Initiatives That Help Maintain a Strong Culture of Safety
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. The initiatives in this article are important parts of the puzzle that can help maintain a strong safety culture.
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. In the United States, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported construction as the industry with the second-highest rate of substance abuse from 2008-2012, which indicates that it’s a widespread problem. Employees under the influence of harmful substances are not only putting themselves and those around them at increased risk of injury or death but affecting the bottom line.
How do you begin the conversation around substance abuse with employees? A framework around how you will approach substance abuse issues is a good place to start, including a written policy. 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.
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. 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.
New hires introductions
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!
Layout 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 onboarding process.
In addition, you should
- Mention site-specific concerns
- Explain the reporting process
- Outline necessary equipment and gear
- Match them up with mentors
It's important to evaluate the progress of your new employees right from the beginning—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 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 tag out 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.
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.
Also important is when things go wrong and an emergency situation arises, everyone involved should be aware of the best way to proceed.
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. 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.
- Reporting: 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.
- Prompt responses: 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 Event trees, and brainstorming.
- Follow-up: 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 a 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.
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.
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 initiatives 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. Contact us to learn more.