude better. So we typically start benchmarking against other competitors and things like that that are performing in a more world class manner and in the same way that we are. But that's the instance that you see on the annual report. I would say the other metric – this is also lagging metric, just like the two I just mentioned. But I think what was pretty remarkable for 2020 and I think something that everybody really needs to focus on was what was the lost potential of things when they did occur on our projects. Clearly we're trying to do everything we can to prevent the incidents, but as they occurred, what was the potential for loss? And that's where we really want to focus our level of effort and so for last year you know our high potential incident rate was down about 38% from what it was in 2019. And since it's a rate comparison, it's valid. You can compare year to year. Even though the hours changed because the exposure is still there, but that's a pretty remarkable achievement in reduction in risk at our project sites, which really do heavy duty, hazardous industrial work on a daily basis. Again, I think that's another signpost to culture which we talked about in the previous question, so I think those are three signposts, if you will about the 2020 safety record And those are important, but I think what’s even more important that we need to spend more time talking about. Is the level of effort that we expended to prevent injuries to begin with. That's the real story. The scoreboard is the scoreboard that we just talked about. But really, the level of effort is where we want to spend all of our time so you know, all the training, the communication planning audits and inspections, closure of corrective actions, improvement plans that we developed, the employee based safety teams are zero instant teams on site, stand downs used to stop work, authority, leadership, engagement activities and really, the daily interaction with their team members on health and safety matters. That's probably what's most important, and that's where we really need to focus on. So while yes, we had good performance from a safety record perspective, I think you can't discount all the effort that went into to trying to achieve that safety record. And those are some of the leading activities that I just mentioned that really helped us achieve a decent performance for 2020.

AA: Thank you, great information on the 2020 safety record. So, could you share how ES&H, prioritized colleagues and community’s safety throughout this pandemic and possibly share some of the measures or procedures that various projects took to achieve a safe working environment?


JP: I think first and foremost, all of us will agree this is definitely the biggest single health challenge that the company and really the world has faced in a long period of time. And I really do think that our response to the pandemic was probably amongst the best in the business. We were quick to set up the pandemic working teams at the Corporate, GBU, and project levels and those teams really were instrumental in making the decisions, providing guidance and then implementing actions that would protect all of our colleagues. I would say in many cases we were lockstep with the, you know the regulatory authorities having jurisdiction and the guidance they were providing on how we should conduct ourselves. But I would say on many instances we were probably one or two steps ahead of them on the plans for controlling work and preventing the spread of COVID-19. You know, I'd say in fact, last time I looked at it, I think we developed over 20 guidance documents, policies, checklist to help manage COVID-19 in our execution offices and our project sites. But you know, outside of that, I think just like, kind of like the two previous questions, it comes back to the behavior of everybody in the company and I think what's most importantly is the positive attitude at the behavior and the leadership characteristics we saw from senior leaders, mid-level managers, supervisors, employees really across the board. You could see them doing the right thing. You know relative to hand and respiratory etiquette, social distancing, mask wearing, temperature screening, all the things that kind of upended our lives the way we normally conduct ourselves, and I think everybody within Bechtel really responded to that well, they took it seriously and I think really, they helped to reduce the spread or potential spread really within the offices in the projects. And I have to give a hats off to, you know, all the all the teams that plan for work to continue. There were many projects that still had a need to continue. They were critical infrastructure work, and they were able to continue the work in a safe manner and then still implement all these controls, be productive and also achieve good safety outcomes and that that is no small feat. So just you know, congratulations and thanks to everybody that contributed to that. So I think just the end of that. I mean, it is really remarkable what we were able to achieve. The way we substantially changed our work last year and, in this year, of course, with the pandemic and in just such a short period of time, we got into a new norm really quickly and that new norm also happened to be a safe norm.

AA: As we look forward to the rest of the year, do you have any thoughts on safety at Bechtel as we continue working through 2021?

ES&H IN 2021

Further operationalize revised core processes in collaboration with GBU and project teams

JP: I'd say there's two main thoughts I'd like to touch on. Kind of rebranding of our ES&H program with the core processes that we had revised and recently published. And really that the next step is how to make that real for people and projects and for execution offices. So I think that you know the rest of this year the corporate group working with the GBU ES&H managers. We're going to spend the rest of this year building out the tools and resources that support our new written program, if you will. You know, so we're trying to standardize some of the ways that ES&H is executed within all the GBU's and projects so they can be even more similarity from place to place on how ES&H components are executed, whether it's safety leadership workshops, supervisor orientation, you know how the craft based leadership team conducts themselves, their meetings, their observations, you know we want to bring a little bit more standardization, and so really, the big goal is a collaboration between corporate and the GBU to make things even more standardized within Bechtel. So, everybody gets the same experience as they go from GBU to GBU and project to project in the space of environmental safety and health.

Focus on mental health

I’d say the second, the second biggest challenge that we really need to look after for 2021 is to raise the profile of mental health within the company. You know, mental health issues are prevalent within construction industry and even the World Health Organization is now reporting that depression is like the leading cause of disability worldwide. You know, it's a tough, tough industry that we're in with tough people, and there's real people suffering real things and I think from a from a company perspective, we have an obligation to be able to help people that are in distress and help them recognize the signs and symptoms of issues. So, our goal really, for mental health this year, is to raise the profile. As I mentioned, we want to respond to employees who are showing signs of distress and last but not least, we want to have programs and real resources that are readily available. So, you know, building up the program and then mental health really is what I think we're going to focus on for the rest of 2021.


AA: Great look forward into 2021. Thank you so much John for joining today and sharing your insights. Appreciate it.

JP: Thanks Ashley. Thanks for having me.