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The Great Recession left many lasting effects on the construction industry, but few remain as apparent as the impact it has had on productivity. Facing the worst economic conditions in a generation, construction companies were forced to do the near impossible: sustain output with limited or shrinking resources.

The problem is, if the wrong approach is taken, productivity can only be increased so much before causing other vital aspects of a business to suffer. And if the 56 percent rise in OSHA violations is any indication, it’s beginning to look like a lot of companies have been taking the wrong approach, increasing productivity at the expense of overall safety.

But this doesn’t have to be the case—the approach truly does matter. If workers are merely rushing to do more work in less time, accidents are much more likely to increase. If, on the other hand, business processes and operations are streamlined for greater efficiency, workers will find it easier to get more work done in less time without having to scramble to do it.

Part of the problem is that asking workers to get more done in the same or less time is inherently ambiguous—it will be up to the workers themselves to determine which corners they have to cut to meet the deadline. The result, as the OSHA statistics suggest, is that safety measures can easily fall by the wayside.

Moreover, research suggests that increasing pressure on workers can actually end up reducing productivity by diminishing their morale, causing more health problems and increasing absenteeism. Asking workers to compensate for limited resources, in other words, exposes companies to serious risks without even reliably increasing output.

This is why companies are increasingly turning to organizational tools to reduce administrative costs and improve equipment allocation and performance. Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) solutions, for instance, can be used to track equipment use so that managers can see who is currently using a piece of equipment, or when they used it last. It sounds simple, yet companies are constantly wasting resources tracking down their assets, which can undermine productivity.

The same lesson applies to equipment uptime more generally. If an effective, thorough preventive maintenance routine is in place, there will be fewer disruptive breakdowns and maintenance emergencies causing serious delays and jeopardizing the success of a project.

Reliable equipment is also safe equipment. Routine maintenance and inspections are the best way to ensure that all equipment—including safety gear—is functioning properly and protecting workers. According to OSHA, scaffolding violations increased from 3,814 in 2012 to 5,423 in 2013. Not all of these were strictly maintenance-related, but the increase does create the sense that critical inspections are regularly overlooked.

From a regulatory perspective, organizational tools can help ensure that these types of maintenance tasks and inspections are tracked consistently in a centralized database that can be easily accessed and used to generate reports. In a fast-moving environment like a construction site, it is vital to maintain records that prove due diligence and protect against potential litigation.

Above all, companies wishing to improve both productivity and safety need to focus on accountability. Keeping detailed track of asset data is a clear and simple way to ensure that workers are doing what they’re supposed to do, and it will give them the sense that they can’t cut corners without management finding out.

Increased productivity doesn’t have to come at the expense of safety, but companies wishing to improve both need to take a more strategic, operations-oriented approach that helps workers get the job done, rather than simply demanding that they get things done faster.

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