Everyone is Responsible for Safety

Each individual may assume that since everyone is responsible, there are others in the area who can take action. The end result may actually be that everyone present is going to make that very same assumption, and no one will actually do anything to further the cause of safety.

The organizational thinking behind the "everyone is responsible for safety" idea is to create a universal mindset to actively engage everyone, which should minimize the risk of injury due to the concerted grass-roots effort. I was making a presentation at a safety conference and as an opening asked the attendees who is responsible for safety. A rather large number responded with: “everyone is responsible for safety.” As a follow up, I asked how exactly this could be managed so as to get the intended accountable results. There really were no good responses. This idea may sound great in theory but in reality, it is not practical to hold a group accountable for individual behavior.

Some situational Issues

For an individual to decide to intervene they have to decide that some form of hazard exists, the worker is not aware of it, and may suffer an injury, unless they are warned. Some of the possible reasons the observer may decide not to warn the worker.

  • The observer may assume that the risk is low, the worker is aware of the hazard, is experienced and capable of working around it, and gives no warning.
  • If there are others in the area, then the observer may assume that one of the other persons present has already alerted or will alert the exposed worker and does nothing.
  • The observer may feel less experienced than the person performing the task and, so say nothing.
  • The observer, not knowing the others well may feel reluctant to voice concern for fear that others may ridicule his concern.
  • If the observer works for a different subcontractor, or in a different trade they may feel they don’t have the authority or the expertise to say something about the situation.
  • In the case of a supervisor faced with a critical production goal may not say anything about a hazard, as the task may take little time, or the worker engaged is experienced. Therefore, decides not to intervene.

Others Present in the Area

A number of social psychological experiments have demonstrated that individuals may fail to assist others in situations where they become aware of potential hazards; not due to indifference but, rather, due to the presence of other people in the area. This is explained by the "diffusion of responsibility" theory. Each individual may assume that since everyone is responsible, there are others in the area who can take action. The end result may actually be that everyone present is going to make that very same assumption, and no one will actually do anything to further the cause of safety. Diffusion increases with groups of three or more.

Another reason for inaction involves the principle of social proof. In situations where we are not sure what the correct action or behavior ought to be, we look to see what others are doing. In a way, when there is doubt about what a person should do, it becomes a shortcut to deciding what to do. Other researchers have found that onlookers will tend to be less likely to intervene if the situation is perceived to be unclear, open to interpretation, or enigmatic. When the other people in the area fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that any form of action or response is not required.

Impact on Safe Operations

The worker’s control covers behavior and action related to the task. The supervisor controls operational functions which includes tasks and all the related and supporting activities, through planning, organizing, directing, staffing, and controlling, to name a few. Therefore, the supervisor can affect the risk of injury more broadly and effectively than the worker.

Integrated planning: Planning is fundamental to construction operations. It is through effective planning that all trades work harmoniously on the work site. With effective planning, the project staff can ensure that all the necessary elements required to build the project successfully are combined with the identified potential risks of injuries to the workforce so as to achieve both production and safety goals. This effort will ensure safe and effective project delivery thereby minimizing disruption, increasing efficiency, and lowering costs.

  • Organizing: Management creates the hierarchical structure, devises system (policies and procedures) and oversees operational functions to successfully achieve its goals and objectives. Management assign roles, defines responsibilities, set standards, and define expectations fosters communications, productivity, and innovation while holding people accountable, to ensure the work is performed safely as planned.
  • Directing: The various members of the supply chain, as well as the workforce will require direction, coaching, information, and motivation in order to function well. The project manager should empower each person to make decisions, work cooperatively which enhances risk management, and problem solving.
  • Staffing: People are key to performance. Management selecting the "right" people for the "right" tasks and making sure they are doing the "right" things at the "right" time is fundamental to achieving excellence in operation. They must also be provided with the necessary tools, realistic goals, as well as empowered, enabled, motivated, and encouraged.
  • Controlling: Management control systems are tools used to direct the organization toward its strategic objectives. Control is an important function for ensuring that the organization, operations, or projects are on target to meet all the critical goals and specific deadlines. Control is an integrated technique for collecting and using information to motivate and direct employee behavior and to evaluate performance. Safety must be integrated into the overall management control system.

Though not a complete list, these areas should help achieve some improvement with relatively limited effort and disruption to existing operational practices. This will only be accomplished if the employees trust the organization’s leadership, feel that they are treated fairly, and believe that they are valued. This fosters job satisfaction that leads to participation and involvement which furthers worksite safety.

Conclusion

Integrating risk assessment and management into operations though planning, organizing, directing, staffing and controlling of the work will go a long way to create a safe work environment. So, for the statement "everyone is responsible for safety" to become a reality in the sense that everyone actively is involved and striving to create a safe work environment, management has to create the environment, motivate the workforces to be involved and engaged, enable them to perform their work successfully.

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