How to Improve Safety Culture in Construction [Complete Guide]

There is increasing evidence that the guarantee of a healthy and safe environment has the potential to increase work productivity and the competitiveness of organizations. However, contradictorily at present, there is reluctance on the part of many entrepreneurs to prioritize resources aimed at promoting safety and health, despite understanding and accepting this reality.

In a high-risk industry like construction, safety is an investment that offers real benefits. A safe work environment helps keep skilled workers on the job, as well as projects focused on reducing accidents that can lead to injuries, program delays, and litigation and regulatory issues if they occur. Additionally, a history of good safety performance improves the reputation of a company and makes it more competitive in an environment where safety performance is increasingly important, the scenario in which the company under study finds itself.

Safety Culture in Construction

The term safety culture was popularized by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in its report on the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, in which it was defined that errors and violations of operating procedures that contributed to the Chernobyl disaster were demonstrations of a poor safety culture. In this accident, as in the Challenger one, the fact that, in the search for the causes of many of the modern large-scale accidents, the interaction between technology and organizational failures must be considered (Pidgeon, 2010) .

For Frazier, Ludwig, Whitaker & Roberts (2013), the safety culture consists of the values, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and behaviors of risk with regard to the safety of employees. According to Dos Santos Grecco, Vidal, Cosenza & De Carvalho (2014) this has to do with personal attitudes and habits of thought in the style of the organization.

According to Morrow, Koves & Barnes (2014), culture is employees’ beliefs about the importance of safety, shaped by the organization’s culture, which in turn influences their attitudes towards it, as perceived norms about the organization. safe behaviors and control perceptions about safe work behavior.

Today, safety culture has to be recognized and prevalent as a key aspect that is closely linked to safety management in many industries (Håvold, 2010 and Mearns, Kirwan, Reader, Jackson, Kennedy & Gordon, 2013 ). To reduce the number of security breaches, Edwards & Jabs (2009) consider that employees should create a culture of security, when speaking of their concerns and challenges to the authorities in the organization. However, it cannot be assumed that proactive communication on security issues can always exist within the organization (Ismail, F., Baharuddin, Hashim & Ismail, R., 2012).

New members of an organization learn from the formal or informal culture, through observation, social interaction, trial and error. The culture of safety transcends from one member to another in an organization, since they are the things that are transmitted and last. In essence, the safety culture is independent of the people who are part of the organization; a culture of safety will exist even after all of these have abandoned it. In essence, an organization’s safety culture finds expression through the complex world of relationships between people, systems, knowledge, and leadership styles.

Generative culture in health, safety and environment (HSE)

According to Lawrie, Parker & Hudson (2006), organizations have managed to better understand their safety culture through the development of a maturity or evolutionary model, through which:

  • A regulatory framework is provided in which what is part of a good or bad safety culture is established.
  • It is explained how the safety culture could be improved in the context defined above.
  • The comparison between the cultures and subcultures of each organization is facilitated.

Based on this evolutionary model and according to Filho, Andrade & Marinho (2010), the stages of maturity of the safety culture show the transition of cultures from the pathological type to the reactive mode, from the latter to the bureaucratic one, and later towards a proactive culture, moving through and evolving until reaching a generative culture, on the basis of increasingly perfecting trust, information and committed leadership.

This security maturity model is very useful to assess the level of any organization, as well as to identify what must be done to move to the next levels and thereby improve the existing security culture.

The security maturity model consists of five stages, which ideally any organization works in order to reach the highest level of stage maturity (pathological, reactive, bureaucratic, proactive and generative). Therefore, the assessment of security maturity will be important to improve and focus actions in this regard.

According to Cooper (2010), the presence of two types of factors in the safety culture of a company are considered: internal and external psychological factors, and observable factors related to safety, to which should be added the situational character characteristics subjective.

Research in this area is not an easy task, given the number of variables and conditions that can influence the characterization of culture.

The research that is described was oriented on the one hand to evaluate the state of the safety culture in a company in the construction sector, its development and the potential to significantly impact the reduction of accidents. On the other hand, it was aimed at developing an examination of the relationship between various measures that express safety performance at work, through safety perceptions and evidence-based data, which can provide a basis for research and investigation. future discussion in this area.

For Guldenmund (2010a), three main approaches can be distinguished when evaluating safety culture: academic (anthropological), analytical (psychological) and pragmatic. Each of these approaches involves specific methods and instruments for assessing an organization’s safety culture. Safety culture has been studied on the basis of three main methodological approaches: perception known through surveys (questionnaires), ethnography, and through materials gathered from major accident investigations (Hopkins, 2006). In few relatively empirical studies on safety culture, qualitative methodology is used (Glendon, 2008 and Guldenmund, 2010b).

In this research, it was possible to review a series of practical aspects related to management, group norms, values ​​and behaviors, through focal interviews. 8 dimensions were used that made it possible to evaluate the safety culture, through numerous individual and group interviews that included workers, staff personnel, mid-level managers and senior management.

Methodology to Improve Safety Culture in Construction

In this research carried out in the first months of 2014, the method of individual and focus group interviews was used, complemented by case studies, the analysis of practical situations that related management and workers to the ways of managing industrial safety and the recognition of behaviors directly linked to the execution of tasks. All of them made it possible to assess the state of the safety culture within the company.

