Building a Culture of Safety at Construction Companies
- By Jim Stanley
- Mar 01, 2010
Multi-tasking has evolved from a talent
to a necessity to maintain the pace of
everyday productivity. Whether an employee
is talking on a cell phone while
working or not wearing his/her personal protective
equipment, many workers have placed themselves
and other at needless risk to save time or be more
comfortable. The bottom line is that the majority of
construction accidents are not due to a lack of training,
skill or knowledge — nearly all accidents are simply
related to poor decision-making.
This article will take a comprehensive look at
building a culture of safety based on good decisionmaking
and will examine the philosophy, accountability,
and structure needed to develop a successful
construction safety program.
When Employees Know Better,
But Don't Do Better
Think back to the person who taught you the first safety
rule: Possibly, it was your mother giving you a warning
about a hot stove (Hot, don't touch!). When most people
are pushed into a decision, they are more likely to rebel
against it, until they truly understand the rationale and
risk behind the decision. The "it could never happen to
me" attitude fills up emergency rooms throughout the
United States on a daily basis with serious injuries, many
of them life-threatening.
Sadly, carelessness in the workplace and the pressure
to produce tend to go hand in hand and, in some cases,
are rewarded. Too oft en, it is easier for a foreman to turn
a blind eye and cross his or her fingers when observing a
safety rule being violated than to slow down the process
with enforcement, follow-through, and responsibility.
Time, effort, comfort, and peer pressure are the foremost
reasons employees commit unsafe acts when they
know better but don't do better. Many employees don't
like being required to attend safety training sessions
or, in some cases, obey safety rules. Many construction
companies establish safety as a top priority but
send mixed messages when something more important
bumps safety to the back burner. Employee safety
should be a value and a lifestyle, with a 24/7 approach.
Accountability for Actions
The superintendent, foreman, and lack of company
training efforts are ultimately responsible for sustaining
a culture that "permits" unsafe behavior. If there is
no consequence for violating company safety rules, no
way to enforce the safety program, and no program to
point to any bottom-line accountability, a major change in the existing program needs to be implemented. Specifically, there
are three key pillars of an effective construction safety program:
1. Commitment from senior management
2. Active implementation of a formal safety program led by midmanagement
(i.e., foreman or superintendent)
3. Employee involvement and practice through example and demonstration,
It's not enough to make safety a priority. Safety must become an
inherent company value because priorities always change, and such a
commitment always begins at the top. All individuals want to succeed,
best echoed by the old saying, "What interests my boss, fascinates me."
The term "accountability" typically tags along with a negative
connotation of punitive or disciplinary
action. In a compliance
context, this word translates to everyone's
owning responsibility for
individual safety. There are three
types of accountability:
1. Personal accountability
2. Peer accountability
3. Management accountability
How a Company Demonstrates Its Commitment
While conventional wisdom says employees criticize companies that
impose strong disciplinary actions toward safety measures, the opposite
is usually the case. Construction companies with a high regard for
safety demonstrate a greater level of care and concern for employee
well-being. When safety standards break down, serious injuries or
even fatalities can occur, leaving families shattered due to carelessness
and irresponsibility. Some of the most hazardous issues include:
- Struck or caught by
While slips, trips, and strains may happen, fatalities and serious
injuries are real and typically are related to one of the three areas
above. For example, what would happen if there were no police to
monitor traffic on the roads? You'd have a recipe for disaster. The same
principle holds true with safety measures on a construction site. Cost
and productivity correlate directly with companies that demonstrate a
strong baseline safety program led by front-line supervision and employee
participation. Safety becomes part of the job — it's universal.
Companies need to have highly detailed safety procedures in place,
ensure and account for employee training and awareness, and ultimately
use a zero-tolerance policy for any violations. Employers
must create a system of accountability that includes:
- Thorough training
- Strong policy
- Accountability to follow through with safety rules
To look at it another way, many construction companies may
terminate an employee because of excessive tardiness or theft ,
while overlooking a serious breach in safety rules. Yet safety deals
directly with physical well-being, including guarding against serious
injury or fatal accidents. Therefore, employers need to address
the issue of safety both severely and consistently. Confrontation
may be unpleasant, but an employee may never get a second chance
to do his or her job safely if proper compliance measures are not
Emphasizing What's Really Important
Safety is about creating an environment where employees want to be
safe because it's the right thing to do.
Asked, "What are the top three most important things in life?"
and employees commonly answer:
"If someone were to say that he/she would hurt a member of your
family, what would you do?" Most
people would do anything in their
power to stop that from happening.
Safety values, whether at work or
at home, have the power to protect or
ruin your family, faith, and health. If
an unsafe action were to undermine
any one of these values, would shaving
offa few extra minutes by not
putting on protective equipment or
skipping steps through a safety procedure still seem as important in
its possible consequence? Safety shouldn't be a "have to," it should be
a "want to."
Preparing an Effective Safety Program
At my company, FDRsafety, we recommend the following to establish
a successful safety initiative:
Action items for top management
Encouraging a culture of safety
- Safety begins first with top management: focus on visual concepts,
not just words.
- Create a program that makes sense to management and workers.
- Identify where issues exist and implement a program that
- Fully understand the responsibility and requirement to wear
personal protective equipment.
- Encourage employee involvement and feedback.
- Develop a safety committee with the authority to create and
- Select an employee from the workforce to function as a fulltime
safety coordinator with the responsibility of making safety
changes without disciplinary authority.
Safe and Efficient
While the construction industry has progressed dramatically in
increased productivity and quality, the on-site injuries are more
prevalent, especially in the media. FDRsafety encourages a holistic
approach to safety on construction sites. We believe a construction
work site can have quality work, be productive, and have an effective
safety program at the same time.
This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.