BEFORE THE PROJECT TEAM COULD VISIT THE JOBSITE, we were subjected to a safety briefing in a conference room. We would be expected to wear hard hats and safety gear on the site at all times. If we witnessed any unsafe conditions, we were expected to report them to the supervisor immediately. We were welcome to attend monthly safety meetings. Oh, and just so everyone was aware, it was this builder's goal that everyone who worked on this job would return safely to his or her family every night.

All this before a bunch of tender-palmed executives could do a preconstruction site walk? The only thing in the Las Vegas ground was a bunch of sticks with flags marking the boundaries of BUILDER'S fantasy show home. Yet we all trudged around in the gray rubble in our protective attire, nothing overhead but the glaring noonday sun, thinking about our next shoe shine.

We got the message, though: Pardee Homes cares about jobsite safety.

SERIOUS BUSINESS Pardee is one of a growing cadre of progressive builders that really take jobsite safety seriously. We all know from experience that many builders don't. When we sent a photographer out to visit jobsites in Texas and Florida with a list of potential OSHA violations, he had no problem getting all the photos we needed in short order. Panic spread through the jobsites, though, as workers yelled that an OSHA inspector was present.

Many builders treat jobsite safety like highway drivers treat the speed limit: They don't pay any attention until they get caught. Some will tell you safety isn't their responsibility—that duty belongs to the subcontractor who hired the labor. Others believe safety regulations are overkill that adds unnecessary cost. They say it should be up to workers to decide what they want to do; it's their health on the line.

Builders that rigidly adhere to safety programs say they pay back in lower insurance premiums, reduced likelihood of lawsuits, and old-fashioned peace of mind. The NAHB, which campaigns vigilantly for safety programs, says the programs result in 36 percent fewer accidents and can save between $4 and $6 for every dollar invested.

The paybacks are about to get even greater. OSHA has set a goal of reducing workplace fatalities by 15 percent by 2008 by enforcing fines and assisting in compliance. Plus, insurance companies are increasingly investigating builder safety records before writing policies.

FIRST THINGS FIRST Safety programs must begin before the bidding process so that subcontractors can factor in the associated costs. Shea Homes investigates subcontractor safety records before the subs are allowed to bid. Before they bid Pardee's work, trade partners receive safety standards that become part of their contracts. These include attending mandatory safety meetings every 10 days.

Pardee documents safety violations and sends them to the trade contractor's principals, who have 15 days to respond with action plans. Village Homes of Colorado fines its trade contractors for violations and rewards them for following safety guidelines. During daily safety walks, Shea's supervisors give out stickers for practices such as tying off a ladder; sticker winners enter monthly drawings for $100.

Training is an integral part of the program among progressive builders. Pardee's supers conduct safety meetings at the beginning of each building phase and hold weekly “toolbox talks” with crew chiefs. Shea provides free 10-hour and 20-hour OSHA certification classes for the supervisors of its trade partners. Shea will do the same for its own employees, too.