Keeping everyone safe on a construction site is more than just rules and regulations. A culture of safety to which each and every employee or manager contributes is the path to excellent safety outcomes.
Many principles and practices make up strong safety culture, and it’s absolutely a joint effort. While the theory behind safe worksites is the same in most places, how it is put in practice will vary widely. These steps are important parts of the puzzle, and vital things to ponder when forming your own safety culture.
Read through the summaries here, and click through to the longer blog posts for more in-depth information.
Substance abuse programs
This tricky topic is one that should be addressed by all companies. Recognizing and treating issues of substance abuse is critical to keeping everyone safe on a worksite, and you can read our blog post on creating positive safety culture with substance abuse programs for more detail. Here are the main points to consider.
You need a sound policy
A framework around how you will approach substance abuse issues is a good place to start, including a written policy that covers:
- Clarification of terms
- The company’s responsibilities
- Expectations, rules, and consequences
- Testing procedures
- The legal rights of employees
The Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (USA) has a basic policy template that you could add to and adapt for your company.
Be aware of the signs
For a policy to be effective, substance abuse must first be detected—and due to the shame surrounding it, employees are unlikely to be forthcoming. Testing is one way to detect any issues, and your site may have a random testing policy. However, it’s not the only way.
Warning signs listed in a Psychology Today article include personality changes, physical signs such as sweaty palms and shaky hands, deteriorating hygiene, unexplained absences, and noticeable, sudden money problems. Encourage employees to come to their bosses with concerns about themselves or their colleagues—in complete confidentiality, of course.
When substance abuse is discovered
If an employee is revealed to be struggling with substance abuse, it can be difficult to determine the next step. Firing someone is not the only possible path, although some companies do take a no-tolerance position.
Employee Assistance Programs are a great way to rehabilitate valued workers and support them in recovery. They have been found to have positive economic effects in companies that use them, as well as good on-the-job outcomes. An EAP may include counseling and other resources delivered through contracted mental health providers.
Where more extensive treatment is required, medical leave and robust health insurance policies can go a long way towards getting workers back on their feet. It’s definitely an investment, but one that can pay off in loyal, high-quality workers. Offering help to those dealing with it rather than taking away their livelihood is an ethical and often win-win approach.
A proactive approach to harmful substance use can cut the problem off before it becomes a big one. This can mean providing resources, education, and messaging around substance abuse to everyone working on the site or project. It is also vital to cultivate an environment where people feel comfortable seeking help before a small problem becomes a large one—which ties back into the aforementioned Employee Assistance Programs.
Reducing stress as much as possible on your employees is another good preventative. This article by Michael R Frone shows links between work stressors and alcohol use; it’s commonly known that career-related stress is often a contributing factor to the use of harmful, addictive substances.
Introducing new hires
The best time to get employees on board with your safety culture is right at the start of their employment. Start them off on the right foot!
You can read more about this at our blog post on introducing new hires to your safety culture. Here are some quick tips for a smooth and comprehensive introduction for your new people.
Lay out commitments, expectations, and responsibilities
Both workers and management have roles to play in keeping a site or project safe, and it should be very clear what those roles are. Let new hires know exactly what is expected of them, and ask them to commit to those responsibilities before they start. A brief but comprehensive health and safety statement covering the responsibilities of involved parties, the company culture, and an overview of how safety is managed should be presented and signed during the on-boarding process.
Mention site-specific concerns
Each site or project is unique. Employees should be oriented to the specific site they are working on—this means orientations for everyone starting at a new site, not just new hires.
Explain the reporting process
Having workers report issues and incidents is a crucial part of safety management, so ensure that newbies are familiar with how to do so.
If your company uses a safety management software like SafetyTek to make paperwork simple, make sure your new employees know how to access it and use it. Impress upon them the importance of reporting anything they feel could help refine safety procedures to be the best they can be—they will benefit!
Outline necessary equipment and gear
Right from the start, your employees should be instructed on how to safely operate tools and which equipment they should wear/use to prevent accidents and injury. This includes personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Match them up with mentors
A mentorship program can be hugely beneficial to new hires—and to the employees who are given the responsibility of mentoring. A mentoring relationship works well when you:
- Choose mentors who are strong leaders and passionate about safety.
- Train them.
- Provide a framework, a timeframe, and desired outcomes.
- Review the effectiveness of the program.
Right from the beginning, you should be evaluating the progress of your new employees—not to show them their failings, but to know where you can help them to improve. SafetyTek helps keep records that can make evaluation easier.
Site-specific safety culture
Each worksite is different, and it’s crucial to a culture of safety that anyone beginning their time on a new site is properly oriented to the procedures, rules, and equipment there.
Here’s what the safety considerations for a new site might include.
Site-specific safety policies and procedures
These important documents are unique to any worksite, but they should be developed with the regulations of governing bodies in mind (such as OSHA or CCOHS). A safety plan might include the goal of the document, the chain of responsibility, a rundown of site-specific hazards, required PPE and training, daily routines, emergency response, lockout and tagout procedures, and any other relevant information. It should be made available to, and presented to all workers.
The nemesis of a safe environment, hazards exist on any construction site and are unique to each one. Knowing the hazards will inform any safety procedures, planning, and habits, and should be identified before any work begins. From slip, trip and fall hazards to fire risks, consider and plan around anything that could present danger to any employee.
It’s also essential to encourage workers to report any hazards they come across during their work.
Meet and greets
One factor that changes almost completely from site to site is the people involved. In a strong safety culture, people will know who’s who on-site, and who is responsible for what.
A good orientation to a new site will include making connections. Everyone should know who to turn to in any safety situation.
