THE INJURIES WERE FRIGHTENING in both their severity and their frequency. Framing crews were the most common source of accidents. One framer fell from a scaffold, breaking his wrist and tearing the rotator cuff in his shoulder. Another tore ligaments in his knee when he leaned against a safety rail that gave way. Still another fell off a wall, breaking his elbow and tearing his tricep muscle. An excavation crew member broke his leg when he was caught in a trench cave-in.

For Village Homes of Colorado, the reports coming in from its jobsites were sobering. At year's end in 2002, its workers' compensation loss ratio was 79.5 percent.

“It stunned us,” says Robert Fast, senior safety manager for the Englewood, Colo.–based builder.

The only way Village Homes even knew about the extent and the severity of the injuries on its jobsites was the fact that it had self-insured with a rolling owner-controlled insurance program, or ROCIP. While many ROCIPs provide liability insurance for all the trade contractors on the site, Village Homes' policy also covers workers' compensation. Since it got all the bills for the claims, it got all the data on the injuries.

“Most builders wouldn't know what kind of losses their trade contractors have in the field,” Fast notes.

The onslaught of accidents would stop there, but it wouldn't be easy. Everyone working in the field—from superintendents down to laborers—would receive 10 hours of OSHA training. Every worker on a site needed to carry a ROCIP registration card at all times. There would be monthly scheduled and unscheduled audits; 15 percent of a superintendent's bonus would be based on audit scores. Trade contractors would be fined for violations—and rewarded for following safety requirements. At least one person from each trade contractor on a job would be required to attend—and sign in at—monthly safety talks. Even home buyers would go through safety training before they visited the jobsite. None of this was optional.

KEEPING TRACK: Village Homes senior safety manager Robert Fast knows “to the penny” how much an injury costs the company. The builder uses a designated medical clinic for all jobsite injuries, which helps pinpoint which trades and activities are prone to accidents.

KEEPING TRACK: Village Homes senior safety manager Robert Fast knows “to the penny” how much an injury costs the company. The builder uses a designated medical clinic for all jobsite injuries, which helps pinpoint which trades and activities are prone to accidents.

“I thought it was safety run amok,” says James Dome, then a construction superintendent and now the company's field safety manager.

But it paid off. By the end of 2003, the loss ratio had dropped to 59.5 percent. For the 2004 policy year, the ratio plummeted to 25 percent, and the injuries that did occur were generally less serious. With the self-insured builders paying out less money for claims, a portion of the premium could be returned to the trade contractors and the premium could be lowered. Plus, with cleaner sites and fewer workers injured on the job, houses were built more quickly and with fewer mistakes.

GETTING BUY IN

The thing that impressed Dome the most when the program started was that the commitment came from the very top of the company. Then–president and CEO Donn Eley said that he was determined that every associate of the company would go home to his or her family every day healthy and uninjured.

“It wasn't just the safety personnel explaining it,” Dome says. “It was Donn Eley explaining what our exposures were and what our commitments were. We were signed into a three-year deal [with an insurance agency that administers the program], and we would make it work.”