A rigorous review of publications was carried out on the dimensions that evaluate safety culture (on which there is really no consensus among all researchers) in order to establish the evidence of current approaches to applied safety culture research in the industry and for the decision on the dimensions to evaluate it through the perception of the people to use in the research that is reported. From this review, it was decided to use the following dimensions:

Commitment

The priority of safety was evaluated, the interpretation of the responsibility that workers perceive exists towards it by the management, the resources assigned by the organization and the leadership of managers, middle managers and supervisors, in these matters.

Communication

The reception of the information flow towards people was evaluated, if they found out about security issues through the established channels, and the ease or restrictions they feel in communicating on this subject with their managers, middle managers and supervisors.

Participation

The perception that workers have regarding being taken into account in decisions related to industrial safety was evaluated.

Trust

The perception of being able to intervene in the security issue was evaluated, both by reporting and by receiving an adequate response to these issues.

Organizational learning

The perception related to the fact of carrying out systematic studies of the lessons learned and whether the actions developed were preferably directed towards prevention, and not reactive action, was evaluated.

Relations with bosses

The perception that it was possible to approach the issue of security with their managers, middle managers and technical staff, with ease, was evaluated.

Training

The perception of the usefulness of the training was evaluated.

General perception

The perception of the way and speed with which one acts under the security approach, motivated by external pressure, or by internal disposition, was evaluated.

These dimensions were evaluated by means of individual interviews or in focus groups, of a semi-structured type, applied to people from different occupational categories of the organization. The average duration of each interview was one hour per individual / group.

Ideas for Building a Safety Culture in The Company

  • There is a legal and real duty of the employer to protect workers against occupational risks.
  • For workers to be protected, we need to know those risks and how to avoid them, and collaborate with the company to reduce risks.
  • If the workers feel part of the security of the company, and not taxpayers , we will be part of the solution.
  • If reporting an unsafe condition or unsafe act causes us a problem with bosses or colleagues, we may not do it again.
  • If, as a consequence of reporting an unsafe condition or an unsafe act, we observe changes towards the improvement of conditions and / or actions, we may continue to report in the future and commit to safety .
  • The safety advice given by peers are better received that instructions communicated by the commanders (chiefs, supervisors, managers). Therefore, as colleagues, we already know what to do.
  • Workers have a great role in ensuring our own safety , but also that of our colleagues. The manager of the company is not at our disposal all day; the companions yes.
  • By tolerating unsafe and normal acts by our colleagues, we do little to improve our safety, that of our colleagues, and that of the company. One day it may take its toll on us.
  • By creating a safety culture among colleagues , from below, it is easier to persuade those above if the safety culture is not ideal.
  • If our company does not care about the safety culture, that we workers watch over our own safety and that of our colleagues is going to be essential so that we do not suffer damage .

What is the Safety Culture?

Safety culture is a term that encompasses the attitudes and values ​​of people and the company in aspects related to safety , both in their understanding of it and in their daily behavior.

In many companies, activities are carried out that seek to reinforce the safety culture of their employees. In this way, people are educated and made aware to achieve a better development of activities and a decrease in potential accidents and problems, both within the workplace, and in the products and services offered by the company.

Among the advantages offered by having a strongly implemented safety culture, is not only the reduction of accidents, but also an increase in the efficiency and competitiveness of the company: By getting employees to do their jobs correctly, we eliminate failures that could subsequently lead to non-quality costs (repairs caused by doing things wrong, complaints, loss of customers, etc). Therefore, although initially we are talking about issues related to safety, in practice the benefits will also be noticed in the reduction of errors in production and an increase in the quality offered.

What aspects does the Safety Culture include?

The Safety Culture consists of the following points:

Awareness of workers: Awareness is the main point. Policies must be developed that encourage employees to perform their tasks correctly and not to follow bad practices. Communication and cooperation between people should be encouraged, implying that it is better to report bugs rather than hide them, as a mistake detected quickly can save a company a lot of time and money.

Management involvement: To promote an adequate safety culture, management involvement is necessary. This should be the one that leads and sets an example in terms of prevention and good practices, and it should be her who is in charge of rewarding good behavior and admonishing negligence.

Training: The best way to ensure that activities are carried out correctly and safely is to provide employees with training. They must be competent, feel that they have responsibilities and be sensitized to the consequences of their activities.

Control of activities: Finally, it is necessary to control the activities to verify that they are carried out correctly. This is important to have a global vision of whether people have a good understanding of how they should carry out their tasks, and to see if there are difficulties or bad practices.

How to implement a Safety Culture?

To implement a strong Safety Culture, one thing must be understood: it is not something that is bought with money or written on paper, but rather a matter of education , so it is not enough to say what to do, but rather You have to get people to internalize the principles of safety so that they do the tasks well by themselves and not because someone is watching them.

Some measures that can be taken to improve the safety culture are:

  • Give training courses.
  • Make people aware of why it is important to follow procedures and adopt good practices.
  • Provide the appropriate material: machinery, tools, written procedures, technical guides, checklists and any other material that facilitates the correct performance of tasks.
  • Disseminate the key aspects and expected behaviors through posters, newsletters, etc.
  • Reward good practices.
  • Set an example on the part of management, bosses and coordinators.
  • Control key processes and find ways to minimize difficulties, risks and black spots.
  • Encourage communication, participation and cooperation among employees.

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