Making it home at the end of the day is more important than making the schedule.
In the construction industry, the stakes are high, and schedule delays cost big bucks. When everyone’s pulling together to get the project done on time, it’s little wonder that some workers feel hesitant to stop work because of a dangerous condition or to report a safety issue that could slow things down.
“They don't want to look like a snitch, I think,” said Paul Haining, chief environmental health and safety officer at Skanska USA. “We have a way to go in terms of the construction industry culture," he added.
In fact, according to a 2017 National Safety Council Survey, “Employee Perceptions of Workplace Safety,” 47 percent of construction workers said employees are afraid to report safety issues.
There are ways to bust through that mindset, however, and create a jobsite environment in which everyone feels free to speak up when necessary for the sake of safety.
Keep it simple
Create a safety hazard/incident reporting system that is quick and easy for workers to execute. If it’s paper-based, leave a supply of forms in accessible areas and provide a secure box for drop-off. Managers can also encourage employees to report safety incidents via text message or email. No matter the vehicle, workers should be able to report any hazard anonymously.
Make speaking up punishment-free
Stress to workers that they will not lose their jobs or be punished if they report a safety incident, even if they were involved in the incident. This policy should also apply to stop-work actions. Haining said Skanska's philosophy is that every employee has not only the authority to call out unsafe practices or conditions and stop work if necessary but the obligation to do so.
Report the results
After a safety incident or hazard has been reported and management has had time to determine the cause — the quicker the better — and come to a decision about how to avoid similar events in the future, communicate that decision back to employees. Otherwise, the belief that their safety concerns have fallen on deaf ears could stop workers from reporting subsequent safety incidents and reduce overall enthusiasm for maintaining a safe jobsite.
Stress executive commitment
At Skanska, Haining said, the safety message comes from the top and trickles down to the other levels of management and to workers. He said it's not uncommon to see Skanska executives passing out business cards with their personal cell phone numbers on the back and encouraging workers to call them if they have a safety concern. "Everyone is responsible for each other," he said.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.