THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY CULTURE IN THE CONTRUCTION INDUSTRY

 

Before we go into the importance of safety culture a definition is required.

 

·         SAFETY

–          “To be protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.”

 

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/safety

 

·         CULTURE

–          “A combination of an organization’s, attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, values, ways of doing things, and other shared characteristics of a particular group.”

(OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Training

 

·         SAFETY CULTURE

 

–          “The safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management. Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterised by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.”

 

(ACSNI Human Factors Study Group: Third report: Organising for safety HSE Books, 1993.)

 

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HSE – COMMON TOPIC (4) – SAFETY CULTURE

Safety cultures can have a big influence on the performance on safety outcomes and can affect the safety management systems. Many organisations link ‘safety culture’ to how employees comply with legislations, standards, codes of practice and whether they act safely or unsafely. Yet, the styles and cultures of management can be seen to be more significant. HSE gives two examples of this “an unnatural unconscious bias for production over safety, or a tendency to focussing on the short-term and being highly reactive.”

Poor safety cultures tend to include a higher interest in productivity and ‘getting the job’ done instead of ensuring that a job is done safety. This is the same as cost, poor safety cultures will also focus on ensure a job can be done at a cheapest price or using the cheapest material or doing anything to save money instead of considering the safety of employees and members of the public. This is usually seen coming from higher up in organisations instead of being throughout. Another example which may be noticed in a poor safety culture is a consistent amount of ‘rule breaking’ and not complaining with standards and codes of practice set out to protect. This can usually be seen throughout an organisation and not just partial to some members.

On the other hand, it is easier to find key factors of a positive safety culture. Such things as good communication between all members of a team, HSE state that’s “positive culture questions about health and safety should be part of everyday work conversations.” Therefore, health and safety should be something that is not only thought about everyday but discussed every day at work, the opposite of a negative culture which would not even consider safety but instead just ensure the work is done a positive culture will examine what is to be done and how it can be done safely and to the best standard. This should also be done at the top level of management and passed down to all employees, management should listen to all employees concerns and queries regarding health and safety and should be taken seriously.

Management teams must be seen to have full commitment to health and safety. They must be ‘on top’ of health and safety and should be analysing it throughout the team, picking up issues, ensuring they are resolved and noticing threats and risks. Commitment from management teams can also ensure motivation throughout. Although this commitment must be consistent as if it is not other members of the team may pick up on this and steer towards a negative culture. HSE states again that health and safety is ‘indicated by the proportion of resources (time, money and people) and support allocated to health and safety management.”

The management teams should also be seen as ‘role models’ to their employees when it comes to health and safety meaning that they should lead by example, if they take health and safety seriously and are seen to be serious about it, other employees are more likely to do the same. Management should have regularly talks to teams about health and safety and show their commitment to it. They must not do what negative cultures do and put costs and productivity before health and safety. HSE states an example such as ‘stopping productivity to resolve issues.’

 

ENFORCEMENT

Safety culture is not something that can be enforced although the HSE do actively encourage the development of positive safety culture this is due to the fact that they see a good safety culture as “essential to help improve the health and safety record of the industry.” (Introduction to Construction Management. 2007). Health and Safety inventions are usually kept for receptive companies or only done as part of incident investigations. HSE does state that “there can be enforcement to address outcomes of a poor culture.” Therefore backing up a need for positive safety culture, as this can now lead to HSE becoming involved if they deemed necessary. HSE also give an example in this “If a company is unsuccessfully relying on procedural controls to avoid major accidents, there could be an enforcement of management agreements to either ensure compliance or provide alternative safeguards through the hierarchy of control.” If a company or organisation have a positive safety culture there will be a positive effect on them, there will be no need for HSE to get involved in minor issues if they are constantly keeping up to standards and following rules and regulations it will not mean that there will be constant ‘chasing up’ from the HSE regarding the issues they find. This will lead to less stress for higher members of the organisations which should lead to less pressure throughout the team which should result in a positive team.

 

INTRODUCTION TO CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT

This book doesn’t go as in depth and the above abstract from the HSE. Although it gives some interesting ‘types’ of cultures. Almost every piece of work read about safety culture they will say that there is not a single way to define safety culture. This particular book states that the ‘industry has had a lot of different labels attached to it over the years.”  

They describe there being a ‘macho culture’ which relates to the construction industry being a male based environment for so long. Men trying to prove their masculinity on sites and ‘showing off’. Induction to Construction Management state that this type has actually affected the safety cultures due to this. More and more risks are taken while people are trying to show off and show how tough and strong they are. This however has caused more accidents and probably fatalities due to this and although not all men are like this it can be seen that there is a majority.

This book as well as the article talks about the industry being ‘production driven’ and this seems to be a reoccurring theme while looking into safety cultures. Repeating the memo of “getting the job done, not getting the job done safely.” This is usually due to members of the organisation putting pressure onto site managers who put pressure onto the site workers who are the main victims of accidents. Some organisations are seen to be more concerned about saving more and high volumes of production rather than ensuring the safety of their workers.

‘Culture of conflict’ is another type defined this is things such as disagreements over contracts or money, space on sites being too small or too much people in one area which could lead to overcrowding and disagreements in regards to materials or equipment’s. This again can be related to the ‘macho culture’ as men going head to head and also to the ‘production driven’ where the job is seen to be done without any thought to the safety of the workers. Overcrowding could lead to accidents and so could equipment and materials if they are not the correct things. However Introduction to Construction states that ‘this is slowly changing with new ways of working, but it may also have contributed to an ‘everyone for themselves’ approach which meant safety as well.” This statement could be true due to looking at statistics in the past there has been a drop in accidents and fatalities in the industry although other factors such as new legislations and the industry introducing more women which could decrease the ‘macho culture’.

The history of safety culture is constantly noted as being negative and constantly stating that the culture has been poor and in some case it is still seen as poor. There will always be some people who will act without thinking and in some cases accidents cannot be prevented. However people should try their best to work safely, not cut corners and not take risks to get the job done. Not only should workers try to not be influenced by their peers. Members of organisations should also be getting rid of the attitude of being production and cost driven even though this can be hard there is ways for this to be done safely. Introduction to Construction Management does state that on larger sites noticeable changes are being made in the industry but most of the time this is due to them having more resources, time and money to make the changes and to have the chance to develop a more positive safety culture as they know this must be done. Other organisations may think that cutting corners and allowing unsafe work to go on will ensure that costs will be cut and production will be higher. This may not be the case if they are caught or if an accident occurs. HSE are able to get involved and will, this can cause