There are a lot of programs designed to improve safety on construction sites – from management programs and computer software to incentive programs and OSHA checklists. But if you wanted to make the biggest impact on your site, what would you change? The answer should be the safety climate on your jobsite.
What is “safety climate” and how does it differ from “safety culture”? In its simplest terms, safety culture is how a company values safety. Does the company view safety as an integral part of doing quality work or does safety take a back seat to production and profits? Many companies are somewhere in between. On the other hand, safety climate is how workers on a jobsite feel about the company’s safety program based on what they see and hear from supervisors and upper management on a daily basis. In short, safety climate is workers’ perception of how much the company values safety.
Here’s the ultimate test of safety climate on a jobsite: when managers say how important safety is to the company, do workers believe them? The reality that workers see on a jobsite can be very different from how safety is viewed by management in corporate offices. This difference in perception is known as the safety culture gap and as long as it exists, safety on the site will suffer.
Does this gap exist at your company or jobsite? You can find out by conducting safety climate surveys for both workers and management. It’s common to discover a gap exists – the real challenge is understanding why it exists and what can be done to close it. In other words, how can management show workers they’re willing to “walk the walk” when it comes to valuing safety?
Like many issues on a construction site, the best solution is building trust between workers and management. Here are some opportunities to build trust on your jobsite:
- Are safety problems dealt with quickly and fairly or are they ignored until someone gets hurt?
- Are workers encouraged and rewarded for reporting unsafe conditions or are they disciplined for slowing the job down?
- Are production pressures an excuse to cut corners or do they lead to reevaluation and planning to do the job both safely and productively?
- Are supervisors good listeners who act on worker concerns or are they only focused on getting the job done faster?
Workers see how safety is really handled on the jobsite every day. Once workers see that management truly values their safety, dramatic improvements in safety climate are often the result.
Safety is more than just following rules. It is the result of a series of human interactions that requires the thought and attention of everyone involved.
The CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training – developed a workbook to help contractors assess and strengthen safety climate on their jobsites. They also created the Safety Climate Assessment Tool (S-CAT) and an accompanying webinar to help safety professionals learn about leading indicators that affect safety climate.
In addition to the LHSFNA’s upcoming webinar on safety climate, the Fund also maintains several posters that can help promote a positive safety climate on your site. These and other publications are available to LIUNA signatory contractors free of charge through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.
For help with improving safety on your site, contact the Fund’s Occupational Safety & Health Division at 202-628-5465.
[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety & Health.]