On a construction site, things tend to be very concrete, so to speak. Many workers are hands-on, using tools and equipment to build, demolish, or renovate physical structures.
Safety, too, can be a concrete concept—there’s personal protective equipment to wear, rules to follow, and other physical ways to ensure that workers remain healthy and uninjured. However, there are some more abstract concepts which underpin site safety. And if you can understand and implement them as part of the onsite culture, your safety outcomes will benefit.
In this article, we have loosely followed six dimensions of a positive safety culture as outlined by Jamie Hall, COO at Safe Work Manitoba. Essentially, they are necessary mindsets that contribute to a safe work site—it all starts with people and their attitudes, from management on down.
Stay on top of systems
The first sign of a positive safety culture is just having the systems in place: hazard identification, a formal safety management program, effective channels for workers to report concerns.
Having these processes in place is an outward sign of a site or project with safety as a priority.
Ensure your leadership is committed
While culture tends to be influenced from the bottom up and not the top down, a leadership team that is 100% behind any safety initiatives is hugely beneficial.
This starts with leading by example. It can be easy for a manager or foreman to let safe practices go by the wayside a little when there’s a time crunch or tight budget. However, it’s essential to maintain quality. After all, it’s a myth that safety is at odds with productivity—staying safe reduces the risk of incidents which suck time and money. OSHA has collected a range of studies and articles looking at the relationship between safety compliance and profit, and here’s the conclusion: safety is good for business.
A positive attitude from the onsite leaders (and this is not just management, but anyone in a leadership position) will also rub off on all workers. Expecting all employees to cheerfully adopt safe practices when their leaders are not doing so is not realistic.
One easy way that management can show commitment to safety onsite is by investing in safety training. It’s a sound investment, keeping workers educated and motivated, reducing risks, ensuring your company stays at the cutting edge of the industry, and demonstrating a willingness to put time and money into growing your people.
Cultivate trust and respect
A workplace dynamic that’s not quite right will show in the outcomes—whether that’s quality of work, efficiency, or safety outcomes. Trust and respect is the basis for any group of people working together well, from families to construction sites.
Hall theorizes that trust and respect often start within the site safety committee. A dysfunctional committee leaks out into the workplace, and won’t achieve what it needs to.
A site safety committee should be more or less a level playing field—employees from all levels and jobs on a site or project, coming together in a respectful environment to ensure a safe workplace. Members should trust each other to know what they are talking about regarding their specific roles and expertise, and that they are all looking out for the safety and wellbeing of everyone. That attitude and vibe will then spread to the rest of the workplace, as the committee takes the mantle of safety culture leadership.
Accountability in this case does not just mean management holding employees responsible—or even vice versa. It includes both, but perhaps the most important aspect is that each person holds themselves accountable for their own safety, and also the safety of those around them.
The Safety Culture blog says that the first step towards having individuals take responsibility for safety programs is “getting management out of the way.” Basically, workers on all parts of a site or project must take ownership of a safety program and commit to reporting, safe behaviors, providing feedback, and looking out for their colleagues. Accountability shouldn’t be driven from the top down, but come from within. The blog linked above recommends these steps:
- Build a representative group of people interested in developing and evaluating health and safety protocols—a site safety committee.
- Make the work of this group visible to the whole organization.
- Develop a way for anyone to input their ideas and opinions on safety matters, providing opportunities to be a part of the resulting policies.
- Do not solve problems for workers. Guide them to a solution so that they “own” said solution.
Any positive culture is inclusive of everyone, and safety is no exception. Employees, contractors, and those working jobs of all descriptions.
Being included and considered in safety decision-making and planning makes a worker much more likely to take ownership, and to follow the guidelines that are in place. Diversity is a strength, one which should be utilized; collecting input from a variety of people will make your policies and practices better.
There is always room to be better—and a positive safety culture means always looking for the best ways to keep everyone safe. As well as responding constantly to feedback form those on the job, safety leaders can look to the many resources available to find out what can improve. This might mean reading something like OSHA’s recommended practices guide to see where there are gaps to be filled.
Training is another way for companies to continuously improve. Developing both safety leaders and workers across all parts of a project to be better and more aware of safe practices is crucial to a positive safety culture.
Keeping up with it all
What’s outlined above is all overarching theories and principles to guide your safety culture. Keep those six dimensions in mind when forming the big picture, and the smaller parts of said picture should follow suit.
Of course, there are also the mundane day-to-day tasks of safety, such as record keeping, incident reporting, training records, and paperwork. Safety management software can do a lot of the hard yards, freeing everyone else up to work on that big picture. Check out how SafetyTek can make those tasks much more streamlined, allowing for the best results.