How Beliefs Impact Dealing with Hazards
- By Peter Furst
- Jun 08, 2021
Many supervisors and managers in construction companies still believe that accidents are the result of workers flagrantly ignoring good work practices, failing to use common sense, and/or neglecting to follow company policies and procedures, get distracted, don’t pay attention or just make mistakes. They also believe that workers are primarily responsible for their own safety and should engage in safe work practices for their own good, as it is the workers who will get injured and suffer if they don’t.
They generally articulate workers should use good judgment and be constantly vigilant when working in hazardous environments. These same supervisors also believe that their primary responsibility is to meet project production objectives. These as well as a few other commonly held beliefs tend to create impediments which keep organizations from effectively reducing accidents and preventing injury on their worksites.
Belief when Dealing with Hazards
People may decide to behave or do something is a certain way for a number of reasons. This may be due to habit, convenience, necessity, perception, carelessness, or ignorance to name a few. Workers contribute to this problem by primarily relying on past experience and self-confidence in their ability when performing their work. Preventive measures may not always be respected or diligently utilized for the above-mentioned reasons, or what coworkers may think of one's following company policies or the use of PPE (see "herd" mentality). They may also not perceive the risk or fail to assess the exposure, or they may underestimate the risk due to the fact that they have worked under similar circumstances before without experiencing an adverse effect or getting injured.
Workers may deem the safety measures as a burden and/or an impediment to their ability to achieve production goals expected of them by their supervisor. They may understand the risk but assume that they are capable of effectively dealing with it. They may also feel that to stay employed, they must meet production goals in spite of the associated risk, thereby causing them to consciously and willingly engage in at-risk behavior.
There are a number of reasons that not only is believed by the construction industry workforce but it also includes site supervision and to some extent management. It is the unrealistic and fatalistic belief that by its very nature, the construction industry as a whole is rife with hazards which invariably results in workers getting injured. There is also the general belief that experienced workers are quite capable to effectively deal with those risk of injury and perform their work safely in spite of the exposure to those hazards. Beliefs such as these affect the way management as well as the workforce approaches safety and performance on the jobsite.
Traditionally, the approach to accident prevention has been focused on training the individual workers in the safety standards to give them the information and knowledge necessary to perform their work safely. Worksites are inspected to ensure engineering controls are in place, as well as to identify and stop workers from violating safety rules. Some safety practitioners believe that coaching or reasoning with workers will get them to work safely. These interventions work with varying degrees of success, but they never eliminate risk, nor do they significantly reduce them. They also don't really do much to diminish the associated accidents in construction production systems.
Research has shown that people's behavior is driven by their underlying belief system, which has a profound effect on exposure assessment, hazard management and accident prevention. Their actions are shaped by the interplay of the underlying culture, the operating workplace climate, management's as well as supervisor’s actions and expectations. This underlying view and resulting approach to work may not be fully appreciated, well understood or effectively utilized by individuals involved in the oversight of production systems performance, as well as those involved with managing worker safety.
There are many reasons for this. Production goal achievement is a key driver of performance, with less attention paid to other associated targets, goals, and/or outcomes. A belabored focus on increased production usually leads to deviation from accepted safe work practices or the enforcement of them, resulting in "standards creep." People responsible for safe performance do not have tools other than the ones traditionally available in the industry, so to deal with the emerging problems, they utilize one or two of the existing tools (interventions), which they apply more rigorously. As the famous saying goes, using the same methods but expecting different results is insanity!
Beliefs involving the impact of risk on the worker's safety and the perceived benefit of risk taking should be a factor that is assessed when considering or evaluating the motivation underlying the resulting behavior. Depending on the situation, beliefs can positively or negatively affect safety and its management. Beliefs about control are important to accident analysis and the explanations of causation. By gaining insight into such beliefs and taking those into account, accidents may be analyzed realistically, and robust preventive measure can be devised and implemented.
The importance that beliefs play in workplace safety and its management has been identified in numerous research studies. Researchers have also verified that subjective judgment by people is a major component in any risk assessment. If such judgment is faulty, the risk management process and efforts will, in all likelihood, be misdirected and garner inferior or have no beneficial results. It has been asserted that in reality, much of accident preventive measures are driven by causal inferences rather than the actual drivers of such events.
The organization must effectively articulate a standard that safe work is the only acceptable way to plan and carry out production of work on site. Site supervision must be easy to understand and believe that only safe work practices are acceptable to the organization. To achieve this, the organization must evaluate its safety and production subcultures in order to align them both to ensure that safe production is the governing consideration when planning and executing work. Senior management must ensure this becomes intrinsic to the organizational norms, assumptions, belief and values.