For builder and developer Shea Homes, a proactive approach to safety has been so successful that its California operations earned an award from the state-administered Cal/OSHA program. It's a notable achievement: To qualify for the Cal/SHARP (Safety and Health Recognition Achievement Program) award, companies have to show an injury record better than 90 percent of the industry.

Shea's success is based on a close relationship with subcontractors. The company's developments are insured with a “wrap” program: Insurance company AIG covers every contractor on the site with a single workers' comp and liability policy, and Shea pays the premiums. That gives the developer a strong motive to work closely with all the trades.

Shea refers to specialty contractors as “trade partners,” not “subs” (even trademarking the phrase “TradePartner”). “Joining a Shea project is just like coming into the family,” explains Shea safety executive Ed Calderon. “We say to them, ‘This is the Shea way. This is the way we would like you to behave. Safety and quality are part of your bid—it's not just price. Maintaining your safety program is part of your future with us.' We make them accountable for their actions.”

Shea checks out contractors' safety records before asking them to bid. “If you are going to invite someone into your house and your family, you want to make sure that person is of good character,” says Calderon. “We look at their experience modification for workers' comp. If we see they have a high incident rate, we say, ‘Thank you—but you're not invited to the party.' ”

As jobs progress, Shea managers stay in close touch with trade contractors. “The key word is ‘coach'—we don't tell them, we coach them,” says Calderon. “We have safety meetings with the trades, and our supervisors do daily inspections.” Shea enforces Cal/OSHA standards for all phases of construction: “If we see something wrong, like a trench without the proper shoring, we communicate: ‘Here is how you can do it better, here is what I would like to see.' ”

Training is part of the strategy. Working with AIG, Shea provides free 10-hour and 20-hour OSHA certification classes for the trade partner's supervisors. And if a company wants its employees trained as well, says Calderon, he just asks them how many and when. “I had about 70 plasterers taking the 10-hour course one Saturday,” he says. “I've had 50 painters come and take the OSHA course—not just the supervisors, but the employees.” For excavation contractors, the free OSHA training supplies the qualifications needed for a “competent person” under the trenching regulation. “And we provide that in both Spanish and English,” says Calderon.

Calderon emphasizes that safety incentives extend all the way to the employee in the trench or on the scaffold. “We invite the trade partners on our daily safety walks. We're looking for the positive—when we see a trade employee doing something right, we give them a sticker: ‘Did you tie that ladder off? OK, good job. Here is a sticker for you.' Supervisors take down names of sticker winners, and each month Shea managers draw five names out of a hat and award the workers $100 apiece. “And at the end of the year, the worker with the most stickers gets a check for $500,” says Calderon. “They are being recognized, so they can say, ‘I got this sticker, or I got this check for doing something right.'”

Does it work? Says Calderon, “In the five years I have been working here in Northern California, Cal/OSHA has not issued a single citation on our jobsite.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.