Last edited 22 Feb 2021

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WatsonandWatson Other Consultant Website

Adopting a Culture of Health and Safety in Construction


[edit] Introduction

The construction industry routinely draws criticism for its track record on health and safety. In basic terms, it appears to understand the theory, but seem to be very bad at putting it into practice.

This does not seem to be the result of a lack of understanding or resources. Many construction sites absolutely follow the letter (and spirit) of the law when it comes to establishing effective health-and-safety practices, including creating robust reporting systems and providing suitable protective equipment.

It seems to be more an issue of culture, of getting people to do in practice what they know they are supposed to do in theory. With that in mind, here are three tips as to how to foster a culture of health and safety in construction.

[edit] Be a role model

Employees are quick to notice whether or not managers are actually practicing what they preach. Make sure you do so at all times, not just when you think someone might be watching.

[edit] Communicate

As the old joke goes, we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. The law requires that employers communicate important health-and-safety information to their employees and there are also many practical reasons why employers may, in fact probably will, need to talk (or write) and have their employees listen (or read).

At the same time, however, communication is a two-way process and it is often very valuable to listen to feedback from the people who actually have to implement your policies in practice.

Listen means really listen, sincerely, in good faith and with the humility to accept that there is a difference between theory and practice, which means that the ideas which looked great to you on paper (or these days on screen) and which may have worked perfectly in simulations, may not work in practice or, at the very least, may be perceived as more hassle than they are worth and hence be met with user resistance.

As with management in general, a lot of health-and-safety management ultimately consists of having the judgement to understand when to stand firm (usually because the law requires it) and when to show adaptability to what employees want.

[edit] Reward good behaviours

Another old phrase is “carrot-and-stick”. Employers may understand that there need to be “sticks” to (try to) ensure that health-and-safety policies are followed so that the company stays in compliance with the law (and probably its insurance policy as well), but using a stick is generally unpleasant for everyone and to be avoided whenever possible.

Using a carrot, by contrast, is often at least as effective and more appreciated. So instead of just penalizing employees for failing to adhere to health-and-safety policies, reward them for doing so. Rewards don’t have to be big to be effective and they don’t even need to be completely guaranteed, just as long as the possibility is there.

For example, if you need employees to complete a certain online health and safety training course, as well as levying a penalty for non-completion, you could offer one or more potential rewards for employees who do complete it, perhaps some for objective criteria (such as best score in a test) and some just at random so everyone has a chance of winning.

--WatsonandWatson 11:59, 19 Aug 2019 (BST)

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