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Establishing a sustainable safety culture

May 8, 2018

Reducing accidents and developing a safety culture takes commitment on every level, from senior management to job site supervisors to craft workers.

Construction Safety Week men pulling pipe

The construction industry is inherently dangerous. Workers face risks at every turn on job sites. In 2016, OSHA statistics indicated that 991 out of 4,693 worker fatalities (21.1%) in private industry were in construction. That is, one in five worker deaths that year were in construction.

Reducing accidents and developing a safety culture takes commitment on every level , from senior management to job site supervisors to craft workers. Studies indicate that workplace-related accidents are often the result of breakdown in policies and procedures. Effectively communicating at all levels is one of the keys to establishing a culture of safety.

Zurich has aligned with the findings in a study by the Construction Industry InstituteTM (CII), “Making Zero Accidents a Reality (Best Practice).” Drawn from that study, the eight practices below can help develop a safety culture when implemented effectively.

  1. Management commitment – Strong commitment to safety must come from the top down. Management needs to focus on improving safety, fostering success and encouraging all employees to become part of a safety solution for the practices to succeed. Senior leadership should conceive and adopt a zero-incident culture before a major incident occurs.
  2. Planning (pre-project and pre-task) – Pre-project constructability reviews that establish a risk register and pre-task job hazard analysis should be the cornerstone for a site-specific safety program.
  3. Worker involvement – Procedures that enable staff at all levels to provide input and participate in the adoption of a safety culture are critical for success. These include developing positive company beliefs, safety practices and corporate attitudes. Workers involved in the process feel empowered to give valuable feedback. Remember, workers at the job site are often the first to notice risky behaviors.
  4. Safety education: Institute orientation and specialized training – Establish worker training protocols that address use of safety equipment, safety requirements, risks and precautions relevant to specific job responsibilities. A morning “stretch n’ flex” program is encouraged to start each day on a safety note. Accidents don’t just happen on the job site. Specialized training should incorporate fleet management safety, including defensive driver training.
  5. Subcontractor management – Successful safety cultures involve all stakeholders, including subcontractors, in implementing the program. It is imperative to have all stakeholders committed to the process and feel like they are a part of the solution.
  6. Accident/incident investigation program – This program should include senior management review and focus on preventing future losses. Once this program is well established, contractors can start to focus on near-misses – those accidents that almost happened.
  7. Staffing for safety – It is not only important to ensure that field and corporate supervision is committed to safety, but studies show having dedicated safety professionals at the corporate and project level makes a difference in reducing accidents.
  8. Drug and alcohol testing – Companies should strive to obtain a substance-free workforce. An actively managed substance abuse program can be part of a strong safety culture.

A sustainable safety culture requires ongoing management commitment and program monitoring. Senior leadership must establish strong organizational safety goals and objectives that are communicated throughout all channels of the organization. This includes adoption by leadership, implementation in the field, multiplying to all levels of the project (including subcontractors/vendors) and actively sustaining those safety practices.