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How to Build Trust with Workers That Safety Matters

Last month, we discussed how empowering your workforce to speak up about safety can improve both safety outcomes and the safety climate on your site. Because workers are on the front lines every day, empowering them to identify and correct hazards, even if it means stopping work, can make a huge difference. This month, we’ll take a look at some of the ways that management can encourage workers to make these decisions.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

Safety climate on a jobsite, and thus safety in general, depends on the supervisor. The supervisor represents management on the front lines, so their actions (or inactions) send a strong signal to workers about the importance (or lack of importance) of safety. During orientation for new workers, management inevitably says that safety is very important to their company – whether workers believe them is another story.

“Good management works to prove these words are not hollow by backing them with actions,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “For example, management can examine how their supervisors are chosen. Generally, supervisors are good workers who get promoted because they are productive and dedicated to getting the job done well and on time. However, they may not initially have strong safety skills or communication skills. Good contractors show safety is valued by providing supervisors additional training to strengthen these areas.”

Programs like the LIUNA Training and Education Fund’s Professional Advancement Program already exist to train LIUNA members for future leadership roles. The Board of Certified Safety Professional’s Safety Trained Supervisor program and the Foundations for Safety Leadership program created by the CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training – teach supervisors how to communicate effectively about safety. Supervisors need to be evaluated and rewarded for their safety efforts, not just for production and on-time performance.

Safety is much more effective when it is integrated into daily operations. Every aspect of an employer’s program should include safety, from the planning and design of the project to the layout and design of the work area. It is much easier and less expensive to build a project safely if the job is designed that way up front. For example, access to upper floors is easier and safer if stairwells are installed early on rather than relying on ladders. A three-foot parapet built into the roof makes working on the roof safer during construction as well as later on during maintenance. In the long run, it saves time and money to plan for safety in the design of the project. Workers will notice whether these steps are taken or not since they are on the job every day. It’s up to owners and contractors to ensure that safety is included at the design stage, since many designers don’t do so by default.

Most importantly, contractors who subcontract parts of their projects should prequalify subcontractors based on their safety performance. This is becoming more common on large projects and several companies today assess and score subcontractors for safety. Prequalification shouldn’t be based solely on lagging indicators like past OSHA logs, OSHA citations and insurance company Experience Modification Rating (EMR). They should also be based on what kind of safety staffing they have, the resources they are devoting to safety, the amount of involvement and worker participation they demonstrate and how they incorporate safety into their planning process and daily activities (e.g., safety meetings, toolbox talks, Job Safety Analyses).

Lastly, great companies no longer rely on their injury record alone to develop prevention plans. On safe jobsites, very few people get injured so there isn’t as much data to predict where or when someone may get hurt in the future. Contractors in this position can put an increased focus on close calls – times when someone almost got hurt but didn’t. We know that incidents where someone gets hurt often go unreported as well, which makes collecting data on close calls even more difficult. Many people think, “Why should I waste time reporting an incident if no one was hurt? Nothing happened.” However, close call reporting is a great help in preventing future injuries. Companies with great safety programs tend to have strong and robust systems in place to encourage and reward workers for reporting close calls.

All of these programs and initiatives to improve safety climate on your site are explained in more detail in the American Industrial Hygiene Association guide, “How to Improve Safety Climate on Your Construction Site.”

[Scott Schneider]

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