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Getting Workers on Board with Safety Is a Team Effort

“I didn’t have to do it that way at my last job.”

“I’ve done it this way 1,000 times and never gotten hurt before.”

“I’ve been doing it this way for 10 years.”

Have you ever heard statements like these on your site? If you’ve worked in construction long enough, chances are you have. Maybe it was from a younger worker without much experience, or maybe it was from someone who has spent several years working at the same site or for the same company. It could have been pushback something simple like not wanting to wear a hardhat when it’s hot outside or a riskier decision like wanting to enter an unshored trench for “just a minute” to complete a task.

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Across the U.S. and Canada, safety-conscious construction contractors use written safety programs to detail how they’ll comply with federal, state and provincial safety regulations and set safety policies and procedures that will apply to workers company wide, site wide or for a given task,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “How those policies get implemented and communicated to workers can help make the difference between average results and a successful partnership that leads to everyone involved recognizing the importance of safety on the job.”

So how can safety managers, site supervisors and others concerned with worker health and safety get workers on board with these company rules and policies, even the unpopular ones? One way is to make sure workers understand the “why” behind them. Putting mandatory policies in place without any explanation and expecting workers to follow them without fail isn’t the best path to worker buy-in. Here are a few different ways to help workers understand the “why” behind some of those safety policies and procedures:

Real-Life Examples

It’s easy to think “it’s not going to happen to me,” especially when workers have years of training and experience. Recounting an example of an injury or fatality that happened as a result of an unsafe work practice can help make that risk real. Stories with names, places and details of what happened aren’t as easy to dismiss as statistics, and the closer they are to the situation on your site, the more they’ll hit home.

If you don’t have any examples from your own experience, see if other workers on site have stories they can share. The LHSFNA’s Laborers’ True Stories DVD, NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program and OSHA’s Young Workers site all list real-life examples of worker fatalities in construction.

Help Workers See the Big Picture

Safety professionals look at injury rates and trends across an entire jobsite or company, so they know that while cutting corners on safety doesn’t always lead to injuries, if it happens enough times, an incident is inevitable. For example, imagine a single worker climbing a ladder without proper fall protection a handful of times a day. The risk of this worker being injured on any single day is pretty low. Now multiply that by all the workers on site for an entire year. If there are 50 workers on site, that’s about 75,000 chances for a worker to fall. That’s a lottery no one wants to win.

Understand Why Workers Take Risks

Safety leaders need to understand what makes workers tick. The challenge is that everyone ticks differently. Safety leaders must be able to set and enforce safety rules and best practices while also showing concern for workers and recognizing what might motivate them to take risks. Senior management is responsible for creating a positive safety culture on the jobsite. That could include being clear that it’s company policy not to take shortcuts, especially when safety is concerned. Other best practices that can improve safety culture are increased communication, good leadership training for middle managers (e.g., foreman) and increasing employee involvement.

Conduct Toolbox Talks

Regular toolbox talks remind workers about safe work practices, and are especially effective if they relate to a hazard or task that’s present on site at the time. The LHSFNA offers a series of toolbox talks that are designed to be read aloud to workers and include discussion questions. LIUNA signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates can order them through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.

Lead by Example

Upper and middle management have to lead by example and avoid contradicting safe behaviors. To create long-term changes, management must set the example and lead by their own behavior on the job. For example, leaders should attend or participate in safety meetings and speak to new hires at the safety orientation. In a strong safety culture, everyone feels responsible for safety and pursues it on a daily basis. In this type of environment, employees go beyond the call of duty to identify unsafe conditions and behaviors and intervene to correct them.

The LHSFNA’s online Site Safety and Health Program allows LIUNA signatory contractors to create individual safety and health programs customized for their company’s or jobsite’s specific needs. For more information, contact the Fund’s OSH Division at 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]

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