When things go wrong and an emergency situation arises, everyone involved should be aware of the best way to proceed. Things to take into account when planning for emergencies include:
- Which emergency resources and services are available in the area, and how to get in touch with them.
- Having someone (or several someones) trained in first aid.
- Evacuation procedures and exit points.
- Communication during an emergency.
These infamous short meetings cover just about anything worksite-related, but many of them are about safety. Toolbox talks are a fantastic tool, a direct means of communication with the workforce—here’s how to make them effective.
- Minimize the boring presentation slides! A powerpoint presentation isn’t always necessary, and when it is used it should illustrate points visually or add visual interest, not just reiterate all of what’s being said.
- Involve other people. Don’t always have the same manager present toolbox talks, but bring in knowledgeable staff members or even outsiders—particularly those who have a lot of experience in the particular field that is the topic of the talk.
- Be brief and interesting.
- Include an actionable point along with the information. This gets people thinking—and doing—over the following period.
- Be consistent in scheduling and carrying out your toolbox talks.
A “near miss” on a worksite is not just a close call, it’s an opportunity for learning and improvement. Find out more in our long-form blog post on the topic.
A near miss is defined in the European OSH Wiki as “an unplanned event which did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so.” Analyzing and learning from such events can help you to improve the safety culture—here’s how.
Having employees make reports about any notable incidents or near misses should be an ingrained part of your site’s culture. Close calls shouldn’t be swept under the rug, but it can be difficult to encourage workers to report them if they feel like they or someone else are at fault. A reporting system should allow for anonymity if the reporter wishes to have it. Software like SafetyTek makes that feasible and easy to implement.
Any action and response that comes from a reported near miss should be quick. This means that the details are fresh in the mind of those concerned, and it also shows a commitment to improving things before someone gets hurt. Prompt responses also encourage continued reporting.
Determination of cause
It’s important to get to the root of any safety matter. Most incidents are caused by flaws or weaknesses in systems, and these can be pinpointed with methods such as the following:
- Event trees
- Key questions
Where a possible solution is identified, action should be taken promptly. This might mean replacing faulty shelving, making a slight change to the rules, or introducing new PPE.
Share the learning
Any lessons learned from the near-miss situation should be shared with everyone on-site. Knowledge is power to stop it from happening again. If rule changes are equipment changes are implemented, make it clear why so that everyone is on the same page.
Visibility of safety programs and response to any issues encourages employees to take an active part in the safety culture. And worker participation is essential for safety initiatives to be effective.
Site safety committees
Safety culture leadership does not work best when it’s entirely top-down. A strong safety ethic on any site or project is best built when workers and managers from all levels and sections of an organization lead the way, and site safety committees allow that to happen.
Such committees should be broad and inclusive, to allow a range of perspectives and also deepen their reach into different areas and groups.
There are several objectives for site safety committees to accomplish. The first is safety planning: developing and implementing necessary practices. Another function is the analysis of incidence reports, which is crucial to informing future rules and systems—tying back into planning.
A site safety committee should also encourage and oversee training for all employees (SafetyTek’s employee training matrix can help with that), and set goals and priorities for the safety program. Part of this is reviewing goals to determine whether they have been achieved.
Perhaps one of the biggest roles of safety committee members is to advocate for safe practices and bring awareness of safety issues to their colleagues. They should spread information, and a diverse, well-rounded committee can easily influence all parts of a site, company, or project.
Tips for effective committees
An effective site safety committee will:
- Meet regularly.
- Consist of a good cross-section of people.
- Be educated on safety issues above and beyond what’s required.
- Have a clear mission.
- Have some fun!
Dimensions of a positive safety culture
Getting safety culture right depends on fostering a positive attitude towards the whole idea, both in theory and in practice. Our blog post outlining the dimensions of a positive safety culture looks in-depth at how companies can do this, according to some recommendations by Jamie Hall, COO at SafeWork Manitoba. Here are the basics of his philosophy:
Being organized is key! This means having programs, reporting channels, necessary equipment, and communication in place.
Culture is often influenced from the bottom up, but committed and supportive leadership is hugely beneficial. Managers should lead by example when it comes to safe practices. They should never allow or encourage workers to cut corners—after all, it’s a proven myth that safety is at odds with productivity.
Trust and respect
The workplace dynamic is telling—it will show in productivity, safety, and other outcomes. Cultivate trust and respect on a worksite, and everyone will benefit.
Hall theorizes that trust and respect often start with the site safety committee. This makes it even more essential to have a wide array of perspectives on such a committee.
Here, Hall is not only talking about employees’ accountability to their employers, but also to themselves and to each other. Everyone must take responsibility for safety on site for any program, rule, or committee to achieve its objective.
Safety Culture blog says that the first step towards individual responsibility is “getting management out of the way.” Keep communication open, and guide workers to a solution they can own rather than solving problems for them.
Any positive culture is inclusive of all—it’s that simple. Being considered and consulted in safety planning makes all workers more likely to take ownership of the culture.
A strong safety culture means always looking for ways to improve. To do so, safety leaders and committee members must look to feedback from workers as well as outside resources and determine what needs fixing or adding to.
Stay safe, stay organized
Keeping everyone safe is so important, and also a big task with many moving parts. There are both concrete things that can be implemented, like rules, signs, and protective equipment, and intangible aspects such as attitude and education which are just as crucial to the culture and outcomes.
All of the above steps to creating a strong safety culture require a bit of organization and record-keeping—and often, some paperwork. At SafetyTek, we are firm believers that a lot of paperwork can block REAL safety, so we have designed a comprehensive platform that takes a lot of the administrative work out of keeping track, logging incidents, monitoring training and qualifications, and other safety tasks. Request a demo to find out how SafetyTek could help you!