PCL Construction has a presence in more than 30 major centers in Canada, the United States and Australia, and it employs more than 4,900 people. Across these vast operations, the thread of employee ownership ties it all together.

PCL is 100% employee-owned, and this culture of ownership drives a mindset that makes employees more accountable and committed to the company, clients, partners and projects. It provides a shared purpose and vision that seeps into all aspects of the company’s culture – particularly safety. Protecting the health and safety of everyone on the job site or in the office is an instilled value throughout PCL and an integral part of the culture.

“Safety isn't just a checkbox — it's ingrained in our daily routine and is the guiding principle that shapes every decision we make,” says Jim Barry, vice president of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) at PCL. “Our commitment to safety is about more than compliance; it's about empowering our team to thrive. As employee owners, we lead by example, fostering a culture of accountability.”

That accountability is evident in PCL’s total recordable incident rate (TRIR) — the number of recordable incidents per 100 full-time workers — and lost-time frequency rate (LTFR), which measures the number of lost-time injuries per million hours worked in a year. These are two of the best statistics for measuring the safety record of a construction company. Thanks to the vigilance of its employees on job sites and in offices, PCL’s TRIR and LTFR are consistently below the North American industry average.

“To us, safety isn't just a slogan,” Barry says. “It's a promise we make to ensure everyone returns home safely, every single day.”

As a construction company that makes the safety of its employees a top priority, PCL employs leaders across the globe who share the same values. This approach ensures everyone works towards the companywide goal of zero incidents.

Hawaii Operations Manager Andrew Fernandez has been with PCL for 15 years and has set himself apart as an exemplary leader on project sites across California and Hawaii. He says, "Construction sites are hubs of activity, but with that energy comes inherent risks. We have projects that have hundreds of people on-site and our team can't be everywhere at once. That's why it's imperative for everyone to feel empowered to speak up if they spot any potential dangers. Because when we all look out for each other, we create a safer, more supportive workplace.”

In the pursuit of zero incidents, PCL has established seven life-saving absolutes (LSAs) based on extensive industry and companywide research and historical data points. Informed by past trends and recurring challenges, life-saving absolutes are proactive strategies to mitigate risk and prevent future incidents, and Barry says they are “indispensable pillars of safety at PCL that fuel our progress toward the achievement of zero incidents." They include:

  • Fall protection and the prevention of falling objects
  • Proper training to use rigging and hoisting equipment
  • Lockout and tagout procedures that verify workers have isolated potential energy
  • Safe driving rules for road and site vehicles
  • Safe communication procedures when operating or working near equipment
  • Proper authorization practices for entering barricaded areas or confined spaces
  • Protection measures for working in or around a trench or excavation 

In line with its philosophy of continuous improvement, PCL has launched a companywide serious injury and fatality (SIF) campaign and tracking statistics that direct focus toward higher-risk incidents and near misses. This move addresses a concerning trend across the construction industry as a whole — a statistical increase in SIF events. While minor injuries have decreased, the rate of SIF events remains consistent. 

Fernandez says, “The big challenge the industry is facing right now is the sheer intensity of today's market. With demand soaring, the labor force is stretched thin and we're seeing an influx of fresh faces on our job sites, many of whom are new to construction.”

For PCL, this underscores the importance of doubling down on training, communication and on-site management. “We're on the ground, engaging with our workers, providing guidance and ensuring everyone is equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed,” Fernandez continues. “We’re constantly maintaining communication and proactively delivering training."

Barry echoes this and elaborates on other strategies PCL has implemented to ensure a proactive approach. “Our Board of Directors oversee the entire HSE program and meticulously dissect every incident to uncover the underlying cause,” he says. “We use these insights to swiftly implement preventative measures and arm ourselves against future incidents.”

The results speak for themselves. With more than 40 million work hours per year, PCL and its trade contractors have one of the lowest LTFRs — 0.02 — compared to the North American industry standard of 3.40.

PCL also works toward its goal of zero incidents through its rigorous Bob Tarr HSE audits. These audits — named in honor of PCL’s former CEO, whose strong interest in construction safety was pivotal in strengthening PCL’s safety culture — monitor the effectiveness of each PCL location’s safety management systems by giving snapshots of their safety performance and making recommendations for improvement. This process also rewards the locations for their safety achievements. The Bob Tarr Safety Award, introduced in 1992, is presented each November to the PCL operations team that earns the highest combined score, based on criteria established by the executive review committee. This prestigious award is symbolic of safety and environmental excellence within PCL.

Fernandez and PCL’s Hawaii office was the recipient of the Bob Tarr Award in 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Being recognized with the Bob Tarr Award was a huge honor,” Fernandez says. “I know how committed to safety everyone is in this company and how high our standards are.”

Barry is a member of the executive review committee and oversees all audits. “We leave no stone unturned when it comes to the audit process,” he says. “It gives our teams a tremendous sense of pride to know they're playing a huge part in working towards our goal of zero incidents and making sure their folks get home safely every day.”

At PCL, the Bob Tarr audits and annual award serves as a powerful reminder of the collective effort and dedication that defines the safety culture. Regardless of position, everyone plays a role in ensuring a safe and supportive environment. From the newest recruit to the most tenured employee, PCL employees share a common goal: to protect and support each other like family.

Keeping each other safe means speaking up even when it may feel uncomfortable. Fernandez frames it this way, “Would you rather have discomfort or regret?” — an expression he learned from another leader at PCL. “It may be tempting to overlook a minor safety hazard or someone not adhering to protocols,” he says. “However, imagine walking by and minutes later witnessing that individual sustain an injury. The weight of regret for not speaking up in that moment would be serious.”

This approach is a testament to the strength of PCL’s safety culture — a culture that seeks continuous improvement, that encourages honesty and transparency, and that always puts the safety of employees first. “We always tell employees to embrace the courage to speak up,” Barry says. “It is silence that poses the greatest risk.”