Safety culture Performance measurement Leadership

2014 CEOs Who 'Get It'

The National Safety Council recognizes 10 leaders who demonstrate a personal commitment to worker safety and health

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Thomas F. Gilbane Jr.

Chairman and CEO
Gilbane Inc.


  • Chairs the Gilbane Cares Executive Safety Leadership Team, which meets quarterly to review and discuss company safety performance and direct initiatives
  • Participates in a national CEO safety forum and the Construction Industry Roundtable, in which executives from the country’s largest construction companies meet regularly to share safety best practices and seek opportunities for collaboration
  • Conducts quarterly companywide “brown-bag” employee meetings, during which he presents company safety performance updates

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

Gilbane has been a family company for 140 years and we embrace all our employees, subcontractors and anyone else on our project sites or in our offices as a part of our extended family. Even a single injury is one too many.

Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who understands the importance of worker safety.

I was raised around the company and worked on some of our projects during high school and college. In construction, the prevailing logic in the business for a long time was that “injuries happen.” But as I became involved with the incident- and injury-free philosophy and saw the results it had produced, I wanted the same results for our team. We call our incident- and injury-free program “Gilbane Cares” and, over the last five years, we’ve achieved dramatic reductions in all kinds of injuries everywhere we do business. Helping bring about this new mindset has been very fulfilling.

What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?

Teaching everyone we work with that there is a better way, that no risk is an acceptable risk, is our challenge. We believe that everyone in the pool is a lifeguard, and proactively watching out for each other and ourselves is the only way to eliminate accidents. We use sophisticated tools to identify risks and eliminate them before accidents can happen. But most of our progress has come from a simple philosophy of caring, built on getting to know people and reminding them how much is at stake when they take a risk.

How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?

Every meeting begins with a “Gilbane Cares” moment, and we start our days doing a stretch and flex program. All of our employees want to go home to their families at night. All the workers on our jobs have husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters who want them to come home safely each and every day. We remind them that safety is always No. 1.

How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?

For many years, keeping track of the number of the recordable and lost-time accidents was the heart of our safety program. We still track those statistics. Our accident rates this year are down 29 percent from 2012, and those numbers were 28 percent lower than the 2011 levels. But while statistics help us measure our progress, caring about people is what matters and it’s what’s driving our progress. We’re very focused on leading indicators that measure the effectiveness of our execution. Over the past couple of years we’ve been concentrating on learning lessons from the way our clients approach safety, and that has driven “Gilbane Cares” even more. There will always be room for improvement in making all operations safer.

Providence, RI-based Gilbane Inc. is a family-owned and managed real estate development and construction services provider with more than 60 offices that serve clients across the United States and around the world. Gilbane employs 2,485 workers.